Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Garth Brooks, “Unanswered Prayers”

“Unanswered Prayers”

Garth Brooks

Written by Pat Alger, Larry Bastian, and Garth Brooks

Billboard

#1 (2 weeks)

January 12 – January 19, 1991

Radio & Records

#1 (4 weeks)

Deember 14, 1990 – January 4, 1991

Garth Brooks takes the Radio & Records chart into 1991 with this long-running No. 1 single.

The Road to No. 1

Garth Brooks earned his fourth Radio & Records No. 1 of 1990 and his first Billboard No. 1 of 1991 with “Unanswered Prayers,” which followed on the heels of his signature smash hits “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places.”  Would his efforts dip down to those of mere mortals after those two undeniable classics?

The No. 1

No.  No, they would not.

“Unanswered Prayers” is every bit as good as “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places,” and it is understandable how these records combined to push Brooks to the front of the pack of the talented young country artists that were taking the genre by storm.

In fact, I’d argue that “Unanswered Prayers” benefits heavily from being recorded by Garth Brooks before he became Garth Brooks.  You can hear him pushing back a bit against the restraints of a standard country ballad, flirting with that odd operatic style he’d use on later hit ballads once his star had fully risen.

Thankfully, he keeps himself in check here, letting the song do the heavy lifting.  It’s a simple tale of a man realizing at a hometown football game that God had ignored his prayers to make his fellow classmate fall in love with him, and He’d done so because he was meant to be with the woman on his arm:  “As she walked away, I looked at my wife.  And then and there I thanked the good Lord for the blessings in my life.”

This was the peak of Garth as the every man, granting meaning and signficance to the otherwise mundane events in our lives.   Yes, even that small town man who had his heart broken by a girl in high school and then married someone else is part of God’s greater plan.   He’s also got some friends in low places to keep him company between his heart being broken and him meeting his soulmate.

The Road From No. 1

The Garth train is in full gear now, and 1991 will be another year of multiple No. 1 hits, record-shattering sales, and the sweeping of major industry awards.  Stay tuned.

“Unanswered Prayers” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: George Strait, “I’ve Come to Expect it From You” | Next: Alabama, “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go”

6 Comments

  1. I heard this song on K-102 one night when I was in bed listening to Wayne Elliott’s evening show. I remember the James Herriott “All Creatures Great and Small” books next to my bed and the brown, articulated high intensity lamp above my bed I read those books beneath. Except that night I was listening to the debut of Garth Brooks’ newest single on the radio. The song blew me away.

    Brooks doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a storyteller. Story songs have always been a huge part of his output. From “Cowboy Bill” to “Wolves” to “Lonesome Dove” to “Tired of Boys.”

    “Unanswered Prayers” stands firmly in that line. Certainly one of his signature songs. Perhaps more than any other of his early singles, in “Unanswered Prayers” you can see all the aspects of what would become “Garth” fermenting and percolating: the sentimentalism, the mellow-drama, the potential arena-wide sing-along potential of a song, vocal explorations. It is all there in this classic song.

    Brooks was becoming something country music hadn’t experienced in decades, and arguably something it had never before experienced at all.

    A “wow” moment for me in my country music upbringing.

  2. great song – i see that Pat Alger co-wrote 2 of my favorite GB songs, What’s She Doing Now & Unanswered Prayers.

  3. “Unanswered Prayers” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes” are my two favorite Garth Brooks songs

  4. …i am absolutely shameless, when it comes to loving garth brooks’ music. it is still a gem after all these years this one here. did i mention that i am totally useless at bringing any objective views to the table when it comes to garth?

    off topic, jamie might enjoy my tape of garth’s cowboy and rodeo songs from a time when cars did not necessarily come with a cd-player as standard equipment yet. little treasures. none of the modern era stars did the “w” stuff in c & w music better. peter saros is definetly not wrong with his take on garth’s story songs.

  5. Like “Friends In Low Places” this song was also very instrumental in making me pay closer attention to Garth Brooks than I ever did before as a little kid, and I remember him seriously becoming one of my favorites around the time this song was out. And of course, as already mentioned in the FILP thread, my parents ended up getting me his No Fences cassette around this time, as well.

    Unlike that previous smash hit, though, I NEVER once got tired of hearing this gem as a recurrent on the radio. Even around late 2000/early 2001, I remember hearing it again on the radio while my step dad was driving me to school, just thinking what a great song it still was after all that time. Like Paul, this has always been one of my all time favorites, along with “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” Also I tend to prefer his ballads that feature his more laid back, natural delivery (“What She’s Doing Now” is another in this vein that I love, along with “Wolves”) than the more contemporary ones featuring his more belting style (“Somewhere Other Than The Night” is one exception that comes to mind).

    Tom, I remember pre-cd player cars and trucks very well! I was particularly obsessed with the cassette player in my step dad’s 1985 Blazer, and I would always love putting my tapes in there every time we rode in that truck (our other car didn’t even have a tape player, just the radio). Oh, and that Garth tape sounds very cool! I’ve always loved his cowboy and rodeo songs, and I thought it was so cool how he helped keep the Western part of C&W alive in the 90’s, which sadly nobody is really doing in the mainstream now.

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