The River

Album: Ropin' the Wind (1991)

Songfacts®:

  • A then little-known Brooks penned this song about following one's dreams with Nashville songwriter Victoria Shaw. Released in April 1992 as the fifth single from Ropin' the Wind, it became Brooks' ninth #1 hit on the Billboard Country chart.
  • Shaw recalled the writing of the song to The Tennessean: "I met Garth at the Opryland Hotel during Country Radio Seminar. His album hadn't come out yet, but his managers introduced me, and we just became friends," she said.

    "That song really summed up where we were, such dreamers. We're still like that. But we were such big dreamers and really inspired. He came over and we wrote this song. I've told this story, that we put (the recording) on the boombox, and he's sitting on the floor and I'm sitting on the couch, listening to it over and over, and he said, 'Can't you just imagine a stadium full of people waving their lighters, singing this song?' And I thought, 'Oh my God, he's so delusional. People don't do that in country.' And I learned such a good lesson."
  • This was inspired by listening to some James Taylor music after the pair couldn't come up with anything and the singer-songwriter's folky acoustic fed through into the song. Shaw recalled: "We were blank, so blank. And so finally, he said, 'You know what? Let's just take a break. What are you listening to on the stereo?' And I had just bought this new James Taylor CD, so I put it on and were just listening to it ... , and it got us in a mood."

    You can listen to music," Shaw continued, "and it takes you somewhere else in your head. It just frees up your brain. So we were listening to this, and all of a sudden, in the middle of (a song), he goes, 'turn it off. I've got something.' He literally picked up a guitar and just went, 'You know a dream is like a river...' He had probably the first few lines. They just came out, and it was like, 'Oh, OK, that's where we're going.' Although, I did try to talk him out of (using the word) 'vessel.' I thought that was a weird word, and now 'vessel' is one of my favorite words..."

    "I was so wrong, and I hate saying that, but I was smart enough to go, 'OK, I'll go with it.' It was a special song, but to me it was just this little quiet folky dream song."
  • When Brooks finally cut the tune, it was supposed to be for his second album No Fences, but it didn't make it onto the final tracklisting. Shaw recalled: "He called me and goes, 'I'm sorry, Vic, it just didn't work.' And I thought, 'Well, there goes my chance to be on a Garth record.' And then the third album comes out, and he did it there, and he was so huge, that people gave him the courtesy of listening. It was over four minutes. It was so different, and had it been any other artist, they would have thrown that (song) out. But because people wanted to know what he felt, what he said, they gave it the courtesy of listening to it, and then they loved it."
  • The song features background vocals from Brooks' longtime friend and collaborator Trisha Yearwood, whom he later married.

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