Saturday, April 19, 2014

Country Club #36: is it okay to like a Garth Brooks song?

I heard "Long Neck Bottle" on the radio earlier this week, but as is the practice nowadays the deejay didn't announce the song or the artist. When I did a web search, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to learn that LNB was performed by Garth Brooks. Brooks, of course, is one of the top three selling record artists of all time, trailing only Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Here is a video of Brooks doing the song live with Steve Wariner who co-wrote the song with Rick Carnes. Wariner is given lots of space and there is a nice short scat-guitar vocal reminiscent of George Benson.

 There are some non-musical reasons to dislike Brooks, not least his partnership with Walmart. And, some non-musical reasons to like him, including his support for gay rights and attention to domestic violence. But it is music that is the real point.

Garth Brooks is a pivotal figure in the history of country music, no matter how much some country purists would like to deny it. With his commercially savvy fusion of post-Merle Haggard country, honky tonk, post-folk-rock sensitive singer/songwriter sensibilities, and '70s arena rock dramatics, Brooks brought country music to a new audience in the '90s -- namely, a mass audience. Before Brooks, it was inconceivable for a country artist to go multi-platinum. He shattered that barrier in 1991, when his second album, No Fences, began its chart domination, and its follow-up, Ropin' the Wind, became the first country album to debut at the top of the pop charts; No Fences would eventually sell a record-shattering 13 million copies. After Garth, country music had successfully carved a permanent place for itself on the pop charts. In the process, it lost a lot of the traditionalism that had always been its hallmark, but that is precisely why Brooks is important. 


Not only did his record sales break all the accepted country conventions, but so did Garth Brooks' concerts. By the end of 1990, he was selling out stadiums within minutes and was putting on stadium-sized shows, patterned after '70s rock extravaganzas. Brooks used a cordless, headset microphone so he could run around his large stage. He had an elaborate light show, explosions, and even a harness so he could swing out above the crowd and sing to them. It was the first time any country artist had incorporated such rock & roll techniques into stage shows.
In short, Brooks could be blamed for a lot that is wrong with country music today. At least, by those who like me like their country music traditional or neo-traditional. Still, Brooks some very fine songs, including Long Neck Bottle, and "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House."

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