Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Joe Diffie, “Third Rock From the Sun”

“Third Rock From the Sun”

Joe Diffie

Written by John Greenebaum, Tony Martin, and Sterling Whipple


#1 (2 weeks)

September 24 – October 1, 1994

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

September 23, 1994

A dizzying plotline from out of this world.

The Road to No. 1

Joe Diffie hadn’t had a No. 1 hit since “Ships That Don’t Come In,” but he enjoyed three major hits from his third album, Honky Tonk Attitude: the title track, “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die),” and “John Deere Green” all went top five.  He returned to the top with the lead single and title track from his fourth studio album.

The No. 1

By this time, Diffie’s transition from heartsick balladeer to novelty singer had begun in earnest, with radio ignoring the devastating ballad “In My Own Backyard” but embracing the three rave ups noted above.

“Third Rock From the Sun” is a good deal smarter and more creative than the ditties on the way, with a fantastically convoluted storyline that begins and ends at Smokey’s Bar.

The events of this small town are a hell of a lot more interesting than anything the bro country crew has ever come up with.  Look what the grownups get up to while the teens think they’re doing something worth singing about out in the cornfields!

The Road From No. 1

His biggest hit is up next, and it will spend a month at No 1.

“Third Rock From the Sun” gets a B+.


Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. I’m disappointed in Jason Aldean. With how much of a big deal he made of this particular year, I was by no means expecting it to take until late September to see Joe-Joe-Joe Dif-fay.

    • If I had my way, “In My Own Backyard,” which was released earlier in 1994, would’ve also been a number one. Love that song!

  2. Such a compelling, absurd, story song. You had to listen to it from start to finish to fully appreciate the cause and effect insanity. Diffie was the perfect vocalist to deliver this gem.

    Is there a single example of a great lyric not being well served by an equally great vocalist? The music business is simple, no?

  3. While this is admittedly my least favorite era in Joe Diffie’s career, this particular song has actually held up pretty well. Unlike many other novelty songs of this time period, the wackiness of the lyrics works very well, and it’s also much more creatively written, as noted above. It also doesn’t hurt that Diffie happened to actually be good at singing these kind of songs, with his humor and personality coming through.

    I still remember the exact moment in 1996 when I was in fourth grade in which I realized just how wacky the storyline to this song really was. My teacher at the time was also a huge country music fan, and she seemingly took every opportunity she could to mention a country song or artist that was somehow related to something she was teaching us or simply a saying heard in a country song (ex: One time when she was sarcastically expressing disappointment in a student, she exclaimed “What A Crying Shame!” and then proceeded to mention the Mavericks song and ask if any of us had heard it). Anyway, one day when she was teaching us the concept of cause and effect, you can probably guess which song she decided to play in front of the class on her tape player. As the song played, she would break down the lyrics explaining how one crazy event in the song lead to the other. It was at that moment that I realized just how cool this song really was. Even many of my other classmates seemed to be digging it. I especially always loved the part of the “Giant alien landing at the mall” which was always my favorite part of the song. :) Needless to say, she has also remained one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had, even though I don’t know if I was one of her favorite students, lol (I was kind of a goofball in elementary school).

    Btw, your last paragraph comparing this to bro-country seriously made me laugh, and it’s so true! The thing is, from my experience, a lot of people who like and listen to bro-country also love this song and most of Joe Diffie’s other novelty songs (as well as some of the other novelty songs from other artists that came out in this same time period). Sometimes I wonder if any of them like or have even heard any of Diffie’s more serious songs.

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