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Brooks, Garth

country pop album brooks’s

Brooks, Garth, 1990s country sensation who broke through big time on the pop charts; b. Luba, Okla., Feb. 7, 1962. Brooks’s mother, Coleen, was a small-time country singer who worked sporadically in their native Okla. on recordings and radio. Brooks himself grew up interested in sports, playing football, basketball, and track in high school, and entering Okla. State on a track-and-field scholarship, with a specialty in javelin throwing. His guitar playing career began in high school and continued in college, where he worked college-area clubs performing a mix of James Taylor folk-pop and country. He made his first trip to Nashville in 1985, without success, returning home with his college-sweetheart wife, Sandy Mahl. Returning to Nashville in 1987, Brooks attracted the attention of Capitol Records and producer Allen Reynolds.

His first album was successful, but the followup, No Fences, really began Garthmania. It sold 700, 000 copies in its first ten days of release, and stayed on the pop charts for over a year. His third album, Ropin’ the Wind, entered the pop charts in the #1 position, the first country album ever to do so. Brooks’s hit singles from these albums combined country bathos (“If Tomorrow Never Comes,” a ten-hanky weeper about a husband’s realization of the value of his marriage), with neo-honky tonk (“Friends in Low Places,” a cleverly humorous song with its tip-of- the-hat bass vocals recalling George Jones), and even the feminist “The Thunder Rolls.” a story of a cheating husband (whose message is made graphic in a video that ruffled quite a few conservative Nashville feathers with its depiction of a physically abusive husband).

Brooks’s performing style captured the attention of the major media. Learning a lesson from the arena rock stars of his youth, Brooks built a special set featuring large ramps enclosing the band (enabling him to dramatically charge up and down around his backup musicians), and even installed a rope so he could swing out over the audience, in shades of Ozzy Osbourne-like theatrics! With his portable mike neatly hooked to his ten-gallon hat, Brooks is one of the most mobile and energetic of all country performers, although recently he has descended into such schmaltzy tactics as waving and winking at the audience, and blowing air kisses at his fans.

Brooks 1992 album, The Chase, reflects a further nudging towards mainstream pop, particularly in the anthemic single “We Shall Be Free,” whose vaguely liberal politics also sent shivers of despair through the conservative Nashville musical community. Less successful than his previous releases (although still selling several million copies), Brooks followed it with 1993’s In Pieces, featuring a safer selection of high-energy honky-tonk numbers and even the odd “American Honky-Tonk Bar Association,” in which Brooks beats up on welfare recipients, a shameless attempt to cater to Country’s traditionally conservative audience.

During the mid-1990s, Brooks seemed obsessed with topping The Beatles’s record of selling over 100 million albums; by this time, he had already passed 60 million, and set himself the goal of beating The Beatles by the year 2000. To meet this goal, Garth began a series of clever, if stunt-like promotions with his 1994 The Hits collection, originally issued for a “limited time only.” Blue-light shoppers were thrilled, and the CD sold like crazy. That same year, Brooks teamed with the burghers of burgerland, McDonalds, to release The Garth Brook’s Collection, only available to buyers of the Big Mac (and only for a “limited time”). And, if that was enough reworking of his back catalogue, he also originally packaged his Hits collection with a second CD entitled CD Zooming, which featured snippets from all of his work to date.

Garth’s mid-1990s work has been less-inspired than his earlier work. When he tried to break out of the box with 1995’s New Horses, his fans didn’t tolerate the dreamy folk-flavored material (“Ireland”) or country-styled reworkings of rock songs (Aerosmith’s “The Fever”). In 1996, Garth claimed his label was not adequately promoting his records, withholding his next record, and even lobbying successfully for new management. 1997’s Sevens returned Brooks to more comfortable country ground, but by now the formulas were beginning to wear thin. Nonetheless, record sales were up.

In 1998, in another unusual marketing gambit aimed at getting Garth over the 100-million album mark, he issued The Limited Series, a boxed set “limited” to two million copies, featuring all of his previous albums, each with one additional cut.

Garth Brook’s career took a surreal turn in 1999 when he issued the album Garth Brooks inthe Life of Chris Gaines . Supposedly a “greatest hits” album by an 1980s-era pop rocker, the album was a “pre-soundtrack” to a film Brooks says he will make about the fictional rocker. Not surprisingly, given Brooks’s love of mainstream pop-rock of the 1970s and 1980s, Gaines’s “hits” are very much in a mainstream mold, given a competent if not inspired production by pop producer Don Was. Brooks’s vocals lose their country warble, and he even attempts some R&B-flavored falsetto.

The album was greeted by mixed reaction. Some critics lambasted the singer for not having enough courage to “go pop” under his own name. Few thought the music was inspired, and the hubris of labeling new material “greatest hits” which have never been actually on the charts undoubtedly annoyed many rock and country writers. The record’s sales were pitiful by Brooksian standards, a clear sign that his fans were not yet ready for Garth-without-a-hat. He followed up with a hastily assembled album of Christmas standards, which also failed to make much of an impact among the record-buying public.

Nonetheless, Brooks’s phenomenal success in the 1990s is a combination of genuine talent, shrewd marketing, and being “in the right place at the right time (with the right act)” His neo-country act draws so much on mid-1970s folk-rock and even arena rock (in its staging) that it’s hard to think of him as a pure country artist. The fact that several of his albums have shot to the top of the pop charts, outgunning Michael Jackson, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Bruce Springsteen, underscores the fact that Brooks is a pop artist dressed in a cowboy hat. Still, Brooks draws on genuine country traditions, particularly the honky tonk sound of George Jones, and he’s managed to popularize country music without diluting the sound.

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