#144 Garth Brooks – No Fences (1990)

Garth Brooks…the name now seems synonymous with country music.  But that was not the case when “No Fences” was released in August of 1990. This was the album that set off the country boom of the early ’90’s. From the twangy opening lines of “Friends In Low Places” to the anthem-like chorus the song was a can’t miss country hit, who knew that it would have the power to crossover and pull in a non-country crowd? The record company might have felt they had something special on their hands (Capitol Records Nashville). After Garth’s success with his 1st release, including a big hit with the song”The Dance”, the record company must have seen the potential in Garth. “No Fences” is as slick a packaged production that country had seen to that point. Garth himself wrote very little of this album. When I went back to re-listen to this record for the purpose of writing this blog I was waiting to hear a concerted effort to make this record have crossover appeal. Truthfully it was hard to find. Probably the closest that can be found is “The Thunder Rolls”, a song which talks about domestic abuse and would sound much more rock than country if not for Garth’s smooth country twang. Other than that the album really comes off with a very traditional sound which is rooted much more in Hank Sr. than in Lynard Skynard. On subsequent albums the intention to release crossover songs would be obvious, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case here. Make no mistake the record company was out to create a superstar,a country superstar, but there is no way they could see how far he would take them beyond their boots and hats. The other big thing that happened around this time that would aid in the country music explosion, and to Garth Brooks popularity in particular, was the introduction of the Nielsen SoundScan tracking system, which began tracking sales data for Nielsen on March 1, 1991. The previous system for tracking record sales was rift with fraud and inaccuracies. The new system conveyed a more accurate count of actual sales. The first single released was “Friends In Low Places” a song that still resonates with people 20 years later. Although it was not the biggest hit off the record it is the song that has withstood the test of time and has become a classic in the truest sense of the word. Last year a group of us traveled to Kansas City to watch the Twins take on the Royals over the weekend. This is the song that they played during the 7th inning stretch. On both evenings the entire stadium rose and sang this tune loud & proud in unison. It was rowdy and fun. Two things occurred to me at the time. The first was that this is still a great song, the second was man am I jealous that we don’t have a seventh inning stretch song that gets the crowd going like this. It was the first of four consecutive #1 songs off this record. The second was “Unanswered Prayers” a soft ballad of reminiscing about your high school love. The third was a country honky-tonk rave up “Two of a Kind (Working On A Full House)”. In late 1991 “The Thunder Rolls” was released and gave the album new legs and a new audience and things would never be the same for him again. The record would go on to sell over 17 million copies and land at #4 on Billboards End of the Decade (1990-1999) Albums chart.

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