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Garth Brooks knows how to take 'The Hits'
Friday, February 17, 1995. Associated Press
Story by Story by Jim Patterson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It's yet another 20-minute telephone interview for the biggest star in country music, scheduled between filming a television commercial for Kmart in Detroit and traveling to do another for Wal-Mart in Bentonville, Ark.

Garth Brooks makes the allotted time seem longer than it is. He is accommodating and intense when he easily could afford to relax a little, let some of the demands for his attention slide. Not a chance. Unlike many stars with half his sales, Garth Brooks gives every indication of being as hungry as he was in 1987 - a kid from Oklahoma who came to Nashville with an advertising degree and dreams of being the next George Strait.

"To me, the score is 0-0 now," said Brooks, 33, of his decision to allow EMI Records to finally release a greatest hits compilation. "The Hits" was released shortly before Christmas and jumped immediately to No. 1 on the country and pop album charts, where it still sits today.

The very idea worried Brooks to no end. He's sold 42 million of his first five albums (plus a Christmas collection) and sees no reason they shouldn't keep selling - except if "The Hits" is available - one record instead of five.

"I hate the idea of the greatest hits being out there," Brooks says. EMI won him over with a solution that made sense to his adman side. EMI agreed to sell "The Hits" for only four to six months, meaning that fans better pick it up by this summer or they're out of luck. "Hopefully, people that have never bought a GB piece of product will buy this 'cause it has all the hits, and when they hear it hopefully it'll entice them to go out and get the album they're off of," Brooks said. He said the album also comes with a "CD Zoom" - "This is 61 cuts of all our stuff, 20-second snippets of each." Viola! A catalog killer is transformed into a catalog booster with the magic of modern marketing.

The subject of all this fuss, Brooks' music, is the work of a instinctual populist - his best single to date is the singalong "Friends in Low Places," irresistible to all but the snobs it mocks. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he offered comforting melodies and understandable lyrics to a massive audience perplexed by rap, grunge and techno.

Brooks is not a country purist - he's covered songs first done by New Grass Revival, Billy Joel and Kiss. And he has a real flair for the dramatic and the inspirational: ballads like "The River" and "The Dance" - and standout "Standing Outside the Fire" - all preach the bliss of ambition. His third and fourth albums are titled "Ropin' the Wind" and "The Chase."

It's the kind of thing that translates beyond country music to the pop world - and the kind of thing Brooks hopes will translate today's country music overseas. He spent much of 1994 touring Europe and was as shocked by fan expectations there as Europeans were by his rock 'n' roll-style lighting rig.

He spent the bulk of one day explaining the presence of Vicki Hampton, his backup singer who happens to be black. "This one person, from I believe it was France, couldn't understand how country music could have a black person in it 'cause they thought that's what country music was against.

"And man, when you hear that, man, your skin just crawls and you just get all tensed up and you wanna pop somebody," Brooks said, "until you realize that's what you're out there for - to educate people on that stuff."

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