Although it's sometimes been interpreted as a song about a father's love for his daughter (which is reflected in the music video), Brooks confirmed in his 2017 book, The Anthology Part 1: The First Five Years, that "If Tomorrow Never Comes" is about a husband's love for his wife. He explained: "It's about this guy who wants to make sure his wife knows that if something happens to him, that he did love her. She didn't have to wonder."
Brooks wrote this song with Kent Blazy, a Nashville writer who had some success with songs for Gary Morris. In 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, Brooks said: "I thought we had something when we completed the song but I didn't really know it would be a hit until I heard it by chance on the radio in my truck and I knew we had something. There was something in it that moved me and I could feel the tears come to my eyes."
This was the first of 19 #1 Country hits for Garth Brooks. The album, his debut, went on to sell over 10 million copies in America.
In 2002, the Irishman Ronan Keating scored a UK #1 hit with his cover of "If Tomorrow Never Comes." It seems unlikely that an Irish pop star would cover an American country singer, but Garth Brooks is huge in Ireland.
This was the song that earned Garth Brooks a recording contract. Kent Blazy shared the story with Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International
"We pitched it around town for about a year and nobody was interested. We were going to get together and rewrite it, to see if we could get it better. About a week before that, he (Brooks) got a call to come play at the Bluebird to fill in for somebody who was sick. They let him do one song, and he played 'If Tomorrow Never Comes.' Linda Schultz from Capitol Records, who passed on him for the third time that week, heard something (in that song). She said, 'Why don't you come back? Maybe we missed something.' He came in and got a record deal. It was his second single, my first #1 and his first #1."
This was named Favorite Country Single in the American Music Awards of 1991.
In the music video, directed by John Lloyd Miller ("The Dance
"), Brooks sings the tune by himself in an old-fashioned room next to an oil lamp while we're shown flashes of a little girl with her family, presumably her mother and grandmother. By the end of the clip, her father comes home and embraces her. The little girl was played by the daughter of Steve Gatlin of The Gatlin Brothers. Brooks' then-wife, Sandy, also appears as the girl's mother.
According to Blazy, one of the artists they pitched this to was George Jones, who actually had the song on hold until Brooks landed a record deal and decided to record it.
This was slated to be the album's third single, following "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)
" and "Not Counting You," but it got such a huge reception during live performances they bumped the ballad ahead of "Not Counting You." Brooks thought releasing a ballad for his second single would be a disaster but Paul Lovelace, the promotions director at Capitol Records, was confident. He told Brooks, "I couldn't stop this from being #1 if I tried."
This has also been covered by Engelbert Humperdinck, Barry Manilow, Irish duo Foster & Allen, and salsa singer Ismael Miranda, who recorded a Spanish version in 1997.
This was a popular selection for contestants on reality TV singing competitions in the 2000s, with Elliott Yamin performing it on season 5 of American Idol, Shayne Ward singing it on season 2 of The X Factor, Damien Leith performing it on season 4 of Australian Idol, and Kevin Skinner singing it during the audition phase on season 4 of America's Got Talent.