Garth Brooks is one of the most well-known country artists today. He is a gifted musician and a phenomenal performer. He has had eighteen number one songs on the country charts through the years, four of which came from his second album, No Fences. One song in particular off of this album, “Friends in Low Places,” stands out among the rest. Arguably Garth’s most popular song, “Friends in Low Places” has stood the test of time and remains one of country music’s biggest anthems today.
This song was written by DeWayne Blackwell and Earl “Bud” Lee in 1989, a year before Garth actually recorded it. The songwriters contacted Brooks as soon as they had completed the song and asked him to record a demo of it for them, which he did. Unfortunately Brooks could not record the song at that moment, as his debut album with Capitol Records was already made and scheduled to be released, so he had to wait until the following year to actually record the song and put it on an album. On the insert booklet for his album, The Hits, Garth gives a little more background for this song, saying, “’Friends in Low Places’ was the last demo session I ever did as a singer. The demo was for Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell. I sang the session out in Hendersonville, and for the next two weeks the chorus to this song kept running through my head. I knew it would be a year and a half before the release of No Fences because Garth Brooks was just getting ready to be released. I asked Bud Lee and Dewayne if I could hold on to it and, without a blink of an eye, they both said yes. Putting that kind of faith into an unknown artist is unheard of. Thanks Dewayne and Bud for believing in me” (Brooks).
When the time came to release No Fences, Brooks contacted Lee and Blackwell and asked them if the song was still available, and indeed it was. The producers liked the sound of the song so much they immediately decided to make it the first single off of the new album, and it became an instant classic. It won Brooks the award for Single of the Year in 1990 from the Academy of Country Music, and won the same award in 1991 from the Country Music Association. This song was also released, according to Jocelyn Neal, at “a time when Middle America latched onto music that purported to represent suburban, middle-class, and working-class values and a (mostly) white identity” (Neal 2). This song really seems to touch this specific audience, but Garth also knew that people listened to more than just country music, and the added electric guitar solo and even other rock influences in his other songs reached out to a brand new audience that country music had never reached before.
The song is the story of a man who “shows up in boots” at his ex girlfriend’s wedding. He then proceeds to take the groom’s glass of champagne and gives an inappropriate toast to his ex, he then “says goodnight and shows himself to the door” to go hang out with his “friends in low places” . The hook of the song is the first line of the chorus “I’ve got friends in low places”, but Garth puts an emphasis on the word “low”, actually singing it at a much lower note than the other words. He also puts a low note emphasis on the words “beer” and “social” in the chorus, followed immediately by an upward inflection on the words “chases” and “graces”. There is also a huge emphasis on “Oasis” in the second half of the chorus. Maybe this is Garth’s way of saying that as he drinks his whiskey and beer, from his low, heartbroken place, he slowly begins to climb up and feel more and more happy, or maybe the constant high and low inflections symbolize the ups and downs of relationships. For whatever reason, the chorus of this song and the way Garth delivers it really resonates with his audience.
Like most of Garth’s songs, this song follows a fairly simple structure; following a short acoustic guitar intro it goes into the first verse and chorus. Then there is a short instrumental break with an electric guitar solo, followed by the second verse. Once the second verse is over, the song goes back into the chorus and repeats it three times until it fades out to the end of the song. Throughout these repeats of the chorus, the rest of the band joins in singing along with Brooks, as if his “friends in low places” have come to join him. You can also hear the cracking of a beer can being opened several times in the background. Despite these chorus repeats and a guitar solo however, the song follows a simple verse-chorus pattern, which is very common in country music.
I find this song interesting as it covers a similar subject matter as arguably Garth’s second biggest hit, “The Dance” which was released on his debut album. Both “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places” revolve around heartbreak. In “The Dance”, the narrator is obviously sad by the way the relationship ended, but is still happy that it happened at all. Still, this song is slow and sad throughout. Compared to “Friends in Low Places”, which is still about heartbreak, yet it has a very happy and upbeat tone to it. This is one of the many reasons I admire Garth, and I’m sure a lot of other people do too. He can take two very similar songs and just give a completely different delivery and feel to each of them. I like to think that Garth intended these songs to just be two different ways to get over a past relationship. If you are still sad about a relationship, “The Dance” is for you, but if you are going to go out with your friends and have fun, “Friends in Low Places” is for you. Either way, the delivery of both of these songs is a true testament to just how talented Garth is as a musician.
As you can see, Garth’s style of music is really varied. Ranging from sad love songs such as “The Dance” to drinking songs to epic story telling songs and just about everything in between. He also seamlessly blends together country, rock and pop all into one beautiful sound. “Friends in Low Places” is one of those songs where Garth just did everything right. It’s catchy and easily relatable to anyone who’s ever dealt with heartache. It connected with his audience in 1990 just as well as it does with his audience today. While it’s probably not the best song to follow as an example for getting over someone you used to love, it strikes a chord with his audience, letting them know that everything will be ok as long as you have your friends. It’s simply a song about getting together and having a good time with your friends. Stephen Deusner puts it in his article ““Friends” ends with one of the best sing-along choruses that Nashville ever bestowed on a listener, leaving it deliciously ambiguous whether that rowdy choir is all his low friends or all the wedding guests who’ve followed him back to his low places” (Deusner). The fact that this song is still one of the most well known songs in country music and played in just about every bar in America, even 25 years after its release, is a real testament to just how effective this song was in connecting with Garth’s audience. It was a hit when it was released, its still a hit today, and I’m sure we’ll all be singing along with “Friends in Low Places” with our friends in low places for many years to come.
Time Form Listening Cues
0:00 Intro Acoustic guitar
0:10 Verse 1 “Blame it all on my roots…”
0:45 Chorus 1 “’Cause I’ve got friends…”
1:18 Instrumental Break Electric guitar
1:40 Verse 2 “Well I guess I was wrong…”
2:15 Chorus 2 “’Cause I’ve got friends…”
2:51 Outro “I’ve got friends…”
Intro: Simple acoustic guitar introduction
Verse 1: Garth sings with only an acoustic guitar. Some drums come in about halfway through and the rest of the band slowly joins in as the verse builds up to the chorus
Chorus 1: Incorporation of full band, yet still only Garth singing.
Instrumental break: Electric guitar solo
Verse 2: Band fades out, except Garth and his guitar, drums and piano. Again builds to chorus, similar to first verse.
Chorus 2: Same as first chorus
Outro: Rest of band joins in a sing along of the chorus three times. You can hear beer cans being opened in the background, along with lots of yelling from Garth’s rowdy friends. Eventually it slowly fades out to end of song.
Brooks, Garth. “The Hits Album Booklet”
Deusner, Stephen. “Rediscovering Garth Brooks: No Fences A Masterful Collection Of Songs?” Engine 145 RSS. N.p., 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.
Neal, Jocelyn R. “Garth Brooks, New Country, and Rock’s Influence.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Web.