Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Garth Brooks, “Friends in Low Places”

“Friends in Low Places”

Garth Brooks

Written by Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee


#1 (4 weeks)

October 6 – October 27, 1990

Radio & Records

#1 (3 weeks)

September 21 – October 5, 1990

Quite possibly the most important hit of the decade.

The Road to No. 1

Having already scored No. 1 hits in 1990 with “Not Counting You” and “The Dance,” Garth Brooks pulled off the polar opposite of a sophomore slump with his first single from No Fences.

The No. 1

That’s right.  The most important hit of the decade.

You cannot disconnect Garth Brooks from the massive nineties country boom, and no record was more instrumental in making him the biggest selling solo artist in American history than “Friends in Low Places.”

It’s a singalong anthem for the underdog.  It’s a celebration of the working class stiff.  It’s the perfect record to capture the new ethos of country music at this critical juncture:

“This is who we are.  This is what we sound like.  And we don’t have to pretend to be pop or uptown or anything other than our country selves.  Now watch us outsell everyone else without selling out.”

Garth invited us all to join him in low places, and took country music higher than it had ever been.

The Road From No. 1

Three No. 1 singles weren’t enough for Garth in 1990.   He’s got one more on the way before the year is out.

“Friends in Low Places” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. This is one of the songs that got me listening to country music! I didn’t hear it until probably 1993, but when I did, I wanted to hear it again, which is what made me listen to country radio until I heard it.

  2. Good song – a fun listen. Sadly i just saw on billboard.com an article “Garth Remembers Dewayne Blackwell” who died at 84 on May 23rd. Garth also recorded the Blackwell penned songs “Mr. Blue” and “Nobody Gets Off in This Town”.

  3. I think the phenomenon of “Garth” started with “The Dance.” Garth went super nova with this song.

    Where “The Dance” crossed musical aisles, this song obliterated the notion of sides, factions, camps, etc. “Friends in Low Places” is one of the few anthemic party songs from this era that defines it even from outside of country music.

    Everyone sings along to this. This song collectively takes people back to a special moment in time when country music was king. The song belongs to a generation perhaps more than any one fan or listener. It’s our song.

    It is that magical a performance and piece of musical history.

  4. I would never deny the very hard-won success of Garth, especially in light of what is almost certainly the most important country record of the 1990’s, in “Friends In Low Place”. I also think, however, that his impact on country music has been something of a mixed bag. His arena stage spectacles did a lot to encourage other artists who have followed in his wake (most, but not all, male) to follow his lead in a way that, over the long term, has arguably caused an emphasis on flash and sonic assaults over actual substance.

    I don’t deny the man’s talent, or his business acumen, or his art. But not everything he has done for the genre has always been to its benefit (IMHO).

  5. Erik, I don’t disagree. The innovator, however, cannot control the imitator or the imitation. The latter is always the greatest form of unpredictable – and more importantly uncontrollable – flattery. George Strait spawned as many milquetoast, cowboy hat acts as Brooks did arena country-rockers.

    To paraphrase Charles Dickens, many who followed Garth Brooks have tried – and failed – to display the same passion in music and showmanship in the name of country music. Where they have failed, charge their doing on themselves and not Brooks.

    Predator-prey/innovator-imitator relationships are fascinating and complex situation to consider and discuss.

    In my earlier comment, I failed to point out that the musical camps and faction Brooks initially obliterated quickly bifurcated into pro-Garth camps and anti-Brooks camps.

    It seems we live in a binary world!

  6. For me, it was this song and “Unanswered Prayers” that served as the one two punch that made me really become familiar with Garth Brooks for the first time. I really liked this song the first time I heard it, and I especially remember thinking the rowdy crowd singing along with him near the end was really neat and unlike anything else I’d heard on the radio up to that point. I remember one night when my parents and I got back home, it was just about to come on the radio when my step dad turned the car off. I got excited and told him I liked the song that was about to play, and we both rushed downstairs to try to find it on the stereo, but no such luck. Perhaps it was on a different station. Anyway, needless to say, I had many more chances to hear it, and it quickly became one of his new favorite songs, as well. Also not too long after, he bought a cassette copy of No Fences for me, which was the very first album I ever owned. I liked it so much, that I would bring it almost everywhere I went, even bringing it to school one time and giving it to my kindergarten teacher to play, but to no avail. Little did I know then just how big Garth and that particular song would end up being! Even a couple years later, that song was still everywhere, and I even remember watching a local band covering it at the grand opening of a new Lowe’s store. My step dad also got a really big kick out of the famous third verse when Garth performed it on TV one night, lol.

    I wouldn’t find out about Mark Chesnutt’s version until many years later when I got a hold of Mark’s first album. While I like it (it’s done more in Mark’s typical style), I still prefer Garth’s approach to the song, which I find more relatable, and the barroom sing along style he brought to it is simply irresistible.

  7. I liked this song when I initially heard it, but for me it does not bear repeated hearings and I’ve heard the song so many times, I wouldn’t care if I never heard it again.

    I know it was a huge hit, but I’ve never regarded it as anything other than just another decent song – B+

  8. I have to say I agree with Paul except I didn’t like this song when I originally heard it. It’s high-spirited but I always found Garth Brooks’ performance high-energy but pandering in this song – not genuine at all. But on the other hand, I do recognize it as a classic that had a huge impact. There are a handful of classic songs that I hate, even though I still recognize them as classics- another is “He Stopped Loving Her Today” which I’m guessing will be near or at the top of the Sirius list.

  9. I’ve heard the song so many times, I wouldn’t care if I never heard it again.

    I get the impact of this song on country music at the time, but I concur with this observation.

    Also, LeeAnn — I always took Chesnutt’s version of that song as spinning its protagonist as not taking the breakup well at all and just trying to get through, while Garth’s version spins him as not giving a single solitary…. well, you know. But maybe that’s just me.

    I don’t hate “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Sara, but I will admit I’ve heard enough of it over the years, and I’ve gotten to the point that when it’s mentioned as the saddest country song ever, I always think, “Someone has never heard ‘When the Grass Grows Over Me’ or ‘A Good Year for the Roses.'”

  10. @ Peter Soros:

    I agree fully with your premise that Garth can’t be held responsible for others imitating him. In all good honesty, you are quite right that he didn’t intend it to be like this. I guess it is the law of unintended consequences that we’re dealing with. But don’t get me wrong–it doesn’t diminish his art.

  11. Yeah, as much nostalgic value the song has for me, like Paul and the Pistolero, I admit that I definitely got burned out on it over the years, since it pretty much remained in heavy rotation for about two decades to the point where I wouldn’t have minded never hearing it again. Similar to “Chattahoochee” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” Still definitely a classic, though, and I actually wouldn’t mind hearing it on the radio today compared to the majority of what else they play now.

    Also pistolero, good points on comparing the Brooks and Chesnutt versions.

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