There’s a point in nearly every Garth Brooks concert in which he looks out into the crowd and reads the homemade signs by fans. They’re requests for that one song that he’s not planned on singing that night, but is that fan’s favorite. Typically, that request is a deep cut that never received much, if any, radio play. With his acoustic guitar in hand, he’ll play a verse and chorus before going onto the next. It’s spur of the moment.
It’s an intimate experience despite being part of a soldout show in a massive arena. For a fleeting moment, Brooks is singing a song for you. Everyone else hears it, but you’re the one experiencing it.
No one has become a breakout crossover star like Brooks has. It’s been the combination of traditional country storytelling and sentiments, the energizing aspects of a rock and roll show, and the melodic sensibilities of a pop music that he’s captured that better than anyone. That’s usually seen on chart-topping singles like “The Dance,” “Standing Outside The Fire,” “Papa Loved Mama” and “The Thunder Rolls.”
Those are universal moments that most country fans can find common ground on. They’re part of the country boom of the ’90s. But underneath those shared experiences are a cascade of Brooks songs that feel as integral to Brooks’ discography as they do to the individual Brooks fan. Where “Standing Outside The Fire” and “The Thunder Rolls” is a combination of all those influences on Brooks, the deep cuts in his catalog are typically him finding a specific sound and style. It’s more so Brooks emphasizing a certain sound rather than blending something new altogether.
Here are 15 of the best deep cuts in the Garth Brooks album discography.
“Cold Like That” really indulges Brooks’ flare for dramatics. It revolves around a hook-heavy melody with a driving piano. There are moments where Brooks lets go and delivers some of his most passionate vocals. There’s better “cold” imagery on other songs in his catalog, but lines like “I could be the train for a change, you could be the one tied to the track” are some of the best train lines out there.
In country music, rarely is a song as forthcoming as “Which One of Them.” When a songwriter is praised for being honest, it’s typically for good deeds or unconditional love. That’s what makes Brooks’ “Which One of Them” so interesting. He’s still desperately in love another and brutally honest about using others. It’s as callous and cold-hearted as they come. Still, Brooks taps into the raw emotions of jealousy and deceit like no other. He proves they can be as strong as love itself.
Appearing on Brooks’ latest album, “Cowboys & Friends” is a solid blend of old-school and new-school Brooks. It’s relaxed and mellow melody, blue-collar anthem and nods to earnest cowboys are typical Brooks song points. In many respects, “Cowboy & Friends” would have worked better had it been released sometime in the mid-’90s. The opening verse is reminiscent of Guy Clark‘s “Instant Coffee Blues.” It soon transitions into a song more about drinking buddies. Still, there’s a sense of sadness in Brooks’ delivery that makes you think it’s not just about one night stands, bad bosses and drinking nights in old honky-tonks.
Despite having a good thing going, Brooks can just sense he’s losing yet another woman. The lines, “Because you can hear the sound of leaving if you listen/This may be California, but Oklahoma’s in her eyes” is one of Brooks’ most clever and chalk full of imagery. Much like everything on Brooks’ self-titled debut, it’s dominated with a fiddle. It gently soars over Brooks’ easy flowing and simple chorus.
For many, Fresh Horses is a polarizing album by Brooks. You either love it or hate it. Most agree that “Beaches of Cheyenne” is one of Brooks’ best, but the arena rock tinges throughout are often criticized as being a bridge too far for the casual Brooks fan. That’s what makes “Ireland” an interesting moment in Brooks’ career. The Irish folk nods are strong and don’t overpower the senses. It still has the properties of an anthem and feels right at home on Fresh Horses, but like all Brooks album closers, “Ireland” is intimate and close to the bone.
No Fences is really when Brooks began combining country traditions with clever pop hooks and melodies. As big and grandiose as “Friends in Low Places” or “The Thunder Rolls” are, the album-closing “Wolves” is as small as one can get. It feels like an old-school country narrative song, but there’s still a strong underlying pop melody that wraps you up. It’s not reinventing the wheel with its’ story about the bitter realities of winter, difficult times and the “wolves” in everyone’s lives, but it doesn’t have to.
“Pushing Up Daisies” is one of Scarecrow‘s callbacks to his Garth Brooks roots. The fiddle plays an integral part in lofty parts around the chorus. Written by John Hadley, Kevin Welch and Gary Scruggs, the idiom imagery of pushing up daisies is one of Brooks most fun and light-hearted despite contemplating life, death and figuring out how to move on.
“Every Now and Then” feels like a classic Brooks single. It was never released as one, but it feels like it should have. In many ways, it feels like the combination of “Unanswered Prayers,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “What She’s Doin’ Now.” It’s classic mid-tempo and Brooks reflecting on an afternoon stroll through the park. But rather than feeling redundant and stale, “Every Now and Then” feels is comfortable and lived in.
“Same Old Story” is much like “Which One of Them.” Written by longtime Brooks collaborator Tony Arata, it’s not nearly as forthcoming. But Brooks is still in heartbreaking mode on the waltzing “Same Old Story.” This time, there’s plenty of heartbreak to go around. He’s not nearly as cold either. He’s looking to break it off as gently as possible–which is exactly the same thing she’s looking to do on the slow unraveling dance.
A song like “Everytime That It Rains” proves that Brooks could have done neo-traditional country as straight and narrow as George Strait or Alan Jackson. It’s as traditionalist as anything from the ’90s. It also follows one of Brooks’ underlying narrative devices. More times than not, when Brooks is singing about a relationship, in this case, a one night fling, he’s often nostalgic. He’s chasing that old time feeling and trying to remember the details. Those details –“Please Come To Boston” on the jukebox, stumbling with buttons — they breathe a sense of reality and life into it, distinguishing it from just any other Oklahoma cafe.
“The Red Strokes” is a gem, but not in the same sense as the others listed here. The others, they are, for the most part, cuts from the bottom half of Brooks catalog. “The Red Strokes” on the other hand, is relatively known despite only being released as a single in Europe, “The Red Strokes” was one of the few songs that Brooks did a massive music video for. “The Red Strokes” is the culmination of everything in Brooks’ career though. It soars during the chorus. It draws you in during the soft opening. Lines like “steam on a window, salt in a kiss” are as specific as they are universal. It just checks all the right boxes.
“There’s a fire burnin’ bright, at our house tonight” is maybe Brooks’ best opening line. And actually, the opening verse has it all. He creates a strong vivid image just to tear it all down with the single line. “Cold Shoulder” is yet again a song that takes place more so in Brooks’ wandering mind than in reality. He creates these images that feel so real. Yet, it’s all part of him trying to play out the scenarios as he’s stuck away from the love of his life. “This old highway is like a woman sometimes. She can be your best friend, but she’s the real jealous kind” is another gem that’s been seldom matched.
Brooks’ In Pieces, is pound for pound, Brooks’ loudest, most driving and rocking album. Still, the inclusion of songs like “The Cowboy Song” are reminders that, when it comes down to it, Brooks can deliver old cowboy tales with the best of them. The Chris LeDoux influence isn’t lost. Originally written by Roy Robinson, it captures the authenticity of old cattle drives. It gives nods to old standards like “Strawberry Roan,” “Old Joe,” Old Rugged Cross” and “Amazing Grace.” So much so, you can almost hear them playing in the back of your mind when he mentions them.
As far as lengthy storytelling goes, nothing beats “In Lonesome Dove” in the Brooks catalog. It’s engaging and captures a sincere grit of the Old West. The soft mandolin and fiddle are a nice soundtrackesque touch and counter the rushing chorus. Even with a large chorus line, Brooks pumps the breaks and restrains himself. He doesn’t push too far forward and makes you lean in for the story.
Sevens‘ “I Don’t Have To Wonder” is about the darkest song Brooks ever recorded. Written by Shawn Camp and Taylor Dunn, the piano-led ballad introduces you to a recently divorced man. He’s sitting outside the church as his ex-wife is getting married. The first few verses are very paint-by-numbers for Brooks. He’s sad, distressed and questioning just about everything in life. The turn, it comes in the bridge — at a bridge coincidentally — when he throws himself in after tossing his old wedding ring and giving up one final time.