The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #124: Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks (RS)

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #124: Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks.

“Friends on Low Places” is the biggest selling debut single of all-time. It won the Country Music Association award for Song of the Year when it was released in 1990. It is generally listed as one of, if not, THE all-time greatest drinking song ever written. And yet, it is a song that was not originally written by Garth Brooks. It is, also, a song that Brooks almost lost out on because he nearly waited too long to record it. Finally, it is one of the only #1 songs in any genre to be substantially re-written AFTER it was released and hit #1 by the very artist who released it!!! “Friends in Low Places” is quite the song, with quite the story to go with it. Let’s get to it, shall we?

In my earlier post about “The Thunder Rolls”, *(which you can read here), it was noted that Garth Brooks was not an immediate success when he rolled into Nashville as a young man. Like many who show up in places like New York City, Nashville or Hollywood, Brooks had more ambition than he had contacts and success. So, like many who arrive with stars in their eyes, he toiled away in oblivion for a while, working odd jobs and making demo tapes as a hired-gun singer for whoever needed help with their song. It was while making demo tapes for two song writers named Earl Bud Lee and Dwayne Blackwell, that Garth Brooks first came upon a song called, “Friends in Low Places”.

The origin story for the song is that Lee and Blackwell were having lunch one day in a diner and when it came time to pay the bill, Lee realized that he didn’t have his wallet with him. When Blackwell joked with him about how he was going to pay for his share, Lee replied that “he had friends in low places” because he knew the cook. As soon as Lee uttered the phrase about “friends in low places” both men realized that they had the foundation of a great song idea. All the was needed was the rest of the song. That happened a short while later when the duo found themselves at a record-release party. In that atmosphere, with other creative people, Lee and Blackwell started to play around with their song idea and soon, the lyrics began to pour forth. The pair scrambled to write everything down on napkins and whatever else they could find; eventually, creating the entire song. The next step was to get the song recorded, which is what brought them in search of a singer who would work for scale. That singer was a young man with a big dream, named Garth Brooks, who Lee and Blackwell had come to know from the demo circuit.

Garth Brooks agreed to sing the song for his new friends. But, just as Lee and Blackwell approached Brooks, he had signed a record deal for a EP and was working on that. He asked Lee and Blackwell, if they would hold the song for him until such time as he was ready to begin working on his debut album, “No Fences” in a year or so. They agreed. But, in the meantime, another country singer named Mark Chestnutt heard the song and asked to record it, too. In the end, both men recorded the song but, Brooks released his album first and, because of that, Chestnutt’s version was instantly relegated to category of a cover song, even though it was an original recording to him.

As mentioned, “Friends in Low Places” roared out of the gate for Brooks and became a huge hit with fans. The story of a young, working class man getting the last word at the wedding of his ritzy ex-girlfriend struck a chord with other working class folks, in the same way that Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Bob Seger had with their brand of “Heartland” rock. In the version of the song released on the “No Fences” album, Brooks stars as the young man who is spurned by his former girlfriend. In the song, he speaks at her wedding and says that he wishes her well but will be fine without her and then, he makes a graceful exit out through the door. But, a funny thing happened a short while later. Garth Brooks was driving in his car one day not long after the song had reached #1 and happened to hear the song come on the car radio. Hearing yourself on the radio is always a cool thing but, in this case, Brooks listened to the lyrics and suddenly ws overwhelmed by the feeling that the song didn’t really refelect who he was and how he would have acted if that scenario depicted in the song had been real. In an instant, the version of “Friends in Low Places” that he recorded and released seemed wrong. So, when it came time for him to sing the song in concert, he stopped the show and announced that he was adding an entirely new verse to the song; a verse that was more in keeping with who he really was. It is a verse that has stayed in the song ever since and is what is recorded on all of his live albums he has released since. It is, also, a verse that has made a hit song even more popular than it once was. Here is that additional “third” verse:

“Well, I guess I was wrong

I just don’t belong

But then, I’ve been there before,

And everything is alright

I’ll just say goodnight

And I’ll show myself to the door.

Hey, I didn’t mean, to cause a big scene

Just wait ’til I finish this glass

Then, sweet little lady

I’ll head back to the bar

And you can kiss my ass!”

So, without further delay, here is Garth Brooks with his #1 hit…the greatest selling debut single of all-time…the Song of the Year in Country Music in 1990….”Friends in Low Places”, complete with the new, third verse. He is really quite the entertainer. This is a great live video. Enjoy!

The link to the video for the song, “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, can be found here.

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

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.