Garth Brooks’ contribution to country music cannot be overlooked. Over his decades-long career, he has helped expand the reach of the genre immensely – forcing even the staunchest country objector to tap their toe along to Brooks’ legion of hits.
Videos by American Songwriter
Videos by American Songwriter
Compiling a list of Brooks’ best songs reads more like a “best of country” list than a singular artists catalog. Revisit the top 10 timeless hits Brooks has given us, below.
10. “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)”
Brooks took things for a sexual turn in “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up).” Keeping things as above board as possible, Brooks shields the more suggestive lines with a number of innuendos: Ten ’til twelve is wine and dancing / Midnight starts the hard romancing / One o’clock that truck is rocking / Two is coming, still no stopping.
9. “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)”
“Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)” was Brooks’ debut on Capitol Records in 1989. He discusses the troubles of a rodeo rider past his prime in the lyrics but, the story could easily double as a commentary on the life of a touring musician. Clearly, the debut was a strong one given the stellar career he amassed following the release of this single.
8. “Papa Loved Mama”
“Papa Loved Mama” is a tried and true toe-tapper about adultery and murder. Co-written by Brooks, the song is distinctly upbeat despite its theme. Papa was a good’n / But the jealous kind / Papa loved Mama / Mama loved men / Mama’s in the graveyard / Papa’s in the pen, he sings in the chorus.
7. “The River”
In the same spirit as “The Dance” (more on that later), “The River” sees Brooks encourage the listener to enjoy every moment of life. The lyrics read, Don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied / Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tide. Brooks loves himself an inspirational tune and “The River” is one of his best in that vein.
6. “Unanswered Prayers”
Brooks was already one of the biggest names in country by the time he released “Unanswered Prayers.” The song only bolstered his fame, going on to inspire a TV movie. Based on a real-life encounter with his high school sweetheart, Brooks sings about their breakup being a blessing in disguise. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers, he sings.
5. “The Thunder Rolls”
Brooks took on the controversial topic of domestic abuse in “The Thunder Rolls.” Though Tanya Tucker released the first recording of this song, Brooks’ version earned him his fifth straight No. 1 single.
“There is no doubt that the toughest song in the GB catalog has to be ‘The Thunder Rolls,'” he once said of the song. “This song came out fighting the day it was released. Originally cut by Tanya Tucker in 1988, it was never put on an album. It came back to us in time for No Fences. My hat’s off to Pat Alger, a great writer and friend, and to music itself, because only music could withstand what this song has gone through.”
4. “More Than a Memory”
“More Than a Memory” brought Brooks back after a period of semi-retirement. The track peaked at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Country Singles chart in 2007, marking his first No. 1 on that chart since “To Make You Feel My Love” in 1998.
3. “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
Brooks often reckons with mortality in his music. “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is one of several songs about death in his catalog. Co-penned by Brooks, the song follows a man lying awake and wondering if he passed in the night, would his wife know how much he loved her. He sings, Is the love I gave her in the past / Gonna be enough to last / If tomorrow never comes? The song went on to be his first No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart.
2. “Friends in Low Places”
“Friends in Low Places” is one of those songs that, when played in a bar, becomes a unifier of the masses. It’s hard to resist joining in with Brooks’ humble brag. Written by DeWayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee, the song was reportedly inspired by a time Lee forgot his wallet while out in Nashville. He then joked, “Don’t worry, I have friends in low places. I know the cook.” The play on the classic phrase went on to earn Brooks a CMA and ACM for Single of the Year.
1. “The Dance”
As evident by this list, Brooks has no shortage of hits to his name. Given that fact, it’s hard to pick just one song that stands taller than the rest but, if we had to pick an undisputed standout (and we do), it would be “The Dance.”
The ballad is about two separate ideas. The first sees Brooks waxing poetic about the end of a romantic relationship. The second is an homage to those that died for something they believed in – “the John F. Kennedy’s or the Martin Luther King’s. John Wayne’s or the Keith Whitley’s” of the world. Both meanings add a deep emotional context to this hit. Revisit the meaning behind the track, HERE.
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