Garth Brooks and Billy Joel perform onstage at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 42nd Annual Induction and Awards at The New York Marriott Marquis Hotel - Shubert Alley on June 16, 2011 in New York City.
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall of Fame

'Shameless': The Story Behind Garth Brooks' Chart-Topping Billy Joel Cover

Garth Brooks, a country music superstar whose appreciation for rock 'n' roll shines through his stadium tours, gambled and won when his 1991 reinterpretation of Billy Joel's "Shameless" topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.

"Shameless" wasn't an adult contemporary standard heard for years by Brooks and other fans of Joel. Instead, it was a relatively new song from Joel's 1989 album Storm Front, which is still better known for the hit "We Didn't Start the Fire." A song Joel's described over the years as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix's inimitable musical style wasn't even a single for its writer and original singer until after Brooks' Ropin' the Wind album made it a cross-genre success story.

The liner notes from Brooks' 1994 compilation The Hits explain how Brooks found a Joel song ready-made for the contemporary country charts.

"'Shameless' was the longest shot we took with a song," Brooks wrote. "I was talked into becoming a member of a CD know, the 40,000 CD's for a penny deal. With those clubs, they write you with the selection of the month. If you don't write back and cancel, then they send it to you and charge you for it. I was on the road for six months with no one to check the mail and came home to find six compact discs in my mailbox. Storm Front by Billy Joel was one of them. I hadn't listened to Billy Joel since the late seventies, probably since Glass Houses. I fell in love with the album and fell back in love with Billy Joel's music. One of his songs really captured me, a song called 'Shameless.' I kept watching it, and when he did not release it as a single, we contacted his people in the hopes that we could cut it. His people sent us a letter acknowledging that he knew who I was and was very honored that I was cutting it. That was quite a compliment for me then, as it is now. My hope is that Billy, as writer, hears this cut and says, 'Yeah, man, the guy's got balls.'"

Beyond finding a more blatant way to wear his rock and pop influences on his sleeve while maintaining his typical chart position among his Nashville contemporaries, Brooks once again appealed to a broad audience through his no fences approach to genres for what otherwise might've remained a Joel deep cut. The countrified version of "Shameless" worked for a couple of reasons: it sounded fresh because it hadn't been on every pop-rock station's playlist for two years, and at its heart, it was a country radio-ready story of a lovesick fool.

Brooks and Joel collaborated a few times in the coming years, beginning with Joel's appearance at Brooks' 1997 concert in Central Park. In 2008, the pair sang "Shameless" together at Shea Stadium as part of Joel's Last Play at Shea concerts. More recently, Joel and Brooks performed the song at Brooks' 2011 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Brooks' Allen Reynolds-produced version features harmony vocals sung by the "Friends in Low Places" singer's future wife, Trisha Yearwood.

"Shameless" Lyrics

Well I'm shameless when it comes to loving you
I'd do anything you want me to
I'd do anything at all

And I'm standing here for all the world to see
There ain't that much left of me
That has very far to fall

You know I'm not a man who has ever been
Insecure about the world I've been livin' in
I don't break easy, I have my pride
But if you need to be satisfied

I'm shameless, baby I don't have a prayer
Anytime I see you standing there
I go down upon my knees

And I'm changing, I swore I'd never compromise
But you convinced me otherwise
I'll do anything you please

You see in all my life I've never found
What I couldn't resist, what I couldn't turn down
I could walk away from anyone I ever knew
But I can't walk away from youI have never let anything have this much
Control over me
Cause I worked too hard to call my life my own
Yes I made myself a world
And it worked so perfectly
But it's your world now, I can't refuse
I never had so much to lose
I'm shameless, shameless

You know it should be easy for a man who's strong
To say he's sorry or admit when he's wrong
I've never lost anything I ever missed
But I've never been in love like this
It's out of my hands

I'm shameless, I don't have the power now
But I don't want it anyhow
So I've got to let it go

I'm shameless, shameless as a man can be
You can make a total fool of me
I just wanted you to knowI am shameless

This article was originally published in July of 2020. 

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