Since he burst upon the scene in 1989 with the top ten hit “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” Garth Brooks has built one of the more iconic careers in the entertainment business. Of course, his sales proficiency – over one hundred twenty million in the United States alone – has never been doubted, but a look inside his catalog serves as an education on just why country music has become the success that it is today.
So many artists list Brooks as an influence, and while many credit his trend-setting stage show, they also are quick to point to a catalog of Garth Brooks songs that continue to inspire a generation – ranging from the rowdy and raucous to the sweetly sentimental. Here are ten of the most essential tracks that prove why Brooks has enjoyed such staying power among his fans.
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10. Garth Brooks – “Callin’ Baton Rouge”
The song had been around for awhile prior to Brooks cutting it for In Pieces. New Grass Revival had enjoyed a minor hit on the Dennis Linde song, and the Oak Ridge Boys also cut the song. But it was Brooks’ version that set the world aflame. The bluegrass-inspired song also gives Brooks’ band a chance to lay down some tasty instrumental licks when they perform the song live – which as it turns out, is every night!
9. Garth Brooks – “Ain’t Goin’ Down Till The Sun Comes Up”
If there was any doubt whether success might have caused Brooks to lose his musical bite, this rollicking hit from the fall of 1993 served notice that the five-time Entertainer of the Year could still get his groove on as well as anyone. The song is still a huge part of his road show to this day, for that simple reason. It rocks – perhaps better than any of his other hits!
8. Garth Brooks – “The Thunder Rolls”
Any conversation about classic Garth Brooks songs has to include this slice of real life about a cheating spouse’s failing to make it home one night. Of course, the lyrics and production were dramatic enough, but the singer took it one step further by releasing a video that featured the singer (with a beard) meeting an untimely demise after the argument became physical. CMT banned the video, but the die was set. Interestingly enough, similar to “What She’s Doing Now,” Brooks co-wrote the song, but wasn’t the first to record it – that distinction went to Tanya Tucker.
7. Garth Brooks – “Shameless”
Garth Brooks always gave praise to his heroes, and his love of Billy Joel turned up on his 1991 Ropin’ The Wind album with this cover of a track from Storm Front. Though a cover, the song was undoubtedly one of his most convincing performances – about a man willing to go to any lengths to prove his affection. His performance of the song on the 1991 CMA Awards, complete with the tearing of petals from a rose, became water-cooler talk for the next morning.
6. Garth Brooks – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
In a sense it’s fitting that this Brooks ballad became one of the final chart-toppers of the 1980s, as it set the table for what proved to be one of the most successful decades for any country performer of all time. The heartfelt lyrics of a love that deserved to be celebrated while one still had the opportunity struck a chord with fans of all ages. Obviously, the song became a cigarette lighter moment before cell phones replaced them as a concert prop!
5. Garth Brooks – “Two Pina Coladas”
Brooks conjured up his inner Buffett on this lively number from 1997’s Sevens, which became yet another chart-topper for the singer. The singer knew exactly what he was doing when he recorded the song, as the lyrics feature a sing-along chorus that allows the crowd to take over night after night!
4. Garth Brooks – “More Than A Memory”
After Brooks backed away from performing to focus on raising his children, he would pop up every now and then with special projects. Some were better than others – his 2005 The Lost Sessions disc being an underrated highlight, one wondered if Brooks could still record music that was as contemporary as the new group of performers who had risen in his place. This jaw-dropping emotional wringer – of which Lee Brice is one of the writers – proved that some things, such as Garth Brooks’ ability to deliver a lyric, remained flawless.
3. Garth Brooks – “Friends In Low Places”
Garth’s mother actually provided canon for this one becoming a classic. She gave a copy to a radio station of Garth’s material for his sophomore album, and as you can imagine, the station ran with it. The song raced to the top of the charts in the fall of 1990, giving Brooks one of his rowdiest entries onto the charts – as the lead single from No Fences. Of course, the live version of this song still makes the fans sing along live in concert, and the stern kiss-off to an old flame was recently given the cover treatment by Brooks for his Target box set, along with Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and George Strait.
2. Garth Brooks – “The Dance”
It’s hard to believe, but Capitol Records was just about set to move on to album number two, but the fan reaction to this powerful Tony Arata composition convinced then-label head Jimmy Bowen to issue one final single from Brooks’ self-titled debut album. The contemplative lyrics touched many listeners, but the song truly found its groove with the inspiring video, which shone a light on such public figures as John Wayne, Martin Luther King, Jr., and rodeo cowboy Lane Frost, and the price each paid for their dreams. Still, almost thirty years later, the clip (and the song) still gives one chills!
1. Garth Brooks – “What She’s Doing Now”
It might not come to mind immediately when you think of classic Garth Brooks songs, but the composition about the shadow that a former lover still casts on one’s life proved to be one of his most convincing performances, topping the singles chart for four weeks in February 1992. The song quite possibly remains Brooks’ most enduring to this day – especially among anyone who has lived the lyrics. Believe it or not, however, this song was originally cut by Crystal Gayle as “What He’s Doing Now.”