Every #1 Country Single of the Nineties: Garth Brooks, “What She’s Doing Now”

“What She’s Doing Now”

Garth Brooks

Written by Pat Alger and Garth Brooks


#1 (4 weeks)

February 15 – March 7, 1992

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

February 7 – February 14, 1992

The last in a string of ten consecutive No. 1 hits spends multiple weeks at the top.

The Road to No. 1

As the UK vinyl sleeve above suggests, Garth Brooks was a very big deal in early 1992.  Ropin’ the Wind kept returning to the No. 1 slot on the all-genre album chart, spending almost all of the first three months of the year in the penthouse, twice interrupted by Nirvana.  However, despite his label’s attempt to break him as a pop act overseas, Garth was getting all of his stateside airplay on country stations, and that was by choice.

While he was at his commercial peak, Garth sent a thoughtful ballad to the top of the country charts, and it stayed there for a month.

The No. 1

While “Rodeo” and “Shameless” found Garth pushing beyond his previous boundaries as a vocalist, “What She’s Doing Now” is a return to the more subtle and lightly adorned approach of his earliest ballads.

It’s solidly structured, in a way that will be familiar to those following along with this feature.  The title is used in two ways.  First, with the protagonist wondering what’s she’s doing with her life, and second, with him inventorying what she’s been doing to his heart and soul in her absence.

For those who thought “Shameless” was too bombastic, this record should feel like a welcome respite from its immediate predecessor.

For me, this record needed a bit more oomph to get it across the finish line.  It’s all a bit boring to my ears, but I understand its appeal.  It’s just not for me.

The Road From No. 1

Garth missed the top on both charts with his next single, “Papa Loved Mama,” but would return there with the fifth and final single from Ropin’ the Wind.  We’ll cover it when we reach the summer of 1992.

“What She’s Doing Now” gets a B.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. This is my all time favorite Garth song. I love it all from production to how he sings it. The sadness is palpable! I give it an A! I also like Crystal Gayles version from her 1990 album, and I might like it slightly better. She knows how to sing a sad one that’s for sure!

  2. You’ve just solved my central mystery surrounding this song, which is, “Why does this sound like something from an earlier period of his career?” It makes total sense to me that this was written before No Fences exploded. The Crystal Gayle version is nice!

  3. I think this is one of those places where Garth really lays out a lot of his primary influences, country and otherwise, where his songwriting acumen is universal and crosses all boundaries. He didn’t necessarily have to be the Avatar of Arena Country to have an impact (IMHO).

    • I don’t think he ever became that. He filled arenas (and stadiums), but he didn’t stray too far from standard country instrumentation and production on his records. Even a lot of his later stuff has been pretty stripped down and organic.

  4. I think this is his best. Man, it hits hard. I get the anti-Garth feelings, but stuff this great more than makes up for the excesses.

  5. I listen to a lot of The Garth Channel on Sirius satellite radio in my work truck and with my teenage boys getting them to their various sporting obligations. From all my listening, it is clear just how much Garth is inspired by singer songwriters like James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, and Billy Joel. He also clearly worships Merle Haggard as the ultimate total artistic country music star, as much as he loves George Jones and George Strait.

    His appreciation of a sensitive, well crafted song is evident in this thoughtful single. It quietly and gently explores the tortured anguish of a guy still carrying a flame.

    And he sings it beautifully and honestly. None of the operatic artifice or silliness he indulges too often later in his career. I think performances like this did as much to earn his “everyman” status as did “Friends in Low Places.”

    I want to echo what has already been said, that I think people who dislike Garth in principle would be stunned to hear just how consistently country his musical output is.

    The more I think about it, this really is one of my favourite hits of his. I never tire of hearing it.

  6. Like other commenters so far, this is actually one of my all time favorite Garth songs, and my favorite of the Ropin’ The Wind singles. I like the double meaning of the title that Kevin mentions, and like George Strait’s “Chill Of An Early Fall,” it’s another one of my all time favorite cold weather themed country songs that I must hear at least a few times every time Fall and Winter come back around. I also really love Garth’s performance in which his voice is calm and sometimes barely above a whisper during the verses as he wonders where and what his old flame’s been doing and “what she’s doing now.” And then his voice raises slightly with frustration in the chorus as he wonders if she knows how badly her leaving has affected him. I’ve also always loved how the steel guitar is used in this song. Like the George Strait tune, it once again symbolizes the cold wind blowing in parts of the song, and I’ve always loved the unique sound it makes after the first chorus (at around the 1:26 mark of the video posted). That’s just one of the many little things about this song that’s always really stuck with me and makes it such a pleasure to hear to this day. I truly miss hearing songs like this on the radio today.

    This song made it on to one of my first tapes I remember recording from the radio in early 1992, after we had moved into my dad’s house. On the same side as “What She’s Doing Now” are other favorites like “Down To My Last Broken Heart” by Janie Fricke, “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” by Holly Dunn, “After The Lights Go Out” by Ricky Van Shelton, “Louisiana Saturday Night” by Mel McDaniel, “Brand New Man” by Brooks & Dunn, “Til Love Comes Again” by Reba, “Turn It Loose” by The Judds, “I Can’t Win For Losing You” by Earl Thomas Conley, “Only The Wind” by Billy Dean, “Straight Tequila Night” by John Anderson, “Quittin’ Time” by Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Deeper Than The Holler” by Randy Travis, “The Dirt Road” by Sawyer Brown, and others. I also remember hearing this song quite often as a recurrent throughout the mid-late 90’s, especially during the Fall and Winter months, and it’s one I always really enjoyed every time it came on. It’s another one I still think of every time the weather starts getting cooler, and I even have it on a playlist I usually listen to when I take walks outside around that time of year. :)

    I also remember being surprised to find out that Garth had actually written this song before he became super popular and that Crystal Gayle had recorded it first. I really like her version, too, and the song fits her style very well! I actually have her Ain’t Gonna Worry album, and I found a used copy it by chance one time while we were at the Park City Mall in Lancaster, PA.

    Btw, it’s my first time seeing that single cover, which is pretty neat since it seemed to be rare to see him without his hat during this time in his career.

  7. Forgot to add that “Cold Shoulder” from this same album is another one of my all time favorite Winter country songs, and I think it’s one of the best ones he never released as a single!

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