Troyal Garth Brooks (born February 7, 1962) was, quite simply, the voice of country music for the better part of The '90s. In the entirety of American music, only Elvis Presley has sold as many albums as Garthnote . His Ropin' The Wind was one of the first albums to be certified Diamond by the RIAA, and was the first country album ever to debut at #1... on the Billboard 200 album chart that tracks all albums, not just country albums. (For reference, it held the spot between The Black Album by Metallica and Use Your Illusion II by Guns N' Roses.)
The vast majority of his albums during his peak on Capitol Records drew from the same pool of session musicians (Bruce Bouton, Mark Casstevens, Mike Chapman, Rob Hajacos, Chris Leuzinger, Milton Sledge, and Bobby Wood), longtime producer Allen Reynolds, and longtime sound engineer Mark Millernote , collectively known as the "G-Men". Recurring writers such as Pat Alger, Tony Arata, Kim Williams, Victoria Shaw, and Kent Blazy shaped some of his biggest hits, although he was no slouch to writing his own material or covering obscurities from others. His most famous songs range from slick ballads ("The Dance", "Unanswered Prayers", "What She's Doing Now", "The River") to working-class anthemic songs ("Friends in Low Places", "Shameless", "More than a Memory"), with various other styles in between.
While he may not be the best singer of country songs (something which he himself will be the first to admit), he may well be the best showman country music has ever had, and his integration of pop/arena rock staples into his shows (most notably the use of a headset microphone to allow him to run around stage) brought life and energy to a genre that was increasingly viewed as growing stale and stagnate, helping to bring about a new generation of country stars. He's had half a dozen nationally televised concerts, including memorable ones in Texas Stadium (which installed two bridges to support his antics; the "Garth Bars" remained until the stadium was demolished), Central Park in New York, Croke Park in Ireland, The Wynn in Las Vegas, and Notre Dame in Indiana.
About the only thing Garth did that didn't turn to gold was his alter ego, Chris Gaines, a bizarre side-project where he pretended to be another artist and released music that was almost completely different from his normal output. This was supposed to be for a movie, with The Life of Chris Gaines album supposed to be the soundtrack for it, but because there was no movie, there was no context, and the whole thing looked like some crazy ego trip. Unbelievably, this failed alter-ego project gave Brooks his sole US Top 40 hit with the ballad "Lost in You." Until that point, he had never actually pursued pop radio, except through a cover of KISS' "Hard Luck Woman", and was a firm holdout of selling traditional singles, one reason for his massive album sales. As the music landscape later transformed, he became one of the final stars to resist the streaming revolution; most of his music remains unavailable for free on most platforms.
Going into the 21st century, in the wake of his divorce from his first wife, he entered into semi-retirement in order to spend time with his daughters, intending to return to music full time in 2014 when his youngest turned 18. In 2005, he married fellow country singer Trisha Yearwood, who had been his opening act on his tours for years and done multiple duets with him (most notably "In Another's Eyes") and whom he first began dating in 2000. During this semi-retirement, he occasionally performed at special occasions and benefit concerts. From 2009 to 2014, he had a Las Vegas residency titled Garth at Wynn, where he would periodically perform a couple of shows every few months at the Encore Theatre. In 2012, Brooks was named to the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor was almost inevitable given his accomplishments.
Brooks came out of retirement again in late 2013 for a concert in Las Vegas. The concert was included as part of a box set that also comprised four discs' worth of cover songs. He then announced a full comeback in 2014, with a studio album for RCA Records, Man Against Machine, and a full tour which lasted over three years and featured Yearwood in every show. The album was released in November 2014 and was certified Platinum in less than two months. In September 2016, he got his own channel on Sirius XM radio, which he kicked off with his first-ever concert at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium. Later that year came his next original album, Gunslinger, from which "Ask Me How I Know" became his 20th #1 single on the country charts. His latest album, Fun, came out in November 2020; three singles had already been released from it as early as 2018, including a duet with Blake Shelton.
Despite being the face of a genre of music traditionally associated with conservative values, Brooks is also known for having been an advocate for gay rights for nearly his entire career, due to his half-sister/bandmate Betsy Smittle being a lesbian. Brooks was vocal about this stance far before most artists of his stature in the country sphere were, and at a time where such advocacy likely could have incurred a boycottnote . He insisted on having his first single on The Chase be "We Shall Be Free", a song calling for greater tolerance in the United States, and played hardball with NBC and the National Football League by threatening to pull out of playing the national anthem 15 minutes before the Super Bowl unless they agreed to air its music video, an act that won him a GLAAD award in 1993. Despite this, enough radio stations refused to play the song that it became the first of his singles to not make the Billboard Country Top 10. This barely made a dent in his popularity, and it's a common joke/observed truth in America that few artists could reach across the political aisle like Brooks. In 2021, he performed "Amazing Grace" at Joe Biden's inauguration.
- Garth Brooks (1989)
- No Fences (1990)
- Ropin' the Wind (1991)
- The Chase (1992)
- Beyond the Season (1992)
- In Pieces (1993)
- The Hits (1994)
- Fresh Horses (1995)
- Sevens (1997)
- The Limited Series (1998)note
- Double Live (1998)
- In the Life of Chris Gaines (1999, as Chris Gaines)
- Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas (1999)note
- Scarecrow (2001)
- The Lost Sessions (2005)note
- The Ultimate Hits (2007)
- Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences (2013)
- Man Against Machine (2014)
- Christmas Together (2016, with Trisha Yearwood)
- Gunslinger (2016)
- Triple Live (2018)note
- The Legacy Collection (2019)note
- Fun (2020)
"I've got tropes in low places"...
- Advertised Extra: Garth was one on Trisha Yearwood's "Like We Never Had a Broken Heart" (which he co-wrote), and had one with Steve Wariner on "Longneck Bottle". Both he and Wariner sang background vocals on their respective songs (though Wariner also contributed with guitar.)
- Amazing Freaking Grace: Sang it at Joe Biden's inauguration, in January 2021.
- The Anti-Nihilist: "The Change" is all about this.This heart still believes
That love and mercy still exist
While all the hatreds rage, and so many say
That love is all but pointless
In madness such as this
It's like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss
- Arc Number: Sevens had a ton of sevens hidden in the album art (including "VII" fashioned from the text of the album title), and 777,777 special "first editions" were issued.
- 18 is another one, if "8teen" from Gunslinger is any indication.
- The Artifact: Despite being slicker ballads that are out of step with his established style, "The Dance" and "If Tomorrow Never Comes" have remained in his setlist due to their enduring popularity.
- Audience Participation Song: A big part of his success, and something he will do at every opportunity. Very present on Double Live; the crowd sings along on nearly everything. Most notably on the version of "Friends in Low Places"; coming out of the second chorus, he vamps on the A chord while the audience cheers, then yells, "WHAT?!?" before lampshading the presence of the song's "third verse" (which he's only ever done in concerts, and which at that point had no official recording). He then lampshades this trope by saying "I think the friends in low places should sing the third verse", which they do.
- An even more present example on "Double Live" is the song "Unanswered Prayers". Brooks sings six words of the first verse, then turns the entire rest of the song over to the audience, who are singing it loudly enough to be picked up on the microphones recording the album. After those first words, Brooks' only addition to the song is at the end, when he laughingly says, "Very cool!"
- Be Careful What You Wish For: The subject of "The Beaches of Cheyenne" got this after having an argument with her rodeo riding boyfriend.They never found her body, just her diary by their bedTold about the fight they'd had, and the words that she had saidWhen he told her he was riding, she said 'Then I don't give a damnIf you never come back from Cheyenne'.
- Bitter Wedding Speech: "Friends in Low Places". Better: Singer wasn't invited. Ultimately subverted, because he's happy she dumped him.
- Bolivian Army Ending: A rare musical version of this in "Ireland.""And there are no words to be spoken, just a look to say goodbye"I draw a breath and night is broken, as I scream our battle cry"
- Brother–Sister Team: Garth's older half-sister Betsy Smittle played bass and sang backing vocals in his live band for years before dying of cancer in 2013. She was recognizable due to her thick blonde hair and tasselled, brightly-colored stage shirts.
- By "No", I Mean "Yes": "Not Counting You":Not counting you, I've never had a heartache
Not counting you, I never have been blue
There's no exceptions to the rule, I've never been nobody's fool
I've never lost in love, not counting you
- Calling the Old Man Out: "The Night I Called the Old Man Out."
- Cassandra Truth: In "Cowboy Bill" - although the children all believe his stories (and are proven correct in the end), the adults of the town do not.
- Christmas Songs: Beyond the Season (1992), Garth Brooks and the Magic of Christmas (1999), and Christmas Together (2016). He also included another Christmas song, "Belleau Wood", on Sevens.
- Chronological Album Title: Sevens. The album cover also has several sevens as an Easter Egg of sorts, including "VII" fashioned from the name of the album.
- The City vs. the Country: "Alabama Clay" is about a young farming man who moves away to the city because he's bored of the farm... only to move back to the farm because he hates the city life and his lover has had a baby.
- Clingy Jealous Girl: The video for "The Thunder Rolls" features the cheating husband's mistress pleading with him to stay and leave his wife for her. The husband callously refuses, and after he leaves the mistress calls the wife and tells her about her husband's affair out of spite.
- Cover Album: Garth packs four of them into the Blame It All On My Roots box set, each tuned to a genre that influenced his style: Country Classics, Classic Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul, and The Melting Pot.
- The Cover Changes the Gender:
- Garth wrote "What He's Doing Now" for Crystal Gayle in 1990. He then recorded it himself as "What She's Doing Now" a few years later.
- Triple Live features a cover of Ashley McBryde's "Girl Goin' Nowhere", gender-flipped into "Guy Goin' Nowhere".
- The Cover Changes the Meaning:
- "Friends in Low Places." A fellow country singer and newcomer named Mark Chesnutt was the first to record this Dewayne Blackwell-Earl Bud Lee-penned song, and was intended to be about a man who wallows in despair on the night of his ex-girlfriend's wedding. Chesnutt's version – which actually hit the market a month after Brooks' No Fences album was released – is faithful to the original intent. Brooks (who actually recorded the demo in 1989) decided to make it a raucous kiss-off song where the guy goes out and parties and tells his ex, in essence, "screw you!" To say Brooks succeeded would be an understatement.
- Aerosmith's "The Fever", upon getting the Garth treatment, was changed from its original topic to a portrayal of a rodeo rider and the thrills he gets from his profession.
- Cover Version:
- His version of KISS' "Hard Luck Woman" on the Kiss My Ass album was performed with the band members themselves.
- "Shameless" was originally written as a Jimi Hendrix pastiche by Billy Joel, on Joel's 1989 Storm Front album.
- "Callin' Baton Rouge" was originally done by The Oak Ridge Boys, and was covered first by the New Grass Revival, who played with Garth on his version (and his version of their song "Do What You Gotta Do" as well).
- He teamed up with Trisha to cover "Shallow" from the 2018 version of A Star is Born.
- The Blame It All on My Roots box set has four full albums of cover songs from the genres that influenced him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: In the song "Papa Loved Mama", when long-haul trucker Papa finds out that Mama's not only cheating on him, but has been for a while, his response is to kill her and her lover by driving through the motel room they are in with his semi truck.''Oh, the picture in the paper showed the scene real well
Poppa's rig was buried in the local motel
The desk clerk said he saw it all real clear
He never hit the brakes, and he was shifting gears
- Distinct Double Album: Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences is a four-album box set of cover songs, each sorted by genre: country, rock, soul, and "the melting pot" (covers that don't fit the other three discs' themes).
- Domestic Abuse: The secondary theme for the video for "The Thunder Rolls" (with the song's primary theme being the cheating husband).
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Borderline example with "Rodeo". The verses are about how being a rodeo cowboy will ruin your relationship with your wife, and your health, and your life in general... and then the chorus is a rocking anthem to how awesome it is to be out there participating in the rodeo!
- Do Not Go Gentle: "Ireland": "They will storm us in the morning / When the sunlight turns to sky / Death is waiting for its dance now / Fate has sentenced us to die" ... "And as I look up all around me / I see the ragged, tired, and torn / I tell them to make ready / 'Cause we're not waiting for the morn"
- Drowning My Sorrows: Both "Friends in Low Places" and "Two Piña Coladas".
- Dual-Meaning Chorus:
- "The Thunder Rolls", again. From the literal thunder of the storm, to the emotional thunder of a woman scorned, to the thunderlike sound of a gunshot.
- "What She's Doing Now"...first he wonders What She's Doing Now...then he wonders if she knows What She's Doing Now to him (or, more specifically, her memory).
- "Wolves". The first verse refers to actual wolves who have killed some of the narrator's cattle, while the other two verses refer to the metaphor "keep the wolf from the door" as the narrator has noticed that his neighbors are struggling with poverty and debt, and he doesn't want to be "the one the wolves pulled down" just like they were.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: His first album was less focused and ("The Dance" notwithstanding) generally less rock- and pop-influenced. "Not Counting You" in particular sounds like it could've been cut by nearly anyone (although it's also the only time besides the album cut "Mr. Right" from The Chase that Garth wrote anything entirely by himself).
- Feeling Their Age: "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" is all about this trope - a cowboy starting to feel older and noting that his competition's getting younger.
- Fun with Acronyms: "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association":Do not delay, contact today
Your A. H. B. A., your A. H. B. A.
- Genre Roulette: In the Life of Chris Gaines. Justified as it's supposed to be a greatest hits album for the fictional musician, and one of the songs doesn't even have Garth Brooks performing on it.
- Ghost Story: "The Beaches of Cheyenne", although according to Garth it wasn't originally intended to be one. In fact, he claims it was supposed to be about a businessman dreaming of being a rodeo rider, but a bit of Pronoun Trouble changed its direction completely.
- Grounded Forever: The female protagonist in "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)" shirks her curfew until the morning, and has been rumored to have been "grounded 'til she's dead". However, she escapes by the end of the verse.
- Hard Truckin': The song "Papa Loved Mama" showcased the side of the trucker's life that strains the familial life. Told from the perspective of a trucker's son, his trucker father discovered his wife having an affair with another man, leading him to ram his trucker into the hotel the wife was sleeping in, killing her and sending the father to prison.
- Idiosyncratic Album Theming: Garth supposedly puts his favorite song on each album as the last track. This is why, when his first six albums were reissued for The Limited Series in 1998, the bonus tracks were put in the middle instead of the end.
- The Irish Diaspora: The subject of "Ireland." The American Civil War is one possible setting, but other wars involving Irish soldiers (e.g. the "Wild Geese" who served in continental Europe, or the Latin American wars of independence) can't be ruled out.
- The Lad-ette: The subject of "That Girl Is a Cowboy" is about a woman who outperforms the narrator at various cowboy tasks and leads him to declare that "sometimes the best cowboys ain't cowboys at all."
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: From "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House": "We really fit together if you know what I'm talking about".
- Loudness War: Inverted with Man Against Machine, as many fans feel that Mark Miller actually managed to underproduce some songs, causing many of them (particularly "Ask Me How I Know") to sound like unfinished demos instead of full fledged radio songs.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "It's Midnight Cinderella", "Longneck Bottle", "Rodeo or Mexico", "Dive Bar"
- Mama Bear: The video for "The Thunder Rolls" features the cheating husband beating up his wife, only for their daughter to come down and see what's happening. The husband sees her and turns to attack her too, only for the wife to pull a gun out of a drawer and shoot him dead on the spot. Her shot also breaks a window, and the video ends with a police car pulling up as a dismayed Brooks looks on.
- Man Versus Machine: "Man Against Machine", of course.
- May–December Romance: "That Summer". The pairing is inverted in Man Against Machine's ''She's Tired Of Boys," which matches a younger woman with a mature man.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Longneck Bottle" is all of 2:17.
- Motor Mouth: The rapid-fire verses of "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)". And he actually sings it faster in concert.
- Naked Apron: The female protagonist in "Somewhere Other Than the Night": "She was standing in the kitchen with nothing but her apron on."
- Never Bareheaded: He always wears a black cowboy hat. (Well, sometimes he changes it up and wears a white cowboy hat.) He is, after all, the codifier for the country music "hat act" (where George Strait is the Ur-Example).
- Old Flame: "That Ol' Wind" is about two people who still carry feelings for each other after their separation, but choose to reunite at a concert. The final verse reveals that each has a secret they're hiding from the other, but in the moment, rekindling their old flame is more important.
- Old Flame Fizzle:
- "Every Time That It Rains" has the narrator recalling a former lover that he met at a diner during a rainstorm. He goes back to the diner to try and relive the memories, but finds that their former chemistry is no longer present.
- "Unanswered Prayers". Here the singer thanks God for not answering his prayer to give him his Old Flame, which would've prevented him from having his current wife.
- Parting-Words Regret: The Dramatic Irony of "The Beaches of Cheyenne" is this; when her boyfriend told the female protagonist he intended to ride, she told him "Then I don't give a damn/If you never come back from Cheyenne." Which he doesn't, because he is killed by the bull.
- Personal Effects Reveal: "Cowboy Bill" gets a pretty good one.He was clutchin' a badge that said "Texas Ranger"
And an old yaller letter sayin' "Texas is proud"
- Protest Song: "We Shall Be Free", inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles riots, has Garth protesting against what he sees as obstacles to true freedom. Among the ones mentioned are xenophobia, racism, homophobia, poverty, and world hunger.
- Rearrange the Song: His cover of Aerosmith's "Fever" changes the lyrics considerably; instead of a drugged-up guy having a wild night out, it's about a rodeo rider getting "in the zone".
- Record Producer: Garth worked with producer Allen Reynolds on all of his "main" albums, with Don Was producing the Chris Gaines album. After Reynolds retired, his sound engineer Mark Miller got promoted to producer. Brooks himself produced one of Ty England's albums (and he covered two of the songs on that album), and self-produced Fun.
- Re-release the Song: "Wild Horses", a track from his critically-acclaimed No Fences album, got released as a single in 2001, ten years after the album came out.
- Rock-Star Song: "The Old Stuff" has him reminiscing about the smaller scale of his early pre-fame gigs, when he didn't have a bus and a touring crew, and "the old stuff" (his most famous songs) were new.
- Rockers Smash Guitars: Well, technically he's a country rocker, but he still did so, baseball-style, during his first two live NBC concerts.
- Self-Deprecation: Brooks has often joked about his fluctuating weight, and once famously said that he thought he looked "like a thumb wearing a cowboy hat".
- Serial Escalation:
- In 1991, "The Thunder Rolls" debuted at #19, making it the second-highest debut on the country charts. Fifteen years later, he would tie the record (which was set by Eddie Rabbitt's "Every Which Way but Loose") with the #18 debut of "Good Ride Cowboy." The next two years saw Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney debut singles at #17 and #16, respectively... and only one week after Kenny's debut, Garth's "More Than a Memory" debuted at #1. To put this in perspective: The country music singles charts at the time were tabulated entirely by airplay, not by physical sales or downloads like the all-genre Hot 100 and certain other charts. The nearly 120 stations surveyed by Billboard each had to play "More Than a Memory" an average of 30 to 35 times in one week. What's more, Garth was on an independent label at the time.
- Another perspective maker: Garth's album Ropin' the Wind was the first country album to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. This is the chart for all albums, not just country. Perspective? It first held the position between Metallica's Black album and Use Your Illusion II by Guns N' Roses. Then it went back to #1 after two weeks of Illusion, and then was knocked off the spot by U2's Achtung Baby and Michael Jackson's Dangerous. Then in January 1992, it knocked off Nirvana's Nevermind off the top spot, only a week after Nirvana had done the same to Dangerous, stayed there for two more weeks before Nevermind returned to #1 on 1 February, then returned with a vengeance on 8 February and stayed at #1 until 4 April, when it was pushed off by the Wayne's World soundtrack. Basically, Ropin' the Wind was #1 four separate times. And guess what happened whenever Metallica, Guns N' Roses, U2, Michael Jackson and Nirvana took the #1 position instead? Why, Ropin' the Wind stayed constantly on #2, of course, except for the weeks of 5 and 12 October 1991 where it was #3 after Use Your Illusion I landed at #2 instead. Even better, his previous album, No Fences (aka the one with "Friends in Low Places") was on the charts at the same time, and could only peak at #3 thanks in large part to Ropin' the Wind.
- He name-drops singer/rodeo star Chris LeDoux in "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)". Although Chris was fairly obscure, he and Garth became closely associated, especially after Chris' death in 2005, which led to Garth's tribute song "Good Ride Cowboy".
- He also name-drops George Strait in "Ain't Goin' Down ('Till the Sun Comes Up)"
- Step Up to the Microphone: Ever since their marriage in 2005, Trisha Yearwood will usually do a set in the middle of his concerts, usually consisting of her #1 hit "She's In Love With The Boy", her Signature Song "How Do I Live", and Garth's personal favorite of her songs, "Walkaway Joe", as well as a duet or two with him. This is highly unsurprising given that Garth will tell anyone who stands still long enough that she is a far better singer than he is. And also he really just likes watching his wife do her thing.
- Suicide by Sea: "The Beaches of Cheyenne" tells of a woman who upon learning her husband had died in a rodeo ran out into the ocean and drowned herself.
- Technician Versus Performer: He is the Performer to his wife Trisha's Technician — he has a decent voice, or he'd never have made it on country radio, but the true reason for his success is his ability as a songwriter and, more importantly, his sheer stage presence and charisma. Trisha, conversely, is more reserved — she does well up onstage, but openly admits that she has nothing on Garth in that area — but has what is often cited as one of the greatest voices in the history of country music.
- Telephone Song: "Callin' Baton Rouge" is about a truck driver attempting to call up a woman he'd had a relationship with in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Wasn't he supposed to retire after Scarecrow? Yeah, but Chris LeDoux died, so let's put out "Good Ride Cowboy" in his honor and tack it onto a collection of previously-unrecorded scraps from earlier on. What's that? Another Greatest Hits package? Fine, send out "More Than a Memory" and have it debut at #1.
- Terror at Make-Out Point: "The Night Will Only Know" has two married people (as in married to other people) witnessing a murder during their night of passion in the backseat. The murderer gets off scot-free because the lovers can't reveal what they know about the murder without also revealing their affair, resulting in the victim's death being ruled a suicide.
- 13 Is Unlucky: Garth has admitted to being a triskaidekaphobic. Double Live has 13 songs on the first disc; to keep the last one from being number 13, the official track listing skips from 12 to 14, and "track 13" is just three seconds of applause between songs. Fun similarly skips track 13 by way of a blank track.
- This Is a Song: Occurs twice in "Ask Me How I Know", which has the lyrics "Go on and shake your head and tell me that I'm wrong / Say, 'I'm just another fool and this is just another song'" and later on, "And you best put this song on repeat / Maybe then you won't end up like me".
- Underdressed for the Occasion: The very first line of "Friends in Low Places."Blame it all on my roots
I showed up in boots
And ruined your black tie affair
- Unplugged Version: Brooks' Double Live version of "Unanswered Prayers" is just him, his guitar, and 50,000 of his closest friends.
- Went Crazy When They Left: "The Beaches of Cheyenne"
- Word Salad Lyrics: A mild example. "The Beaches of Cheyenne" is a hauntingly tragic song until you finish listening to it and realize that Cheyenne, Wyoming is landlocked, and there are no beaches there. And the song is about a woman committing Suicide by Sea in California. There doesn't seem to be a clear answer for this by Brooks or his songwriters, except that it scanned well and sounded intriguing.
- ...just wait 'til I finish this glass... then sweet little lady, I'll head back to the bar... and you can kiss my ass!