Written by Billy Joel
#1 (2 weeks)
November 16 – November 23, 1991
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
November 8, 1991
Garth Brooks rocks the arena with a fearless cover.
The Road to No. 1
In between this No. 1 and the last, Garth Brooks was a national media sensation, thanks to his Ropin’ the Wind album being the first country album in history to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre album chart.
There couldn’t have been a better single at that moment, while he had the attention of curious American listeners from coast to coast, to release “Shameless,” his cover of a Billy Joel album cut from two years earlier.
The No. 1
So much of what makes a Garth Brooks record work – or not – comes down to calibration. “Not Counting You,” the first single covered in this feature, suffered from the production and performance not matching the energy that the record demanded. This single’s immediate predecessor, “Rodeo,” cranked up both of those elements too much, resulting in something a little over the top.
“Shameless” is perfectly calibrated.
There is this instinct in Garth to go super melodramatic with his vocals, almost like a hillbilly attempt at opera. That often happens when he’s doing material that simply isn’t intended to be performed that way.
“Shameless” is meant to be performed that way. It’s a Billy Joel song, for starters, and he has a powerful singing voice as well as a songwriting talent that produces compelling and memorable melodies.
Brooks follows the blueprint of Joel’s original recording, adding appropriate country flourishes that infuse additional layers of warmth and sincerity. He pivots from a growl (“I’ve never been in love like this”) to a pure country wail (“It’s out of my hands,”) showing a range that even Joel couldn’t match.
“Shameless” demonstrates how to upscale country music so it can fill an arena just as well as any rock band.
Side note: Brooks sings the fire out of this, but he’s not even the best vocalist on the track. Listen closely at the end for Trisha Yearwood, who provides backing vocals throughout, but gets a solo lick right before the fade.
The Road From No. 1
Garth has more No. 1 singles on the way from Ropin’ the Wind, with the biggest radio hit from the set up next. But as a footnote to this particular hit, it forever linked Brooks with Joel, who showed up at his Central Park concert and later inducted Brooks into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“Shameless” gets an A.