100 Greatest Men: #20. Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Arriving on the scene in 1989 with a great song sense and a strong background in marketing, Garth Brooks emerged as the poster boy for the nineties country boom, and along the way, became the biggest record-seller in America since the Beatles.

Brooks was born and raised in Oklahoma, the son of Capitol country recording artist Colleen Carroll.   He grew up with music around the house, and learned to play the guitar and the banjo.  His athletic prowess earned him a track scholarship at Oklahoma State University, but his interest soon turned to music.  He began performing around Stillwater, becoming a major draw on the local talent circuit.

Hearing George Strait for the first time encouraged him to focus on country music, and after a relatively brief time in Nashville, he was signed by his mother’s former label.   He started out hot, scoring four top ten hits from his debut, self-titled album, including the signature hits, “The Dance” and “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, which both went #1.   The follow-up, No Fences, was released as country music sales were reaching new heights, and on the strength of classics like “Friends in Low Places” and “The Thunder Rolls”, Brooks was soon the biggest-selling artist of any genre, with his albums No Fences and Ropin’ the Wind shattering long-held records for the biggest selling country albums of all time.

Though Brooks later saw his sales eclipsed by artists like Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, and the Dixie Chicks, he is rightly heralded for putting country music on even commercial footing with pop and rock music.   He continued to sell well throughout the nineties, scoring regular radio hits and becoming the genre’s most popular touring act, which helped him win Entertainer of the Year six times from the Academy of Country Music and four times from the Country Music Association.

Brooks retired from performing in 2001, following the release of Scarecrow, but through a partnership with Wal-Mart, he continued to release repackaging of his older material and occasional collections of rarities and cover songs.   One of these collections, Ultimate Hits, included the new single, “More than a Memory”, which made history in 2007 when it became the first country song to enter the singles chart at #1.

Recently, Brooks has made plans to release new music and to launch his first major tour in more than a decade.  He will return to the road as the third biggest album-seller in U.S. history, behind only the Beatles and Elvis Presley.   Now husband to fellow recording artist Trisha Yearwood and proud member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Garth Brooks seems destined to rise further up this list as he begins to perform and record again.

Essential Singles:

  • If Tomorrow Never Comes, 1989
  • The Dance, 1990
  • Friends in Low Places, 1990
  • Unanswered Prayers, 1990
  • The Thunder Rolls, 1991
  • The River, 1992
  • That Summer, 1993
  • To Make You Feel My Love, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • No Fences, 1990
  • Ropin’ the Wind, 1991
  • The Chase, 1992
  • In Pieces, 1993
  • Sevens, 1997
  • Double Live, 1998
  • Scarecrow, 2001

Next: #19. Webb Pierce

Previous:  #21. Elvis Presley

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. I’m glad Garth is a part of country music. He’s honestly the guy who made me fall in love with it. If not for him, I don’t know when/if I might’ve purposely turned to a country countdown to hear what else I might like of country music. People say that he instigated the ruin of country music, but I’ve always thought claim was ridiculous. I can make quite a playlist of decidedly country sounding songs that he’s recorded throughout his career and even his voice sounds country. Sure, he’s made some missteps and he certainly does have an ego the size of Texas, but I also feel that he’s added a lot of good to the genre and that his love of the music is sincere.

  2. I don’t think that many people leave a Garth Brooks show feeling cheated. He always puts on a great show and it seems that he’s having more fun than anyone.
    Checking my i-tunes, I see that my most frequently played Garth songs include The Dance, What She’s Doing Now, One Night a Day and Squeeze Me In.

  3. Glad to see he made the top 20; I understand why he had to step back and raise his girls, but I am so glad he is back touring and I am looking forward to new music.

  4. I agree that Garth does deserve a high place in the male country music pantheon.

    Yet at the same time, I have mixed feelings about him. It is true that he bought the country genre to a much higher place in popularity than it had ever been in the past. But what he encouraged in a lot of the other acts that have followed, upping the ante in stage show spectaculars in the manner of 1980s arena rock, has also had the effect of frequently obscuring the genre’s lyrical strengths and placing the emphasis on flash over substance (IMHO).

  5. I do think that his shows are flashier than necessary, but I don’t think that his actual song quality suffered as a result. . and even though I think his shows are spectacles that I’m personally not interested in attending, I don’t have a problem with other people enjoying it and I’m kind of proud that he, a decided country act (His name is solidly associated with being a country artist even to people outside of the genre), can sell venues as fast as he does.

  6. This is almost exacty the spot that I woud have put him on this list. His sales cannot be disputed and even though he focuses on the marketing and theatrics more than the art I still feel he sounds mostly country, and that is a good thing. On the other hand I never really saw anything unique in his vocal or song selections, so he it has always been somewhat a surprise to me how everyone goes crazy over him. As for JUST the MUSIC, he didn’t bring anything to country that wasn’t already there. Of course he has been a marketing genius.

  7. I have no intention of arguing about Garth’s position on this chart, but I am surprised to read Erik’s and Tom’s comments.
    “frequently obscuring the genre’s lyrical strengths”, seriously? When, how and as opposed to whom?
    “I never really saw anything unique in his vocal … selections” I’m not really sure what that means, so I will take “selections” to mean “performance”. And again, I must wonder how and why. You don’t even have to take any of his major hits, just have a listen to “Burning Bridges” and then think about whether anyone else could have done it.
    And as for “just the music”, if songs like “Standing Outside the Fire” (with its haunting energy and tension) or “Somewhere Other Than the Night” don’t count for anything, then yes, he didn’t bring anything new. Except they do and he did.

  8. controversial or political songs have been in country for years before Garth came about. They have just always reflected the times. I have not heard “Burning Bridges” so I promise to check it out. To me “Standing Outside the Fire” is about that its ok to be different. Again, that has been expressed in songs way before then (example: Coat of Many Colors). I am not trying to criticize Garth as I believe he is talanted. These are just my observations. His voice it nice but it would be nowhere as a unique voice as Willie, Jones, Cash, Wynette, and others. I think the genius of Garth is that he appears to be JUST like all of us as opposed to being unique. Again, just my opinion.

  9. Tom,
    I’m confused? Did somebody claim that Garth was the first to do political or controversial songs? At any rate, while I agree that he didn’t break new ground as far as political or controversial songs go, he did take a chance of alienating conservative listeners with “We Shall Be Free”, particularly it’s support of/reference to same sex relationships.

    I do think that his voice and phrasing are unique and even many of his productions are unique, particularly the use of the steel guitar in his songs.

  10. Leann,
    My point was it was not a new concept in country music to push the envelope. Many artists have done that and will continue to do that. Brave artists were a big part of country in the late 60’s, early 70’s. He wasn’t the first country singer to sopport gay right but yes, “We Shall Be Free” was a brave choice. I have to politely disagree on his singing style. I don’t think his phrasing and voice are unique. I am not trying to undermine anyones opinion. I 100% agree he is talanted and I agree with him being ranked at #20. All I was saying in the beginning is that I just don’t get the excitement regarding him.

  11. Tom,
    My brain might be failing me, but who are you thinking of that supported gay rights in a country song before Garth? I think the only other song that I can think of is Pirates of the Mississippi’s “Feed Jake”?

    And, while I’ve always had a problem with the song not actually having anything to do with the video, I also applaud him for spotlighting spousal abuse in the “The Thunder Rolls” video. This was before “Independence Day”, “A Broken Wing”, “Blown Away”, etc.

  12. Dolly supported gay rights in interviews as early as the late 70’s and it evolved more in interviews as the 80’s went on. She also put out a song on her 1991 Eagle When She Flies album called “Family” that could possibly be the first actual song but I can’t swear by it to be honest. Of course the song was not released as a single. I will admit I am a bit biased as being a young gay man myself at this time when I heard Dolly on more than a few interviews support gay people it made a HUGE impact on me. I loved country but was upset that country music seemed to be conservative. Then I heard Dolly support gay people and it made me give country artists another chance. I think she set the tide of acceptance better than anyone in country and for that country was better.

  13. I do think Feed Jake was a couple of month earlier than Dolly’s so that just migh be the first official pro gay country song.

  14. …garth at #20 is a possible ranking – yet hardly appropriate.

    the biggest selling country artist so far, must be at least in the top-ten for this fact alone. add to that his taking country music to another level and to places unimaginable until then , making some of the best mainstream country albums, delivering one of the best country love songs, probably the best country party anthem of all times, one of the best rodeo songs, one of the best cowboy songs and a fair number of songs dealing with topics that most country stars still would not have touched with a barch pole even at the end of last century. furthermore, possesing a voice that still is instantly recognizable on radio. not to mention being awaited from such a huge number of fans old and new on his forthcoming world tour that even the messias might have second thoughts about a comeback at the same time as garth is doing his.

    impact like that on so many accounts in a genre environment that was highly competitive in the 90’s and hasn’t gotten any easier from a commercial point of view today – putting him at #20 is like taking the “air” attribute away from michael jordan. just wouldn’t sound quite right.

  15. Garth would be in my top ten at about #10. Even though I don’t regard Garth as being traditional country, his albums always included a track or two that would appeal to a traditionalist such as myself, while including material more designed to achieve airplay.

    Much of the flash and sizzle of Garth’s music can be found in today’s country. What is missing is Garth’s substance

  16. Ditto to Paul and Leeann! I spent a heartbroken evening with “The Dance” on repeat for about an hour one night a hundred years ago, and consider “Unanswered Prayers” the antidote, the other side of the coin. Great that Garth is the artist for both songs!

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