s world-quaking phenomena go. this one’s reassuringly flawed. He‘s chubby, balding. and his top albums of all time include Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and oston‘s Boston. Even these factors though, the only mortal cracks in a godlike profile, work in his favour. His ordinary Joe looks exude good ol‘ boy charm; his ordinary tastes colour his musical output , rubbing mainstream pop curves onto time-honoured, traditional country motions. A simple combination. a simple result: sixteen million albums in under three years. Garth Brooks. having conquered America, is coming our way.
In a year when all the heavyweights wheeled out their latest magna opera a 29-year-old ex-college jock and marketing graduate from Oklahoma beat them all. Come the year-end album charts. Garth Brooks was tops. outselling Guns N‘Roses. Prince, Hammer and U2 in 1991. His is a success teeming with facts and figures. Advance orders for Ropin' The Wind , his third album. released in the States last September and here this month. topped two million. That album was the first ever country album to debut at Number One in the Billboard album charts. Following an NBC special on the singer. all three albums were in the Top Ten, a feat unmatched since Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass did the same in the 60s. At last year’s Academy of Country Music awards he collected a mantelpiece-worth of trophies. A concert at Dallas’s 18.000-seater Reunion Arena sold out in 37 minutes. Next day‘s show did the same in 45 minutes. Clearly this is not your average country music artist.
‘I think that Garth is the most ambitious person I have ever met. He’s determined to do as well as possible.‘ So says Richard Wootton, Britain’s leading publicist for country acts and the man charged with negotiating the column inches over here to match the tidal wave of fanaticism generated over there. As he points out. Brooks‘s rise up and over the generically delineated ranks that bedevil US music makers and consumers was kick-started by several developments, most notably a change in the methods of compiling the Billboard chart to give due recognition to country music’s position in the market.
The success of GARTH BROOKS has hauled country music back to centre stage in the USA, and his multi-million selling Ropin’ The Wind has at last been given a British release. But, asks Craig McLean, could his success possibly be repeated over here, and will it open the door for others?
“A second thing was that there are now more country radio stations than ever before in America. Garth and other people sing songs now that appeal to people who‘ve never been in the country. and it‘s a much more urban, urbane appeal. He‘s also had access increasingly to television. Videos are becoming more and more sophisticated in the country market. And his are better than most.‘
And riskier than most. A clip for ‘The Thunder Rolls‘ from the No Fences album raised the ire of country channels CMT and Nashville Network last April with its graphic depiction ofa cheating husband (played by a bearded Brooks in the video). his wife-beating and eventual demise at the hands of his victim. Tame stuff for MTV-inured viewers but a tad controversial for the country establishment. Simply put. country has never had a star like Garth Brooks. Not for him the staid mores and simplicity of country recording and performing. This is particularly crucial when considering his stage show. It‘s the rock ‘n‘ roll dynamics of his concerts -- smashing up guitars. hanging off ropes. much libidinous tearing about — that have been instrumental in stoking the hysteria and elevating Brooks to the top of the tree.
All ofwhich now has to be packaged and sold to the Limeys. In charge ofconvincing this prejudiced. conservative bunch of their boy’s untrammelled talents is EMI UK‘s ‘strategic marketing’ man Thierry Pannetier. ‘Our aim is to emulate the success he has had in the States.‘ says the Frenchman. ‘That is why we held off the release ofthe album until now. lfwe had I released it prior to Christmas there was a big ' risk it would have been lost in the rush of releases then. At the same time. we were able to capitalise on the American success. Obviously it has gone past our best forecasts of success there, so we knew we were onto something good right from the start. Also February is a quiet time and we managed to secure the support of all the big record chains.
‘The strategy has, I think, worked well as far as the album is concerned. And this particular record is very important for country music in the UK in general.’
This is undeniable. The last few years have seen concerted efforts to sell a toned-up
14 The List 14 — 27 February 1992