The Thunder Rolls

Album: No Fences (1990)

Songfacts®:

  • Garth Brooks was a struggling songwriter when he got together with the Nashville writer Pat Alger and wrote this song. In a 2012 Songfacts interview with Pat Alger, he said: "That was based on a song I'd written with another guy. I'd written a song with Mark Sanders, who's a great songwriter, and he's a good friend. We'd written a song called 'Like A Hurricane' that Kathy Mattea had recorded. It was the B-side of 'Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.' There's a line about thunder rolling in the song. Garth had been listening to that song - he'd been listening to stuff that (producer) Allen Reynolds had given him. He came in and said, 'What if we write a song about somebody who's cheating on his wife, and every time he does it, the thunder rolls.' And I kind of laughed.

    I thought it was kind of a joke. And as most of my co-writing goes, we sat and talked a while about it. And then we started to develop a scenario and it became less of a joke and more of a cool thing. Because, again, here's a song that has a repeating thing right outside the verses, 'and the thunder rolls, the thunder rolls.' That thing is sort of on its own. And then you go to the chorus. And I thought, Wow, that's interesting, too. And when we wrote it, I really did think it was kind of different. And of course we were trying to pitch that song immediately. We were trying to get Reba McEntire and Tanya Tucker to record that."
  • Tanya Tucker was the first to record this song. In the world of country music, songwriters are constantly pitching their songs to established artists in hopes of getting them recorded, and it's common practice for artists to claim a song by putting a "hold" on it, meaning no one else can record it. This is what Tucker did, but as is often the case, her version didn't make her album - she was working on a greatest hits album and decided to use "The Thunder Rolls" for her next one instead. By this time, Brooks was establishing himself as an artist, so he asked Tucker for the song back, and she obliged. Garth recorded it for his second album, No Fences, which went on to sell about 18 million copies.
  • Similar to "Friends In Low Places," this song has an extra verse that Brooks would include in live performances. Unlike "Friends...," the extra verse in this case adds a darker tone to the song - the wronged woman goes to get a gun to kill her cheating husband. To make the song commercially viable, that verse was left out.

    This extra verse was written for Tanya Tucker, and can be heard in her version of the song. When Brooks and Alger pitched it to Tucker's producer Jerry Crutchfield, he informed the two songwriters that he didn't consider their song finished. "Alger, as sweet as he could, looked across that desk and [said], 'What the hell you mean this ain't finished?'" Brooks recalled. "[Jerry] said, 'I wanna know how it ends.' Alger looked at him and goes, 'No, you don't.' They had a great rapport with each other. I'm mortified. I'm sitting there going, 'Well, there goes my first cut out the window."

    A version of the song with the missing third verse can be found on Brooks' live album, Double Live.
  • Garth Brooks was focused on songwriting when he teamed up with Alger to write this, but he was playing small shows from time to time, which is where Alger saw him for the first time. Alger told us: "He was just a guy from Oklahoma. The day that I met him, he was playing a show on his own at some place, it was the dive-iest place that I'd ever been in Nashville, actually. I didn't really want to go down there, because I didn't like that side of town at night, but I decided to go down and watch it and watch his show just to see what it's all about. It's always enlightening to do that instead of listen to tapes of people's songs. I think you get a better idea of who somebody is by listening to them perform, and he really delivered. He had a couple of songs in the show that he'd written and a couple he didn't, and the ones that he wrote I thought were good. I saw that look in his eye and felt the hunger in his belly and thought we'd be a good match. And it was one of my smarter moves, it turns out."
  • After they had finished recording the song, Brooks suggested that they add the sound of thunder. Fortunately, Reynolds had that sound on hand already from a previous recording session. The song that the thunder originally appeared on was "Delta Rain" by the Memphis Boys.
  • When Pat Alger was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on October 17, 2010, Brooks took the stage to pay tribute and recalled the day he sat down with him to write this song: Said Garth: "Pat [was] sitting with his pen and his paper, poised. I've got a little rubber ball that I'm bouncing off the wall right above his head, back and forth, crawling underneath the chairs and desk like you do when you're five years old - because that's what I do. Alger's sitting there about ready to kill me, coming up with all these wonderful lines, thousands of 'em that you never use.

    But that's Alger's thing. Alger understands the craft. That's what I love about Pat Alger. Pat Alger doesn't care how or when it gets done. I might go as far as saying, not even if it does get done. The cool thing is just to capture that moment. And that's what Pat Alger does.

    It's the first time I was ever in a record label. I was scared to death. Pat was kind of like my mentor/buddy - who was scared to death, too, if the truth be known."
  • This was Brooks' sixth #1 on the Country chart.
  • The song's music video alludes to the third verse by including the theme of domestic violence. Both TNN and CMT banned the video, with a CMT representative commentating that the network was "in business to entertain, not to promote or condone gratuitous violence or social issues." However VH1, which generally aired pop videos, began playing it and women's shelters thanked the record company for raising awareness of domestic violence. On October 2, 1991, the clip was awarded the CMA Video of the Year award.
  • American heavy metal band All That Remains covered this for their 2017 Madness album. They shot a video for their version of the song, which cuts between footage of the band performing in the studio and images of ominous storm clouds and galloping horses.

    "We didn't want to seem like we're trying to step on the toes of the original [video] but at the same time we weren't trying to change the message of the song," frontman Phil Labonte told Billboard magazine. "I felt like something less specific would work best."

Comments: 18

  • Richard from Niles Michigan I love this song so much that when I listened to it as a kid. I always had to be barefoot whenever I heard it for some reason.
  • Greg Smith from OhioElvis Presley recorded this in 1968. Pat alger and mark Sanders and tanya tucker and Garth Brooks had no hand in it. It's pure plagiarism.
  • Richard Jordan from Niles Mi Also another line that proves the song is about a cheating husband is And he knows that she knows pant pant pant pant pant pant
  • Brian from OntarioI went back and listen close and it isn't Elvis but it is a good likeness.
  • Brian from OntarioThere is a you tube vid with Elvis singing this song before his death in August 1977 that would make Brooks 15 or less when he was suppose to write this tune. I've been a musician for 50 years and do this in my show and I first heard it on you tube by Elvis.Before any one comments first go to you tube and see for yourselves. As for Tucker she released this tune in 1994 Brooks released it in 1990. Garth singed his first contract with Capitol in 1989.
  • Zhivko from Bourgas, BulgariaIt is rumoured Tanya Tucker recorded this first when Garth Brooks was still without a recording contract. For some reason, she didn't release it before 1995 on a compilation box set.- walter, Antwerp, BelgiumHere you can read why she never recorded it : http://bit.ly/2oy8rJf
  • Cory Stoczynski from Lancaster, NyShe killed her husband, and was arrested for good!
  • Karen from Manchester, NhI saw Garth say in an interview that he portrayed the husband because he couldn't ask some other poor slob to portray such a downright jerk (not his word) so he did it himself. Also, has anyone else noticed that the trunk on the patrol car that arrives at the house flops open? I always laugh when I see it and it kills the mood of the video for me. Of course, I'm not a huge fan of His Royal Garthness.
  • Jonathan from Paoli, InThis song is very hard to listen too. I, mean its a great song, but when you watch the video, and actually live a life of pain, the whole song is basically a sad song. It brings chills down Your spine when GB says, "Thunder Rolls and the Lightning Strikes".
  • Justin from Muskogee, Francethis song is about a cheating husband, but also if you watch the video he hits her, and this may be one of the most outstanding songs of all time, the video speaks for its self, at first i didnt realize it was garth but thats col that he played the bad guy, garth never lets us down.
  • George from Jo'burg, South AfricaGB includes the third verse in live shows to depict the images portraid in the video as to the womans actions.
    I don't believe that the reason Garth plays the part of the man in the video due to something between him and Sandy from the past. He and Sandy have always had a very honest relationship with eachother as well as their daughters. This even continues after their divorce and his marrying Trisha Yearwood.
  • J.r. from Elkhart, InPeople, people, people. Get your facts straight. This song is about a woman bieng abused by her lousy cheating husband. It is the only GB song that I can go without hearing mainly because it was played too much when it first came out. I thought it was really a bad decision to have Garth play the husband...Maybe K-Fed would have been a better choice. LOL.
  • Kara from Texarkana, TxMy mom says this song is about the man beating the woman, although if you listen to it, it's about him cheating on her.

    +++Lines that 'prove' it (in no particular order)

    "A strange new perfume blows"
    "He's headin' back from somewhere
    That he never should have been."
    "Hopin' she's not right,
    Prayin' it's the weather
    That's kept him out all night."
    "Because tonight will be the last time
    She'll wonder where he's been"
  • Walter from Antwerp, BelgiumIt is rumoured Tanya Tucker recorded this first when Garth Brooks was still without a recording contract. For some reason, she didn't release it before 1995 on a compilation box set.
  • Amanda from Tiption, InThis is one of his best songs of all times. I love it. It's an awsome song!!
  • Cory from Morden, CanadaThis video still airs on CMT Canada (not sure about the States) though it was banned originally, and they brought it back later.

    I have also heard that the reason Garth is "in character" for this video is because it's so personal for him, he couldn't bring to play the role himself. Something happened in his past with Sandy that apparently made this song very personal.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesThis was Garth Brooks' first hit in the UK, and is still his biggest to date
  • Jeff from Trafford, PaThe third verse goes:

    She runs back down the hallway
    and through the bedroom door,
    She reaches for the pistol
    kept in the dresser drawer.

    She tells the lady in the mirror
    'He won't do this again'
    'Cause tonight will be the last time
    She wonders where he's been.

    Also, the video for this song was quickly banned. Although it does not include the controversial third verse, it actually shows the girl getting the gun and shooting him.
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