Music

'The Thunder Rolls': The Story Behind Garth Brooks' 1991 No. 1 and its Banned Video

Garth Brooks displays the six trophies he won throughout the night, April 26, 1991 at the 26th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Universal City, California. Brooks won for album, song, video and record of the year as well as being named Top Male Vocalist and Entertainer of the Year. (AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)

"The Thunder Rolls" has become one of Garth Brooks's most beloved country music hits as well as one of his most recognizable. The fourth single from Brooks' 1990 album No Fences was co-written by the superstar and renowned Nashville songwriter, Pat Alger. 

Brooks was just getting started when he sat down with Alger to work on the song. In a 2012 interview with WSLC, Alger explains that Brooks found inspiration for the original concept of the song from another song that Alger had written. 

"I'd written a song with Mark Sanders, who's a great songwriter, and he's a good friend. We'd written a song called 'Like a Hurricane' that Kathy Mattea had recorded. It was the B-side of '18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses.' There's a line about thunder rolling in the song. Garth had been listening to that song - he'd been listening to stuff that (producer) Allen Reynolds had given him. He came in and said, 'What if we write a song about somebody who's cheating on his wife, and every time he does it, the thunder rolls.' And I kind of laughed."

Read More: Story Behind the Song: Garth Brooks' Real-Life Realization About 'Unanswered Prayers'

Though he initially thought the idea was a joke, the two men sat down to discuss the idea and actually made it work, ending the session with something really special.

"And when we wrote it, I really did think it was kind of different," Alger continued. "And of course we were trying to pitch that song immediately. We were trying to get Reba McEntire and Tanya Tucker to record that." 

Tucker ended up initially attaching herself to the song, but her producer Jerry Crutchfield felt like the song wasn't finished and requested a third verse. Though Tucker did end up recording her own version, it was dropped from her album, so Brooks decided to make his own recording.

The original single didn't include the fourth verse that Brooks had added, which added a darker tone to the story:

She runs back down the hallway, and through the bedroom door
She reaches for the pistol, kept in the dresser drawer
Tells the lady in mirror, he won't do this again
'Cause tonight will be the last time, she'll wonder where he's been

Though this notorious extra verse was not in a recording, the "Friends In Low Places" singer regularly performs the song in its entirety at live performances for his fans.

The song's music video, which centers on an abusive husband, was extremely controversial. Brooks himself portrayed the husband in the clip, wearing a fake beard, glasses and a wig. Some networks, including CMT, wouldn't even air it. According to a 1991 Entertainment Weekly article, radio stations around the country launched "Save the Video" petitions. Women's shelters were also supportive of the song and video and viewed it as a tool for raising awareness for the true terrors of domestic violence.

"I got a sense," Bud Schaetzle, the video's director, told Entertainment Weekly, "that here's some grudging admission that Garth is plowing some new fields. And even though they'll admit that it's happening, I don't think a lot of them like it."

Despite all of the controversy, the music video won the CMA Video of the Year award and earned a Grammy nomination. 

"The Thunder Rolls" Lyrics

Three thirty in the morning
Not a soul in sight
The city's lookin' like a ghost town
On a moonless summer night
Raindrops on the windshield
There's a storm movin' in
He's headin' back from somewhere
That he never should have been
And the thunder rolls
And the thunder rolls
Every light is burnin'
In a house across town
She's pacin' by the telephone
In her faded flannel gown
Askin' for a miracle
Hopin' she's not right
Prayin' it's the weather
That's kept him out all night
And the thunder rolls
And the thunder rolls
The thunder rolls
And the lightnin' strikes
Another love grows cold
On a sleepless night
As the storm blows on
Out of control
Deep in her heart
The thunder rolls
She's waitin' by the window
When he pulls into the drive
She rushes out to hold him
Thankful he's alive
But on the wind and rain
A strange new perfume blows
And the lightnin' flashes in her eyes
And he knows that she knows
And the thunder rolls
And the thunder rolls
The thunder rolls
And the lightnin' strikes
Another love grows cold
On a sleepless night
As the storm blows on
Out of control
Deep in her heart
The thunder rolls

Now Watch: Willie Nelson's Children Are Carrying On His Legacy

recommended for you

'The Thunder Rolls': The Story Behind Garth Brooks' 1991 No. 1 and its Banned Video