When Diamond Rio released their debut self-titled album in 1991, they made history. The album's lead single, "Meet In the Middle," spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. At the time, they were the first country music group whose debut made it all the way to that coveted top spot.
Once Diamond Rio hit the charts, they were there to stay. Comprised of members Dan Truman, Marty Roe, Jimmy Olander, Brian Prout, Gene Johnson and Dana William, the group went on to have four more No. 1 hits. Between 1991 and 2006, Diamond Rio sent 32 singles to the charts overall; 22 of those going to the Top 10.
The 1990s have come to be regarded as one of the finest decades in country music. Artists like Diamond Rio defined the era's sound and made it fertile soil for producing songs that would go on to be classics in the genre. While it's tempting to distill the magic and point to individual factors that make Diamond Rio's music so beloved by country music listeners, it's most accurate to say that the band members are experts in opening themselves to the full spectrum of human emotion and experience — and inviting others to join them on the journey.
It's also true that, from the beginning, the band's very structure set the group apart from the rest. In country music, it's commonplace for artists and groups alike to use session musicians on their albums. Diamond Rio, however, never followed this model. The group has always been self-contained — save for certain tracks like "One More Day" that enlisted a strings section. Their cohesion is deeply felt by those who listen.
Read on to see The Boot's picks for Diamond Rio's 10 best songs, which are essential listening for any country music fan:
"God Only Cries"From: 'Greatest Hits II' (2006)
Diamond Rio has a long history of contemplating loss and the power of faith in their music. "God Only Cries" does just that. It was one of four newly recorded tracks that were included on the group's second greatest hits album.
Written by Tim Johnson, the lyrics profess: "God only cries for the living / 'Cause it's the living that are left to carry on / An' all the angels up in Heaven / They're not grieving because they're gone / There's a smile on their faces / 'Cause they're in a better place than they've ever known / God only cries for the living / 'Cause it's the living that are so far from home."
Diamond Rio's instrumentation perfectly matches the emotive quality of the lyrics, swelling with the embodiment of love and grief.
"Love a Little Stronger"From: 'Love a Little Stronger' (1994)
"Love a Little Stronger" peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country charts upon its release in 1994. The lead single from the group's album of the same name, "Love a Little Stronger" is an ode to renewed promises and commitment. Guitarist Jimmy Olander is given ample room to shine, adding more depth to the mellow track with his artful work. The group's well-honed harmonies — which helped set them apart from the rest of country radio — further elevate the song and solidify Diamond Rio's status as some of the best all-time greats on par with the Eagles. Fittingly, Diamond Rio covered "Lyin Eyes" for 1993's Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles.
"Norma Jean Riley"From: 'Diamond Rio' (1991)
On "Norma Jean Riley," Diamond Rio's traditional country and bluegrass influences are on full display. It was the group's fourth single released from their debut album, and it peaked at No. 2 on the country charts. Full of romantic yearning, it's a good-natured track that pretty much everyone can relate to. In each verse, the speaker comes up with different hijinks to earn Norma Jean Riley's attention and ultimately win her affection. By the end of the honky tonk track, he raises the stakes and plans to propose to the local beauty.
"How Your Love Makes Me Feel"From: 'Greatest Hits' (1997)
The opening line of "How Your Love Makes Me Feel" may state "I'm no poet and I know it," but that simply isn't true of the group. The track, which was Diamond Rio's second No. 1 hit, is full of the everyday poetry that is so quintessential to Diamond Rio's catalog.
"How Your Love Makes Me Feel" was penned by Trey Bruce and Max T. Barnes. In the hands of Diamond Rio, the song is one of those that insist you sing along - especially at the chorus: "It's like just before dark / Jump in the car / Buy an ice cream / And see how far we can drive before it melts kind of feelin' / There's a cow in the road / And you swerve to the left / Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death / And you laugh until you cry / That's how your love makes me feel inside."
"Unbelievable"From: 'Unbelievable' (1998)
Penned by Jeffery Steele and Al Anderson, "Unbelievable" was Diamond Rio's 21st single to hit the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song even charted on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 36. The upbeat, celebratory love song is downright infectious with its rapid-fire chorus, executed perfectly by lead vocalist Marty Roe. Plus, it's layered with the kind of guitar and piano work that gets you up out of your seat and dancing every time.
"I Believe"From: 'Completely' (2002)
In 2009, Diamond Rio recorded a Christian music album titled The Reason. But long before that record, the group was sharing the comforts of their faith with listeners.
In the time since its release, "I Believe" has brought solace and affirmation to countless listeners through lyrics that ruminate on loss and the power of love: "And with all my heart I'm sure / We're closer than we ever were / I don't have to hear or see / I've got all the proof I need / There are more than angels watching over me / I believe / Oh, I believe."
"I Believe" was the group's last No. 1 hit to date, becoming their fifth career single to hold the title.
"Meet In the Middle"From: 'Diamond Rio' (1991)
Released in 1991, "Meet In the Middle" is the song that started it all. The group's debut single went all the way to No. 1 and solidified Diamond Rio's presence on the country music charts for the years to come.
Holding company with the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," "Meet In the Middle" is one of the greatest compromise songs ever written. Diamond Rio brings a sense of joy and pride to the hard work required by relationships: "We'd gain a lot of ground / 'Cause we'd both give a little / And there ain't no road too long / When you meet in the middle." Full of jaunty banjo, mandolin, and organ flourishes, "Meet In the Middle" shows off the group's prowess as both instrumentalists and great harmonizers.
"Beautiful Mess"From: 'Completely' (2002)
Written by Shane Minor, Clay Mills, and Sonny LeMarie, "Beautiful Mess" spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot Country Chart upon its release in 2002. Stylistically, the song was a bit of a departure for the group. Not quite a ballad and not quite a traditional country song, "Beautiful Mess" stood apart from the group's other hits as a more contemporary-sounding track.
Still, the tune has the group's signature, sublime harmonies — and lyrics that are relatable to anyone who's ever fallen in love.
"One More Day"From: 'One More Day' (2001)
"One More Day" is one of those songs that has taken on a life of its own in the hearts and souls of listeners. When Diamond Rio first recorded the song, the group had no idea how important the song would become. In 2017, Marty Roe told The Boot, "When we cut it, we just thought it was a great love song. We loved it. There was no way we could have guessed just how much it would mean to our career and to our fans." He said, "They used it in a lot different ways than I think we ever would have dreamed of: as a memorial to Dale Earnhardt; on 9/11, it took off and had a resurgence after that. It seemed to say what people wanted to hear and what they wanted to say about somebody they lost."
"One More Day" was a number one hit on the country charts, and even crossed over to the adult contemporary charts, climbing into the Top 10.
"You're Gone"From: 'Unbelievable' (1998)
"You're Gone" has one of the most captivating opening lines in country music: "I said hello I think I'm broken / And though I was only jokin' / It took me by surprise when you agreed." In a matter of seconds, listeners are brought into a powerful, heart-wrenching emotional experience. Roe gives one of his best-ever vocal performances, perfectly capturing the complexities of loss.
"You're Gone" was the lead single from Unbelievable and peaked at No. 4 on the country music charts. The musically understated track is driven by a strong piano and enhanced by acoustic guitar and harmonies from the group. For decades, "You're Gone" has offered listeners a space for their heartbreak and loss to be recognized. Penned by Jon Vezner and Paul H. Williams, the lyrics have one of the most profound choruses ever written. "And I bless the day I met you / And I thank God that he let you / Lay beside me for a moment that lives on / And the good news is I'm better for the time we spent together / And the bad news is you're gone."