Why Garth Brooks is still relevant in 2014
From the cover of Garth Brooks' The Ultimate Hits
I have exactly two commercially manufactured CDs in my car, and both are by Garth Brooks. I have his 1989 eponymous debut and the seminal No Fences. When nothing else sounds right, Garth always does.
Garth Brooks retired from the music business in 2001. After touring relentlessly for years, he wanted to spend time with his growing children. He probably had his tail between his legs, too, after his pop-rock alter-ego Chris Gaines tanked. Mostly quiet since his retirement, besides the Vegas show that began in 2009 and ended five years later, Garth had no social media presence, no Instagram account or Twitter feed. You couldn't even find him on YouTube or iTunes; he protects his music as fiercely as Prince. All we had of Garth were fond memories and a few mentions on his wife Trisha Yearwood's Food Network show.
Just recently, the country music world exploded upon announcement of Brooks's signing with Sony Music Nashville. He'd release new music, finally get his back catalog online, and -- wait for it -- tour worldwide. We hadn't heard anything new from him in years, and in this attention-deficit society, he should have been long gone from our consciousness by now. But he isn't.
People are still buying his music in hard copy. According to the RIAA, Garth is the second best-selling solo artist in the U.S., following Elvis. He's sold more than 190 million records, and since you can't get them on iTunes, they're still selling in compact disc form. Retro, right? He released a six-disc set, Blame It All on my Roots: Five Decades of Influence, exclusively at Walmart. Four of the six discs were newly recorded cover songs. Since its release in March, it has sold about 850,000 copies.
He's not desperate to stay modern. Garth's contemporaries like Tim McGraw have made a few poor decisions in attempt to change with the trends: the duets with rappers, the makeovers. Garth escaped this by taking a break. (We'll give Chris Gaines a pass.) People are paying attention to Garth regardless:.His two-hour Vegas special, aired the day after Thanksgiving 2013, beat out all competitors with 8.7 million viewers.
The industry needs him. Modern country music is a mess. Jerrod Niemann is using EDM. There's a "country rapper" named Colt Ford who doesn't deserve any more mention than that. Bros run the airwaves, singing about tailgates, painted-on Daisy Dukes, moonshine under their jacked-up truck seats. It all sounds the same, and it all sounds bad. George Strait can't even get a word in edgewise, and don't get me started on the lack of women on country radio. Songs about cowboys, rodeos, and roping cattle are few and far between. The music that made Garth famous isn't being played today. When new artists like Easton Corbin try to harken back to that era, their music gets shelved after two singles and they're forced to give in to Nashville's soulless gloss. Not a whole lot feels authentic on country radio today. See also: The 10 biggest douchebags in country music
Garth is a Perfomer, capital P. Certain country artists like Johnny Cash had always had crossover appeal, but it was Garth who really made an impact first in the pop world. His shows were high-impact. Country artists before him had mostly stuck to standing at the mic stand with their guitars, but Garth onstage would jump, swing, kick up his heels and set things on fire. He brought a performance to country music that it needed, and it caught the world's attention. Soon music by artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill was being played on both country and pop radio. It became easier to fuse the two worlds. There'd be no Taylor Swift or even the preening pretty-boys of Florida Georgia Line on pop radio without his impact. Remember, at a certain point in time Garth Brooks was so famous that he was given the green light to create Chris Gaines. I mean, seriously?
His back catalog is full of classics. I have a theory that everyone likes at least one Garth Brooks song. Certain songs, like "The Thunder Rolls" and "The Dance" have become classics, as beloved as anything by Frank Sinatra or Bruce Springsteen. Have you ever been to a Midwest wedding dance that doesn't play "Friends in Low Places?" No. No you haven't. Most of his songs stand up to the test of time; they don't feel dated. "Garth ... transcends genre. He's one of the elite artists in music history now, whether you think his output deserves to be in the same conversation as that of Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and Elvis or not," said Corey Parkman, who runs Farce the Music, a blog dedicated to country music satire, parody, and review. "As mainstream country goes, his music has never left the airwaves, unlike some of the older legends. 'Friends in Low Places,' 'The Dance,' and others appeal across generations because they still get played all the time."
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.