Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Garth Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls”

“The Thunder Rolls”

Garth Brooks

Written by Pat Alger and Garth Brooks

Billboard

#1 (2 weeks)

June 22 – June 29, 1991

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

June 7 – June 21, 1991

Garth Brooks scores again with the cleanup single from the top-selling male country album of all time.

The Road to No. 1

“The Thunder Rolls” was preceded by six consecutive No. 1 singles, three of which were culled from No Fences.   For the fourth and final single (for now), Capitol chose a song that Tanya Tucker had recorded but not released.  The heat surrounding Garth’s career led to a No. 20 opening on the Billboard singles chart.

The No. 1

We’re entering a period where nineties stars were scoring hits with songs they wrote and were first recorded by established artists. In most of these situations, the song turned out better and became a big hit when reclaimed by the songwriting artist.

“The Thunder Rolls” is a perfect fit for where Garth Brooks was as a recording artist.  If he’d recorded it for his debut album, it would’ve been too timid.  If he’d saved it for his third, it would’ve been too theatrical.

Here, it’s perfect. He was smart to exclude the fourth verse, which would later become a highlight of his live show, instead opting for ominous rolls of thunder that leave the eventual outcome after “the lightning flashes in her eyes, and he knows that she knows” up to the imagination of the listener.

No Fences works so well because its songs scale up perfectly to an arena setting, but are recorded with the intimacy of home listening in mind.  It’s a compelling, challenging, and fully engaging record that stands proudly among the most classic Garth Brooks singles.

The Road From No. 1

The video for “The Thunder Rolls” further heightened Garth’s national profile, as the domestic violence featured in the clip got it banned from CMT and TNN, making huge headlines and garnering further exposure for the record and its parent album.   It set the stage for a massive opening sales week for his next set.  We’ll cover the lead single from that album very soon.

“The Thunder Rolls” gets an A. 

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

Previous: Joe Diffie, “If the Devil Danced (in Empty Pockets)” | Next: Alan Jackson, “Don’t Rock the Jukebox”

6 Comments

  1. “The Thunder Rolls” might be Brooks’ best example of his ability to hold contradictory and opposing tendencies in almost perfect balance. The song is simultaneously sincere and theatrical, country and bombastic pop, reality-listening and mellow-drama.

    The controlled release of the song – between the banned video to the live fourth verse – showed how savvy Brooks was at self-promotion, and creating a demand for his music.

    The song is brilliant on so many different levels.

    The latest run of number ones from this time is basically one classic country song after another. Just an outrageously prolific output of creativity and musicianship.

    What a treat to revisit it all and be reminded of how all this songs chased one another up and down the charts.

  2. Right up there with Fancy, The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia, Midnight in Montgomery, and Independence Day as one of the Great story songs of the 90s that still gets played 30yrs later on modern country stations. That’s a testament in itself for quality and longevity!

  3. As the first song on No Fences, I always thought this was a pretty neat song with the thunder sounds alone, and it’s another one I liked before it was actually released as a single. Ahh…back when I actually thought he was singing about a thunderstorm! I admit that I got a bit burned out on it around the 00’s, as it was such a heavy recurrent up ’til then, but I’ve since gone back to appreciating it again, since it’s no longer played on any of our stations (to my knowledge), and you just hardly ever get songs like this anymore in mainstream country. Kevin also nails it in mentioning that this album was the absolute perfect time for him to record this song. All in all, a classic song from a truly classic album.

    This one also makes an appearance on one of the last tapes I recorded in the first half of 1991, along with the previous entry in Joe Diffie’s “If The Devil Danced.” (I never did as much recording during the summer months). Even in the Spring/early Summer of that year, they were still playing a bunch of 70’s and 80’s recurrents from T.G. Sheppard, Exile, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, etc., as well as recent hits from Pirates Of The Mississippi and Holly Dunn. Even Matraca Berg’s minor 1990 hit, “The Things You Left Undone,” was still in heavy rotation.

    As for this song’s video, I never got to see it until around the late 90’s. I can definitely see how controversial it probably was at the time of its release, given the subject matter, and how it was one of the first music videos that was almost like a mini movie. For a while, I never knew that was Garth himself underneath the beard and glasses.

    This period covered so far from 1990 to the first half of 1991 has really taken me back to some of my earliest memories of being a country music fan, and what a fun nostalgia trip it’s been! Keep up the great work, Kevin!

  4. It’s hard to believe The Dance, Friends in Low Places, and The Thunder Rolls all came from one album. I’m too young to have been a listener when he was releasing them (born in the mid 90s) so my impression of him was always brought down by his later output. I always wondered why he was such a massive star over the other greats from the era. But looking at how many of his great songs came in such rapid succession, I get it now.

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