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

“The River”

Garth Brooks

Written by Garth Brooks and Victoria Shaw


#1 (1 week)

July 25, 1992

Radio & Records

#1 (2 weeks)

July 10 – July 17, 1992

Garth Brooks taps into his seventies soft rock roots.

The Road to No. 1

Garth Brooks was continuing his unprecedented hot streak at retail with Ropin’ the Wind, but his streak of consecutive No. 1 singles ended with the fourth release from that album, “Papa Loved Mama.”  He returned to the top with the fifth and final single.

The No. 1

“The River” is one of the better numbers in Garth’s inspirational songs collection.  Heavily influenced by the soft rock sounds of James Taylor, “The River” is a thoughtful meditation on perseverance as you navigate the rocky waters of life.

The understated approach to performing the song keeps things from becoming overwrought or preachy. It’s a simple metaphor and its paired well with a simple arrangement.

It’s not quite “The Dance” or “Unanswered Prayers,” but it’s still pretty great.

The Road From No. 1

Garth followed “The River” with “We Shall Be Free,” the lead single from his fourth studio album, The Chase.  It became his first release to miss the Billboard top ten.  He’d return to the top with the second single from that project, which we will cover when we get to 1993.

“The River” gets a B+.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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  1. While not one of my favorites of the Ropin’ the Wind singles, I still really like it. I also think this is one of his better inspirational themed songs because of the gentle and understated approach. His other songs of this theme on later albums got a bit too preachy and poppy for my tastes. Early 90’s nostalgia also has a lot to do with why I still pretty much enjoy this song. I remember also liking this song back in the Fall of 1991 when both of my dads and I were all downstairs listening to the Ropin’ The Wind album for the first time.

    Color me a bit surprised that “Papa Loved Mama” didn’t go number one, though I can understand that the subject matter might’ve had something to do with that.

    If I were to rank the Ropin’ The Wind singles from favorite to least favorite it would be:

    1.) What She’s Doing Now
    2.) Shameless
    3.) Papa Loved Mama
    4.) The River
    5.) Rodeo

    I’ve been revisiting the Ropin’ The Wind cd ever since this feature, and I must say that “Rodeo” has grown on me a tad more since I commented on it earlier in this feature, though it’s still my least favorite of the singles. And yes, it’s the same cd copy that my step dad brought home in ’91. :)

  2. As a teen, I loved this song and continued to love it throughout my college years. But somewhere along the way, I decided that it was too Disney like for me. However, I’ve come back around to appreciating it again in the last couple of years.

  3. This song has aged as well as anything Brooks recorded. There is a timeless naivety and innocence about the performance.

    This song appealed to non-country fans in my world as well. My roommate in university loved this single. It is a charmed, miracle of a song.

  4. The comparisons between Garth and James Taylor seem incredibly apt, especially when it comes to “The River” (and several others in G.B.’s songwriting canon). And ironically, when Garth was honored at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, “The River” was performed by….drum roll please…James Taylor. The honoree was clearly moved about having been honored by one of his biggest heroes and influences on that night.

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