‘No Fences’: Rediscovering Garth Brooks’ Country Record-Breaker

Garth Brooks ‘No Fences’ artwork - Courtesy: UMG

If Garth Brooks’ self-titled 1989 debut album for Capitol Nashville was the one that made him a country star in the US, then the follow-up No Fences broke him way beyond those barriers. It went on to become the biggest-selling country music album of all time.

Released on August 27, 1990, it climbed to US sales alone of some 17 million (reaching the 17-times platinum certification in 2006) and became a smash well beyond American borders. It was notably successful in Australia and Ireland, where Brooks maintains a massive, loyal following to this day. No wonder Entertainment Weekly remarked in its review of the album that “country’s hottest new ‘hat act’ continues to display a wide streak of individuality.”

No Fences turned into a mini-greatest hits all on its own, with a series of singles that showed the artist’s intrinsic feel for songs that appealed to country audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Remarkably, all four tracks released from the album went to No.1 on the country chart.

Friends in all places

The album had the perfect introduction with the feelgood “Friends In Low Places,” released three weeks upfront. Written by DeWayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee, it was an instant, singalong winner, played in every honky tonk bar just as it was rapturously embraced by country radio. The ballad “Unanswered Prayers,” penned by Brooks with Pat Alger and Larry Bastian, was the perfect contrast as a follow-up.

As the hits from the album continued into 1991, Brooks got rowdy again with the clever wordplay of “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House,” written by Dennis Robbins, Bobby Boyd and Warren Dale Haynes. Then came “The Thunder Rolls,” written by Brooks with Pat Alger, a song with a page-turner of a storyline and a CMA Award-winning video to match that dared to depict the song’s theme of domestic abuse.

No. 1 for nine months

All the time those singles were keeping Garth’s name in lights, No Fences was achieving incredible things of its own. It won the CMA Award for Album of the Year and topped the country chart for a spectacular aggregate of 41 weeks. When Billboard compiled its US sales analysis of the 1990s as an entire decade, the album placed at No.4.

Listen to Capitol Records’ Through The Decades playlist.

No Fences also included other such highlights as “Victim of the Game,” which was covered less than a year later by Brooks’ future wife Trisha Yearwood, on her debut album. There was a version of “Mr. Blue,” which underlined the longevity of the aforementioned DeWayne Blackwell, who also wrote this 1959 No.1 by the Fleetwoods, 31 years before his co-write “Friends In Low Places” was a bestseller for Brooks. The star was proving that there indeed were no fences to hold back his record-breaking popularity.

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