Garth Brooks’ debut album is the only diamond-selling Class of ’89 album. It’s success was eclipsed only by Garth Brooks’ own album releases into the early 1990s. While the album peaked at only #2 on the country albums chart and #13 on the all-genre chart, its singles sent Garth Brooks’ star soaring into the stratosphere, where it has remained since. Producer Allen Reynolds, with whom Garth had worked exclusively for his entire career (save for his venture into the Chris Gaines alter ego) delivers some of the most traditional recordings of Garth’s storied career for this album and makes for some awesome tracks that still sound great twenty years after their release.
The album opens with the swinging ‘Not Counting You’ which was written by Garth and served as the album’s third single. This song sounds like it would be perfectly at home on any of George Strait’s records from the time, and was perhaps Garth’s tribute to his Stetson-wearing hero. ‘I’ve Got A Good Thing Going’ is a stone-country lament complete with twin fiddles and is still one of my favorites. The first #1 hit from this release is up next in the now-classic ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’. One of my favorite things about Garth Brooks was the instant recognizability of his songs, and this was the first example of that. With the first strum of the guitar licks, it’s evident you’re listening to this chestnut.
The elegant ‘Everytime That It Rains’ follows. Garth relates the story of two old flames who meet again years later to share a dance. While dancing they realize the flame of their love is long gone as he sings ‘If we ever had a flame/Now it’s over and only the memory remains‘. I always thought it was a shame this song was never released to radio. The story of a young man who leaves his Daddy’s Alabama farm for the lights of the big city before coming home to raise his family makes the basis for ‘Alabama Clay’, another excellent traditional story song.
Co-written by Garth with Larry Bastian, ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ is a song anybody over 21 can relate to at one point or another and was the album’s lead single. It was also Garth’s first top 10 hit, peaking at #8 on the charts. This song rekindled the career of Chris LeDoux in the mainstream with the line ‘a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze/Seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all’. Vivid imagery, a killer hook, and a singable melody make this a radio staple still today.
A Texas cowboy full of stories who captured the imagination of every child around was the story of ‘Cowboy Bill’. Up next is the honky tonk shuffle ‘Nobody Gets Off In This Town’. Here, we’re told about a one horse town in a dry county, ‘Now let me see if I can set the scene/It’s a one dog town and he’s old and mean/There’s one stop light but it’s always green/Nobody gets off in this town‘. The kids can’t even drive fast up and down Main Street because it ‘just kicks up dust’. Sad, indeed.
The two closing tracks are the album’s best. ‘I Know One’, written by the great Jack Clement is my favorite track from the album. Here’s a man who doesn’t care what the woman he loves has been up to, he just wants her back. As Garth sings ‘Only a fool would do it/After the way you’ve done/And how many fools would have you?/I know one‘, the fiddles cry and this slow-burning tune comes to brilliant life.
‘The Dance’ is the most remembered of the album’s singles, and with good reason. It was the final single released from the album, and quickly rose to the top spot. The haunting piano intro and the sparse arrangement on the verses allow the lyrics to shine. And shine they do. The narrator in this song is content he didn’t know that things would turn out less than perfect in his life because he might have done things differently. How many of us would have made different decisions if we could see the end-result first? Probably all of us. But in doing so, we’d lose all the wonderful memories we made along the way.
Even though things don’t always turn out like we planned, I am a believer in fate like Mr. Brooks is, and that everything happens for a reason. ‘Our lives are better left to chance, I could have missed the pain/But I’d have had to miss the dance’. The music video for this song intersplices images of Dr. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Keith Whitley, among others, with a simple performance shot of Garth with his guitar delivering the lyric. The video closes as Lorrie Morgan and Keith Whitley dance together, this footage comes from Whitley’s own ‘Homecoming ’63’ music video, and was a moving tribute to all our fallen heroes. Being released just months after Whitley’s tragic death made this video all the more touching, and left a sting at the same time; an all too real reminder why we should dance every dance.
Songs like that are what made Garth Brooks a superstar: thoughtful, passionate, and completely universal. This album is not his strongest, but what debut album should be? Garth Brooks continued to hone his craft as his albums got better and better throughout the early to mid 1990s. Here, he offers up a strong and traditional set of songs and provides a glimpse into the wealth of unparalleled material that was to come.
At the time of the album release, Garth said of the album, “Whether you get the album or not, or whether you have the album or not. Thanks, for just, the interest. That first album is always a big one for any artist and I, without trying to sound egotistical, I’m very proud of my first one.” As he well should be.
None of Garth Brooks’ albums are available at iTunes as he chooses not to sell his songs for individual download – preferring to keep the albums intact. But you can get a new copy of this album from Amazon for about $3. It will be the best 3 bucks you ever spent.
Watch the music video for ‘The Dance’.