The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #77: The Dance by Garth Brooks (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #77: The Dance by Garth Brooks.

To some of you, “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, is the real #1 best song of all-time. Truth be told, it would be hard to argue that fact, either. “The Dance” was the final cut on Garth Brooks debut album which, as we have said before, was one of the biggest and most successful debut albums ever in the history of recorded music. “The Dance” was Song of the Year in 1990. This single, alone, sold over fifteen million copies worldwide. Because of the subject matter of the song, Brooks has been asked to sing it at many funerals, such as that of NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt, as well as, at the finales of long running shows such as when Jay Leno signed off as the host of The Tonight Show. For Garth Brooks, he says that “The Dance” is the one song in his entire catalogue that best exemplifies his philosophy on Life and that it is the song he is most proud of and enjoys singing the most.

“The Dance” was originally written by a Nashville songwriter named Tony Arata. Back in the late 1980s, Arata and Brooks were unknown singers trying to get their big break. Both young men worked part-time jobs in order to pay the rent. But, where they spent most of their time was in small clubs, singing songs that they hoped others in positions of influence might hear and want to buy for themselves or better yet, sign them to a recording contract. And so it was, that one night Arata was performing in a club at a “Songwriter’s Showcase”. Garth Brooks was performing at the same club. Arata went first. He played his version of “The Dance”. Brooks liked it right away. After the showcase was over, he approached Arata and told him that, if and when, he ever got signed to a record deal, he wanted to record “The Dance”, if Arata was willing to sell it to him. Well, there wouldn’t be much of a story if Garth Brooks hadn’t gotten that record deal and contacted Tony Arata again. Arata gave him the song but, instead of selling it for cash, he asked to be given the songwriting credit. As decisions go, this was probably the best decision Tony Arata ever made in his life. Because of the fact that he had faith in “The Dance” and bet on himself as songwriter, Arata received a percentage of the royalties from each of those millions of sales. As it stands, Tony Arata doesn’t have to work another day in his life unless he wanted to.

Garth Brooks tinkered a bit with the lyrics to Arata’s song but, for the most part, he left the lyrics intact. Where he did make significant changes was in the musical structure of the song. Brooks added a slow piano buildup off of the top of the song and then, changed how the guitar parts happened. He changed the sound of the song so much that when Tony Arata was allowed to hear the finished version of the entire album, he thought Garth Brooks had left his song off. He didn’t even recognize “The Dance” anymore! But, after realizing what Brooks had done, even Arata had to admit that he had made the song better. Obviously, because of how so many millions of people are moved to tears by “The Dance”, it seems that Arata is correct in his assessment of the changes.

Some people feel that the lyrics of “The Dance” are centred upon a broken or lost romance. Garth Brooks says that there could be an element of that in the lyrics but, more importantly that that, “The Dance” is about living a life with no regrets. The song talks about how is better to not know when the end is coming because, if you knew, you might live your life differently in order to avoid having it end as it must. Garth Brooks believes that you should take every chance, journey down every path, shake every hand that is extended in your direction because you just never know when luck is going to befall you and your life is going to change for the better. Because of this philosophy, that’s why “The Dance” is performed so often at funerals and why so many people find it hard to listen to without crying. As songs go, Garth Brooks (with a little help from Tony Arata) has tapped into a universal feeling for how many people wish to view their life as it winds down. We all want to know that it all meant something and that we, by extension, meant something, too. It is worthy wish, well-captured by one of the biggest selling, most respected and beloved Country Music songs of all-time…..”The Dance” by Garth Brooks. Enjoy. PS: Cry, if you want to. I know that I probably will. <3

The link to the video for the song, “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “The Dance”, as performed live by Garth Brooks, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Garth Brooks, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP for playing the best music of all-time, regardless of genre. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

2 thoughts on “The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #77: The Dance by Garth Brooks (KEXP)”

  1. Like you said, one of my all time favourites. The video just adds to whole experience. Never a dry eye ❤️

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