"Our colors also are a very important and powerful visual tool used to help identify the John Deere brand." — Excerpt from the John Deere Corporate Visual Identity Standards
My dog, Eddie, and I have birthdays four days apart, right around Memorial Day. And for the last few years, my (now) wife, Katie, and I pack up ourselves and the dog and head out to a quiet lake house somewhere in Wisconsin for a shared birthday weekend. It’s mostly spent lounging around the water, canoeing, grilling, reading, napping in the sun and drinking beers by a fire while roasting marshmallows. It’s all very Red, White and Blue. It also includes at least one night where Katie and I venture into the small town to slug beer and whiskey back with the locals.
The best kind of bars are small joints—taverns. The kind with a dartboard, surly regulars, a bartender or two who have been working there for at least a decade and look equally as pickled as the hardboiled eggs in the jar on the corner of the bar next to the video poker machine that doesn’t pay out. The walls are adorned with beer brand-sponsored swag like mirrored advertisements or NASCAR hoods, an American flag that is tattered just enough so you can bet with certainty that it used to fly from the flagpole in the center of town. And of course, any bar worth getting drunk in has a jukebox.
During last year’s birthday trip, we found such a bar and as I tend to do, I loaded up two-hours’ worth of music while Katie ordered our drinks and traded her driver’s license for darts. Though I have a wide taste in music, we decided that this particular bar and evening called for a straight shot of pure country. Katie took the lead on choosing most of the songs because country music is her specialty. It’s the sound she grew up with in Hammond, Illinois, a small farming town about twenty minutes east of Decatur.
As I kicked her ass in a second round of cricket, I heard it. I don’t know how I had gone twenty-three years without hearing it before. It was the most incredible early-nineties country song I’d ever heard: Joe Diffie’s John Deere Green. When our songs ran out, I stuffed another five bucks in the machine and selected the song again, twice. My third pick was Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe, which was to be our exit song because by this time, we were pretty drunk and Katie was doing a better job of hitting the center of the small bathroom door next to the dartboard than she was hitting the dartboard itself.
When we got back to our rental house, we sat on the dock and I pulled the song up on my phone’s YouTube app to hear it again. I found the video with the lyrics. I could not get enough.
John Deere Green is most certainly the greatest country song ever written and performed. Penned by country song writer extraordinaire Dennis Linde who also wrote Burning Love for Elvis Presley and Goodbye Earl for the Dixie Chicks, the song was the third single from Diffie’s 1993 album Honky Tonk Attitude. It claimed the #5 spot on the country charts.
The song has everything a country song needs to shine:
• Small town
• Rebellion in the name of love
• Farming, or specifically tractors or trucks
It’s the story of Billy Bob and Charlene, teenagers who met in the 1960s “down in Dixie.” In a sweeping romantic gesture, Billy Bob takes to the town’s water tower and “painted a ten-foot heart in John Deere green. On a hot summer night, he wrote ‘Billy Bob Loves Charlene’ in letters three-foot high. And the whole town said the boy shoulda used red but it looked good to Charlene in John Deere Green.” It goes on to tell us that Billy Bob and Charlene settled down together, made a home and a family and from their front yard, on a clear day, you could still see his "words of love" despite the town’s earlier efforts to paint over it.
It’s a sweet story. It makes me think fondly of my wife’s origins and my in-laws. Katie’s parents met in high school, quickly fell in love, got married and had four kids. They live in the same town where they grew up and in the house where her dad was raised. It is, at the surface and for everything it’s worth, a magnificent and simple American love story for the ages.
So when I hear the song, I am overcome with a feeling of nostalgia for young love and a sweet gratitude for the once-teenagers that are my in-laws who gave the world my wonderful wife.
But the greatness of John Deere Green goes even deeper.
Its pop perfection must be noted. The hook is undeniably catchy. Diffie’s twang is flawless at every necessary turn. It changes keys right at the song's climax. We must also consider Diffie’s magnificent 1993 country mullet he was sporting when he recorded and released this song. And the character’s names… Billy Bob and Charlene. Tell me, are there two better redneck names than Billy Bob and Charlene? Maybe Hyucky Joe and ‘Lil Sis, but that would be offensive.
The only thing this song lacks is that I wish Diffie had taken the opportunity to avoid a slant rhyme and go supernova country by pronouncing "tomatas" as "tomaters" in the line, "They settled down on 80 acres/raisin' sweet corn, kids and tomatas."
Give the song a listen. Get into Joe Diffie’s catalogue. Seek out as many YouTube videos as you can but be careful because as you go deeper into the Joe Diffie/John Deere Green YouTube wormhole, you’ll end up coming across Diffie performing with a guy called D-Thrash who is otherwise part of the country-rap band Jawga Boyz. And this is the gateway into the strangest, shittest, lowest form of music known to man. And yeah, I’m including anything done by Bon Iver, Animal Collective and Ashlee Simpson.
The Jawga Boyz are terrible in every way possible. It’s what happens when you mix Confederate pride, trucks driving through mud, chin beards, camouflage and Daisy Duke-clad women who are far, far too attractive to be palling around with the likes of white trash like the Jawga Boyz, and bake it all in an oven waaaay south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The result is ear-crushing music made by horrific mutant scum that could well be the harbinger of the Apocalypse.
Yet as terrible as it is, it’s still not enough to tarnish the perfection that is John Deere Green. Much like the message Billy Bob scrawled on the water tower, there’s nothing that will erase its beauty.