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>> WHILE STUDENTS WERE TUNING INTO NIRVANA, I WAS CRANKING UP THE COUNTRY PARTYING WITH GARTH: MY COLLEGE PLAYLIST
Musings on the soundtrack to my college years

 Country music great Garth Brooks' 'Ropin' the Wind,' although released in 1991, is still getting major rotation.
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Date published: 1/10/2013

THE 1990S WERE formative years for me, but having conversations about the music of my high school and college years often leaves me wondering whether I was listening to anything at all during that decade. I could blame it on high school and college, but there is a better reason: I was listening to country.

That put me in pretty good company. The popularity of country music exploded in the '90s, and Garth Brooks led the charge. While some of my friends were enjoying the last gasps of mainstream rock, thanks to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, I was jamming to the highly polished sounds of Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire.

Most of that music has been relegated to the sonic dustbin of my past, piled in the corners of my memory, unlikely to be listened to again. Except "Ropin' the Wind" by Brooks. That album is a masterpiece, and one I return to regularly.

Brooks trails only Elvis Presley and The Beatles in terms of record sales in the United States. He has two albums that are more successful in terms of sales, but "Ropin' the Wind" is no slouch--it's sold more than 17 million copies and was his first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Beyond the numbers, it's a pop powerhouse that shifted the landscape of American music. It is the '90s version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

The first guitar hit of opening track "Against the Grain" cracked the floodgates, and a cascade of juiced-up fiddles and steel guitars came pouring out. It is one of the finest statement moments in pop music--Brooks announcing to the world that country music did not have to live within the comfortable yet provincial boundaries of Nashville style.

Brooks gets credit for successfully combining country with rock 'n' roll, and while there are certainly elements of bombastic '70s arena rock on "Ropin' the Wind" (including a cover of Billy Joel's "Shameless"), it's hardly the departure from tradition it was made out to be at the time.


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