The Story Behind Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers”
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Garth Brooks’ popular tune, “Unanswered Prayers” was inspired by his real-life love story.
“Unanswered Prayers” gained chart-topping success on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in 1991 and contributed significantly to Garth Brooks‘ 1990 album No Fences staying at the top of the charts for an impressive 30 weeks. This song stands out as one of Brooks’ all-time favorites, with its roots deeply grounded in his personal life.
The Story Behind The Song
Returning to his hometown of Oklahoma in 1989 with his first wife Sandy, Brooks had a serendipitous encounter at a football game with his old high school sweetheart. At that moment, he felt a profound realization that, during high school, she had been the girl he longed for and prayed about. However, those prayers went unanswered, leading him to meet someone even more compatible.
Brooks expanded on the song being based on this true story, explaining that “‘Unanswered Prayers’ was a big part of my heart that went out on that record. A true-life thing that happened to Sandy and myself. In October of ’89, I saw my old high school flame. And I can say this now at the time I couldn’t. For the first two years of my married life, I really thought the girl that was for me was still that girl that was in high school. And now man just the realization that what you have is the best for you, and the best you could ever do in your lifetime. It sure makes you sleep well at night.”
In the liner notes to his 1994 collection The Hits, Brooks provided insight into the song’s creation, detailing the collaborative process with his co-writers and emphasizing the deeply personal nature of the song in his life.
“Unanswered Prayers,” is co-written by Pat Alger, Larry Bastian, and Garth Brooks himself.
“Pat Alger and I worked on this song quite a long time without a hook, without the line. We passed it by Larry Bastian and it was as if it was meant to be. Larry, his wife Myrna and I were taking a walk down 18th Avenue, and he looked at me and said, ‘Oh, that’s simple. This song should be called ‘Unanswered Prayers’ because some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.’ This is probably the truest song I have ever been involved with as a writer. Every time I sing this song, it teaches me the same lesson…happiness isn’t getting what you want, it is wanting what you’ve got.”
Alger, who recorded his own version and included it as the closing track on his 1994 album, Seeds, said, “Both Garth and I, there’s a pretty good age difference between us, I think about 14 years. But we seem to have similar experiences in our youthful lives that we called on several times in songs, and this was the first one where we had a similar experience. His happened at a football game; mine was similar, but just didn’t happen at a football game. I ran into my old high school girlfriend about 10 years after the fact and was quite pleased with the way things had turned out. And that’s really the essence of the song, you wish for things and then sometimes you’re really glad the Lord wasn’t listening. Or, as they say, he was listening and decided not to play ball with you for whatever reason.”
Pat Alger said the message in this song is “kind of a Protestant concept.”
He added, “You’re supposed to use that lesson to relate to the rest of your future life. That’s the point of it. That’s the sermon, I guess you’d say. Over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of pastors who’ve used that as a jumping-off place for a sermon.”
The song made its live debut the same day it was written. Brooks performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville that evening and invited Alger to come along and play on the song.
A two-hour Lifetime TV movie inspired by the song aired in 2010. The film centers on a man (Eric Close) happily married to his wife (Samantha Mathis) but who must make a tough choice when his high school crush (Madchen Amick) comes to town.
A #1 Country hit, “Unanswered Prayers” was the second single from No Fences, the album that propelled Brooks to international fame. The album, his sophomore release, also included the chart-topping singles “Friends In Low Places,” “Two of A Kind, “Workin’ On A Full House,” and “The Thunder Rolls.” With more than 18 million sales in the US, it remains his best-selling album.
Listen to Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” below!