My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Third Rock From The Sun’

Released in 1994, this was the album where Joe really cemented his reputation for silly novelty songs, with a good half of the tracks falling into that category. The title track is actually a decently written song (if lacking in melody), and recounts an entertaining if implausible series of events all dependent on one another which Joe rattles off. It was Joe’s third #1 hit (and his first since his debut album). You can watch the video here.

The same writing team of John Greenebaum, Sterling Whipple and Tony Martin wrote the equally cheery uptempo ‘I’d Like To Have A Problem Like That’, which (while filler material) also manages to be amusing enough as Joe expresses Everyman’s envy of the problems of wealth and celebrity.

More obviously a novelty number, ‘Pickup Man’ was a four-week #1 for Joe, making this ode to pickup trucks (unaccountably) technically the biggest hit of his career. I admit the line about
I met all my wives in traffic jams
has a certain quirky appeal, but this throwaway ditty is not the song Joe deserves to be remembered for. Sadly, it is not the worst thing on offer here.

The raucously sung ‘I’m In Love In A Capital U’ is deliberately stupid and actually kind of fun, as Joe plays an uneducated “product of the public school”. It didn’t quite catch on at radio, missing the top 20:

You got me feelin’ so G-U-D
It’s more better than I thought it would be
Girl you taught me things that I never learned in school
I’m in love with a capital U

The album closes with the two silliest songs on it (possibly two of the silliest songs ever written), which really have to be heard at least once to be believed. ‘Good Brown Gravy’ is a shouted and nonsensical song about, well, marketing the protagonist’s family recipe for gravy, including yells about attempts to recruit him into the Army and Navy purely to secure it. Oddly enough this was co-written by Billy Dean (noted as an artist for his sentimental numbers). The final track, Joe’s only co-write this time around, is the even sillier ‘The Cows Came Home’, complete with mooing noises:

She told me that she’d love me ’til the cows came home

The cows came home
The cows came home
I heard somethin’ mooin’
Turned around and she was gone
Lord have mercy, the cows came home

The whole herd showed up when they heard she’d gone
But I guess it’s better than bein’ alone
Well the slammin’ of the door is like a pie in the face
But I got enough milk for the human race

These songs are so hilariously bad they are, occasionally, a guilty pleasure for me. ‘Junior’s In Love’ (written by Dennis Linde) does not even succeed on those terms and ends up just sounding pointless and slightly condescending with its tale of the hapless hillbilly of the title and his frustrated love for Wanda.

But Joe did not abandon his way with a ballad, and there are several gems on this album. ‘So Help Me Girl’ is a lovely melodic ballad about the wonder of falling in love which was released as the third single (after ‘Pickup Man’) and made it to #2. It has a little more of a pop, even boy band, feel, than Joe’s usual ballads, especially in the backing vocals on the chorus and the song was later covered by English pop singer Gary Barlow, for whom it was an international pop hit, and a U.S. AC #1. Joe’s version is much better, partly because he is an infinitely better singer, and he tackles the song with a tenderness which makes the emotion feel real.

The beautiful ‘That Road Not Taken’, written by Casey Kelly and Deborah Beasley, is delicate, subtle, and poignant in its longing for a life that never existed, but might have done had the protagonist made different choices in the past:

What if I had asked you?
What if you’d said yes?
There’s no way I’ll ever know
Still I can’t help but guess

Somewhere down that road not taken
We’ll forever live those dreams that were forsaken
Just every now and then
I miss a place I’ve never been
Somewhere down that road not taken

The fifth and least successful single, it only just crept into the top 40, but it deserves to be much better known. It is my personal favorite track on the album.

‘From Here On Out’, another sensitively delivered ballad, tells the story of someone who almost makes a similar mistake, and is packed ready to leave, but changes his mind just in time:

Lord, it felt like my shoes were nailed to the floor
Had to hold to that old chair when I opened the door
I got a breathtaking view of my life without you
And I couldn’t make it from here on out

‘Wild Blue Yonder’ is a less memorable (but still beautifully sung) ballad, a slow sad song about planning to drink away the pain of heartbreak.

This is a curious mixture: half a very good record, and half a really bad but entertaining one. It was Joe’s second platinum album, but also his last, and I believe that in the long run the focus on novelty songs derailed his career. He had no-one to blame but himself, having co-produced with Johnny Slate.

Grade: B-

It’s easy to get hold of cheap used copies, and it can also be downloaded digitally.

3 responses to “Album Review: Joe Diffie – ‘Third Rock From The Sun’

  1. J.R. Journey August 12, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    I agree that this is the album that probably sealed his fate as a singer of novelty songs. I like ‘So Help Me Girl’ a lot though, and a few others from this album, but not much.

  2. Leeann Ward August 13, 2010 at 6:00 am

    This is my favorite album of his. I guess I like him best as a ditty singer, because I hardly remember “The Road Not Taken” or “From Here on OUt.” I just remember not putting them on my iPod because I thought they were too boring. I like “So Help Me Girl” though. “The Cows Came Home” doesn’t do anything for me, but I do love “Good Brown Gravy”, “I’d like to have a Problem Like that” and “Junior’s in Love.” I don’t listen to the title track a ton, but I like it as well.

    My enjoyment for Diffie albums dips after this one, but ‘he still has some good tracks on the rest.

  3. Kevin August 13, 2010 at 11:01 am

    “Good Brown Gravy”, wow, do I love that song!

    “In My Own Backyard” is a favorite of mine, too.

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