In 1981, a young college student at Oklahoma State University had a passion for athletics and an intense fondness of rock music. But that year, he heard the song “Unwound,” which was the debut single from the man who would later become known as “The King of Country,” George Strait.
After hearing that song, the young man decided he wanted to have a career in country music, and from that moment on, the entire music industry was forever changed.
That young man’s name was none other than Garth Brooks.
Brooks made a permanent move to Nashville in 1987, and after making some contacts in the city, he released his first album in 1989, which made him an instant success. His second album, No Fences, further cemented his place in country music, churning out hit songs such as “Unanswered Prayers” and “Friends in Low Places.”
Over the years, Brooks continued to release hit song after hit song, and is now ranked as the best-selling solo artist in the United States, and the second best-selling music artist in the nation overall.
Eventually, Brooks also became known as one of the best entertainers in country music. Known for his energetic stage presence, Brooks sold out venues and broke ticket sales records wherever he played, and earned himself the title of Entertainer of the Year multiple times from the CMA and ACM.
In 2000, Brooks shocked country fans around the world when he announced his retirement. Brooks wanted to take the time to help raise his daughters, and said that he may return once his oldest turned 18.
Throughout his retirement, Brooks played at a few shows and spent three years performing on the weekends in Las Vegas. Finally, in 2014 Brooks announced his return to country music, and soon embarked on a World Tour with his wife, Trisha Yearwood. With his tour, Brooks proved he is still a country music powerhouse, and shattered his old ticket sales records in many of the cities he traveled to.
As of right now, Brooks is still on his tour, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. In honor of Brooks’ 54th birthday on February 7, we’ve decided to pay tribute to the country legend with three of his best songs.
Co-written by Brooks and Pat Alger, “The Thunder Rolls” was released in 1991 as the fourth single from his second album, No Fences. What few people know is that the song was originally recorded by Tanya Tucker, but she did not release her version until 1995.
Brooks was the one who came up with the idea for the song, wanting to explore the concept of “thunder” rumbling within a marriage while a storm raged outside at the same time. Originally, the song only had two verses, but Brooks and Alger wrote a third one for Tucker when they thought she was going to release it. But when she held off on releasing her version, Brooks decided to record it himself, only singing the first two verses, though he will sing the third verse at some live performances.
The song’s lyrics tell the story of a man driving home in a thunderstorm after spending some time with his lover. His wife paces around at home, “Askin’ for miracle/Hopin’ she’s not right/Prayin’ it’s the weather/That’s kept him out all night.”
When the man returns home, his wife rushes out to hold him, “But on the wind and rain/a strange new perfume blows/And the lightnin’ flashes in her eyes/And he knows that she knows.”
In the CD booklet for his greatest hits album The Hits, Brooks wrote the following about “The Thunder Rolls”:
“There is no doubt that the toughest song in the GB catalog has to be ‘The Thunder Rolls.’ This song came out fighting the day it was released.”
We get chills every time we listen to “The Thunder Rolls,” which we’re sure is the effect Brooks was going for when he wrote and recorded the song.
Released as the final single off of Brooks’ debut album in 1990, “The Dance” not only made a huge impact on Brooks’ career, but the world as a whole.
“The Dance” was a number one hit in the U.S. and Canada and also broke into the Top 50 on the charts in the UK, Ireland, and Scotland. The song was nominated for multiple awards, and Brooks won big at the 1990 ACM Awards, taking home trophies for Song and Video of the Year.
In 2003, CMT ranked “The Dance” as the 14th greatest song on its 100 Greatest Songs of Country Music special. Due to all of its success, “The Dance” is considered to be one of Brooks’ signature songs.
Prior to the song’s music video, Brooks explained that “The Dance” has a double meaning to it, and that it can be taken as a breakup song or as a story about someone dying due to their beliefs.
Regardless of how you interpret the song, the narrator says that all of the pain is worth it in the end, since he still got to experience “the dance.” These feelings are best illustrated in the lines, “Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain/But I’d have had to miss the dance.“
In 1994, Brooks spoke to Playboy about the success of “The Dance,” and expressed how much the song means to him personally:
“Unless I am totally surprised, ‘The Dance’ will be the greatest success as a song we will ever do. I’ll go to my grave with ‘The Dance.’ It’ll probably always be my favorite song.”
Due to its powerful message and Brooks’ emotional delivery, “The Dance” is one of our favorite country songs as well.
Although strikingly different from its preceding single, “The Dance,” Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” is another one of his biggest hits. Released in 1960 off of his album No Fences, the song was co-written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee.
The two songwriters gave the song to Brooks to record as a demo prior to the release of his debut album, and Brooks instantly fell in love with it. He went on to record the official version the following year to include on No Fences.
“Friends in Low Places” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for a total of four weeks and claimed the number one spot on the charts in Canada. The song also earned Brooks the Single of the Year award in 1990 at both the ACM and CMA Awards that year.
Lee says that the idea for the song came out of an experience at Nashville restaurant when he forgot his wallet. When he was asked how he would pay for his meal, he said he had “friends in low places,” because he knew the cook. That trigged something in Lee and Blackwell, who both thought the expression could make a good song.
The song is really just a big country party anthem, with the classic chorus starting out with the lines, “‘Cause I’ve got friends in low places/Where the whiskey drowns/And the beer chases my blues away.”
Brooks later added the now famous “third verse” to his live performances of “Friends in Low Places,” which is many fans’ favorite part of the song.
Like “The Dance,” before it, “Friends in Low Places” is regarded as one of Brooks’ signature songs. Now, whenever country fans here the words, “Blame it all on my roots/I showed up in boots…” they can’t help but sing along at the top of their lungs.
Songs such as “Thunder Rolls,” “The Dance,” and “Friends in Low Places” have drastically different meanings and generate different sets of emotions. But the one thing they all share in common is that they were recorded by Brooks, who turned each one into a hit country song.
If Brooks hadn’t heard that George Strait song in 1981, country music fans would probably never know songs like those above, because they simply wouldn’t exist.
Thankfully, the stars aligned at the right time to bring Brooks into country music, not only making him a legend, but providing us with some of the best music in country history.
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