On This Day: Garth Brooks Tops the Chart With Controversial Hit ‘The Thunder Rolls’ in 1991

by Jim Casey
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Garth Brooks topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with his controversial hit, “The Thunder Rolls,” on June 22, 1991.

Along with Clint Black, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt, Class of ’89 member Garth Brooks came firing out of the gate with his debut album. Garth released his self-titled debut in April 1989. The 10-song offering produced two No. 1 hits, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Dance,” as well as two Top 10 hits, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” and “Not Counting You.”

Garth’s debut album proved he was a force to be reckoned with. But would he fall victim to the sophomore slump? No. Would he play it safe? No.

In fact, Garth’s sophomore album, No Fences, which dropped in September 1990, pushed the boundaries of country music. Sure, the album featured lighthearted singles like “Friends in Low Places” and “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House.” But the album also had message-filled singles like “Unanswered Prayers.” All three singles reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

The Thunder Rolls

When it came time to released the album’s fourth single, Garth went big. Penned by Garth and Pat Alger, “The Thunder Rolls” was released on April 30, 1991.

The song addressed domestic violence in graphic terms. Not only was the “thunder” a meteorological event, but also it suggested volatility inside the home of a woman with a philandering/abusive husband. Today, it wouldn’t even be a news blip, but in 1991, it was considered controversial because of the song’s fourth verse: She runs back down the hallway, and through the bedroom door / She reaches for the pistol kept in the dresser drawer / Tells the lady in the mirror, ‘He won’t do this again’ / Cause tonight will be the last time she’ll wonder where he’s been.”

Here’s the real rub. The song’s fourth verse wasn’t included on the album’s version of “The Thunder Rolls.”

But Garth often included it when he performed the song live. When it came time to create a video, Garth alluded to the fourth verse by depicting a woman aiming a pistol at her abusive husband (played by a bearded Garth) and shooting, while a child looks on.

Garth Wins

CMT and TNN (yeah, that was a thing) pulled the video from their rotations, citing the violence. Garth denounced the censorship. And he refused to amend the clip to meet their “standards.” Eventually, pop-centric VH-1 began airing the video.

Nonetheless, “The Thunder Rolls” reached the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart on June 22, 1991. The tune became Garth’s sixth chart-topper. In addition, the video for “The Thunder Rolls” was named Video of the Year at the CMA Awards in September 1991. No Fences earned the CMA Album of the Year.

Fans can find Garth’s full version of “The Thunder Rolls” on his 1998 album, Double Live.

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