With well over 60 million albums sold, Garth Brooks is the top solo artist ever. And he's done it without ever having a true pop radio hit.
That will change if a coming marketing plan pays off. And if it works, it will also mark the return of Bob Dylan to pop radio.
On June 1, a campaign will be launched to get a new Brooks single--a version of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love"--played on adult contemporary pop stations, followed two weeks later by a big push for the song at Top 40 pop stations.
Brooks recorded the song, which was on Dylan's Grammy-winning 1997 album "Time Out of Mind," for the soundtrack of "Hope Floats," a romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. that is set to open May 29. It's a spare, straightforward love ballad that could be perfect for straddling the line between country and pop.
"[At pop radio] they have a line of demarcation that they for a long time refused to cross," says Pat Quigley, president and chief executive of Capitol Records Nashville, which releases Brooks' recordings and will issue the soundtrack album. "But [this song] is not far from what popular music is today."
Quigley is encouraged by recent cracks in the wall created by two country records: LeAnn Rimes' "How Do I Live" and Shania Twain's "You're Still the One." L.A. adult contemporary station KBIG-FM (104.3), which has never played a Brooks song, is currently playing both singles, and the station's assistant program director, Tony Coles, is intrigued by the prospect of Brooks' crossover attempt.
"There are mass-appeal country artists that have succeeded in pop," he says. "So I guess it's surprising that he hasn't tried something like this before, since he's the biggest mass-appeal country artist there is."
Quigley isn't sure how country radio will accept the notion of a Brooks crossover, though. The G-man has been the core of the format throughout the '90s, and many country programmers are fiercely possessive of him.
"I anticipate some resistance," says Quigley, who is also trying to engineer crossovers for other label artists, including Deana Carter (whose new album is due in September) and Steve Wariner (whose new album includes a duet with Brooks). "To a lot of people Garth represents country and anything he sings is country. But let's let the fans decide."
Brooks himself took a proactive approach at a recent gathering of country broadcasters in Nashville, where he asked for their support on the move. One who is responding with enthusiasm is John Sebastian, operations manager of L.A.'s KZLA-FM (93.9).
"I don't think people should be afraid of this at all," he says. "If it's a pop hit, all it does is entice people to go to where they can hear more music like that, and that's country radio."
MORE HOPE: For Trisha Yearwood, the "Hope Floats" soundtrack will be the second time in just over a year that she has had a movie performance overshadowed by another version of the same song. After watching Rimes' rendition of "How Do I Live," rejected for the movie "Con Air," become a bigger hit than her own "official" version, Yearwood now finds herself having done the same song as Brooks for "Hope Floats."
But don't look for any conflict. Brooks and Yearwood are still fast friends, and the two versions of Dylan's song were part of the soundtrack game plan, as overseen by the film's music supervisor, Don Was.
The two versions frame an album that also includes new tracks from the Rolling Stones (a version of Carl Perkins' "Honest I Do"), Sheryl Crow, Lila McCann, Lyle Lovett, Deana Carter, John Berry and a Bob Seger-Martina McBride duet on Seger's new "Chances Are." Also included are tracks by Bryan Adams, Gillian Welch, Whiskeytown and Jonell Moser.
Capitol Nashville's Quigley sees the whole project as bridging the pop and country markets, with the Carter and Berry ballads in particular slated for similar crossover campaigns similar to that of the Brooks track.
TRICKSTER: Island Records officials and parent company PolyGram Records executives are breathing a sigh of relief that they won't have to deal with a song by Island artist Tricky that's heavily critical of PolyGram. The lyrics reportedly attack the company over racially charged comments made last year by PolyGram executive Eric Kronfeld, who was later let go.
Kronfeld, then president and CEO of PolyGram's domestic music division, was asked during testimony last fall in a lawsuit filed against Island by R&B; act Dru Hill why the company allowed a man with a criminal record to be hired.
"If every African American male in the United States was disqualified from pursuing a livelihood, in any way shape or form, because of a prior criminal record," he replied, "then there would be no, or virtually no, African American employees in our society or in our industry."
If Tricky had decided to include the song in his upcoming album, "Angels With Dirty Faces," executives would have had to risk an embarrassing confrontation by rejecting it, or else release a song that's embarrassing to the company.
Luckily for them, Tricky did not submit the song (which he has recorded) for the album--a decision that was Tricky's alone, according to Island spokesman John Vlautin. But "Angels" does include a song that condemns record companies in general for capitalizing on the criminal images and violent deaths of rappers.
"Record Companies" features the lines, "Record companies love when they kill themselves / It boosts up the record sales / Now which one of you's gonna be the next niggy / You don't have to worry 'bout them / 2Pac holding hands with Biggie."