When we sat down to do a podcast about the greatest songs in history, it never would have occurred to me that the first song we talked about in any (albeit brief) detail in Episode 1 would be “John Deere Green” by Joe Diffie, a song that topped out at Number 5 on the country charts. But, after thinking about it for a bit, I think it fits into our ambitious project pretty well.
First, Joe Diffie himself – he had a solid career with some chart success, including two Number 1 country songs. But, except to those of us who spent the 90s listening to country radio while driving a Ford Ranger, he’s not a household name in the 2020s. Sadly, I was reminded of his songs (after years of him not crossing my mind) when he passed away from COVID in March 2020, one of the first notable names taken by the pandemic. He was a talented country vocalist who recorded with some more well-known names, including the legendary George Jones.
Like many of his bigger hits – including his biggest chart success, “Pickup Man” – “John Deere Green” is intended to make you chuckle – the tale of a high school romance between Billy Bob and Charlene. Intending (successfully) for the entire town to know his affections, Billy Bob paints a giant heart – not in red, but in the color of his tractor. Although it’s not what I would call deep, it actually holds up pretty well – there’s no punching down and it does feel like Diffie sings the lyrics from the heart.
“John Deere Greene” was written by Dennis Linde, another Nashville staple with quite a career. His first big hit as a songwriter was none other than “Burning Love,” by Elvis and his last major contribution was writing “Goodbye Earl,” a controversial gold single for (the also controversial) The Chicks.
In short, we have a well-penned, well-received, country hit resulting from the combination of two music business lifers who were always looking to make a smash and who both occasionally succeeded. In the journey through rock and roll history that we’re about to start, there are thousands more songs like this than there are eternally-loved Number 1s. But it’s songs like this that make us love music and keep coming back searching for those special songs.