"The Thunder Rolls" is a song co-written and recorded by American country music artist Garth Brooks. It was released in April 1991 as the fourth and final single from his album No Fences and also appears on The Hits,The Limited Series,Double Live and The Ultimate Hits. "The Thunder Rolls" was written by Brooks and Pat Alger and was Garth Brooks' sixth No. 1 on the country chart.
It was originally recorded by Tanya Tucker, but was never released until it appeared on her self-titled 1995 box set. Her version included a third verse which Brooks himself intended to use on his version, but did not at the suggestion of producer, Allen Reynolds. A modernised cover was recorded, without the third verse, by Jet Black Stare.
The first verse shows a man driving home in torrential rain, from "somewhere that he never should have been." His wife is waiting at home for his return, "praying it's the weather that's kept him out all night."
When the man does return (in the second verse), the woman rushes out to meet him only to smell a perfume on his person, implying that he was with another woman. At this point in time, the lyrics "the thunder rolls" no longer refers to literal lightning and thunder surrounding the pair, but the anger in her heart has reached a boiling point- which is shown in the third verse.
The Third Verse
The original recorded version does not include the song's original third verse, most likely due to its graphic nature (the verse hints that the woman plans to kill the man for his infidelity). However, the third verse was included on Garth's live album Double Live due to his manager's urging and Brooks does include the third verse when performing the song live.
The verse goes as follows:
She runs back down the hallway and through the bedroom door She reaches for the pistol kept in the dresser drawer Tells the lady in the mirror 'he won't do this again'
'Cause tonight will be the last time, she'll wonder where he's been
Writing and production
"The Thunder Rolls" was written by Garth Brooks and Pat Alger. The original idea was Brooks'. He wanted to explore the concept of "thunder rolling inside of a marriage and outside at the same time." Almost immediately after hearing this hook, Alger grabbed a guitar and started playing what Brooks described as a "D-minor rolling thing."
The song was originally pitched to Tanya Tucker. Although she liked the song, her producer suggested a third verse, which they added. On learning that the song had been given away, Brooks's producer, Allen Reynolds, was disappointed - he considered the song to be one of the most powerful Brooks had written. When Tucker dropped the song from her album, Brooks began recording it for his second album, No Fences. Reynolds suggested that they leave off the third verse, recording only the two original verses.
During the recording session, Brooks invited Alger to play. Brooks had been impressed with Alger's work during their writing session, and thought his passion would translate well in the recording. The group of session musicians, Brooks, and Alger recorded the song live, with no overdubs, and no second take. When they were finished, Brooks suggested that they add the sound of thunder. Reynolds had that sound on hand from a previous recording session. Brooks decided when to bring in the thunder sounds.
Garth provided the following background information on the song in the CD booklet liner notes from The Hits:
"There is no doubt that the toughest song in the GB catalog has to be 'The Thunder Rolls.' This song came out fighting the day it was released. Originally cut by Tanya Tucker in 1988, it was never put on an album. It came back to us in time for No Fences. My hat's off to Pat Alger, a great writer and friend, and to music itself, because only music could withstand what this song has gone through."
Although the recording featured only the first two verses, in concert Brooks often performed the third verse, to audience delight. When he began thinking about a video, Brooks chose to allude to the third verse by including the theme of domestic violence. This would tie together the two versions of the song. Brooks chose to play the central part of the philandering husband, so that he could "make sure [the character] was so despicable that the whole viewing audience wanted to shoot him."
Before the video's release, Cathy Gurley, the head of public relations at Capitol Nashville, arranged a screening for industry women. They unanimously endorsed the video, describing it as a powerful statement against domestic violence. The video was released to CMT and The Nashville Network (TNN), where CMT immediately named it a "Pick Hit." On May 1, the day after the video's release, TNN banned the video. CMT pulled it soon after, with a CMT representative commentating that the network was "in business to entertain, not to promote or condone gratuitous violence or social issues." TNN offered to resume airplay if Brooks would film a disclaimer for the end. Although Brooks and Gurley read the TNN script, he refused to film the additional scene, saying it felt as if he would be using the controversy to promote the video. Brooks told TNN they could add a disclaimer if they chose, but he was not going to compromise his vision.
Because the video had been pulled so quickly, few people had seen it. Radio stations, country bars, television stations and newspaper began requesting copies of the video so that they - and their audiences - could form their own opinions. Several radio stations in the United States screened the video at quickly organized fund-raisers for local battered women's shelters. Capitol Records was contacted numerous times by women's shelters, thanking the company for raising awareness of domestic violence. On May 7, VH-1, which generally aired pop videos, announced that they would begin playing "The Thunder Rolls."