Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, “Indian Outlaw”

1994 | Peak:  #8

The distinction of being Tim McGraw’s first Top 10 hit could hardly have gone to a more  oddball song.

Ever had one of those songs that you used to enjoy when you were younger, but then you kind of… I dunno… grew up and then realized it wasn’t that good?  This is one of those songs for me.  It’s catchy, to be sure.  Tim puts a lot of character and personality into his performance, and the fiddle and tom-tom-driven arrangement is infectious.

But the lyrics… Oh, how stupid.  In lyric, “Indian Outlaw” amounts to little more than a hodgepodge of Native American cliches.  The village chieftain and the medicine man both get shout-outs.  So do the tom-toms and tee-pees.  Then it samples the “Cherokee people” chorus from co-writer John D. Loudermilk’s earlier composition “Indian Reservation.”  It all makes very little sense.  Not surprisingly, the single stirred controversy due to its stereotypical portrayal of North American Indians, such that some radio stations refused to play it, though that didn’t stop it from going Top 10.

The single still holds a small shred of appeal to me, primarily because of the way it sounds.  So I could be somewhat generous and dub it a simple “catch me in the right mood” kind of novelty song.

…But seriously, how can I possibly get behind “buffalo briefs”?!

Written by Tommy Barnes, Jumpin’ Gene Simmons and John D. Loudermilk

Grade:  C+

Listen:  Indian Outlaw


  1. I’d hit “like” on this if I could. I feel guilty for thinking that it sounds good. Perhaps it’s my former Native American Studies classes echoing in my head (where this song was actually never discussed, btw), but this song really had no business becoming a “legitimate song as far as content goes.

  2. I’ve always been a lyrics-first guy, but this song still works for me, buffalo briefs included. Maybe it’s because it goes from good to bad to so far past ridiculous that it goes all the way around and becomes good again. I just remember that when this song came out, it completely stood out from anything else in country music.

  3. I’ve thought of it that way too, Sam. I’ve thought, maybe the writers meant it to be sooo rediculous to prove a point, but I guess I’d be more willing to settle on that thought if the writers and the singer were Native American (and I don’t mean just a tiny percent) and meant it as satire regarding the stereotypes that are placed on Native Americans.

  4. This was THE song that introduced me to country music, strangely enough. My dad bought the Tim McGraw CD after hearing this song on TV and played it ad nauseum, and of course as a 4-5 year old at the time, this song was awesome.

    To this day I still turn it up and sing a long whenever I hear it, mostly for the memories. I do realize it is terribly random and make very little sense as a cohesive song. And if I heard it for the first time today, I’d probably laugh at it and wonder who in their right mind would cut something like that…

    Gah, who am I kidding….I love listening to this song. It’s just rowdy and stupid, and purely enjoyable for me, probably in a sentimental way.

  5. Rowdy and stupid — hey, watch it!

    Seriously guys, this song kept me from appreciating Tim McGraw for years. I’m still not his biggest fan, but at least he’s had the good fortune of recording some awesome songs along the way. This, is really REALLY not one of them. If I’d thought it was a parody, that would be one thing — although only Native Americans should ever attempt that. But it’s a disjointed mess full of old Hollywood stereotypes, including the principal melody, and Tim’s voice is just too ordinary to elevate the material on the vocal’s strength alone. I still turn the station when I hear it.

    But, I still turn “Something Like That” way up. Likewise “Everywhere.” I’m glad Tim survived IO so those classics could come his way!

  6. I’ve always thought it was stupid, and to be honest I resisted McGraw’s music for years in part because I didn’t care for the kind of thoughtless fans who flocked to songs like this. I’ve come around on it as something of a guilty pleasure, mostly because of his 2001-2004 output, which really redeemed him for me as an artist. It’s hard to imagine current Tim McGraw recording a song like this, so I view it as a holdover from an earlier era. Damned if that club mix isn’t catchy, though.

  7. It was a good sounding, if somewhat nonsensical record. One of my best friends, a full-blooded Seminole, thought it was a hoot.

    Political correctness has been the death of music too many times, a trend that seemed to start in the 1960s when “If A Woman Answers” was hounded off country radio and later “They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha” was censured by the Nervous Nellies of the mental health crowd off pop radio.

    Remember if someone is being “politically correct” with you, it means they are lying to you

  8. I’ve never heard this before, and wow, it’s really, really bad! The lyrics are stupid, and any possibility of it being mindless fun is scuppered by the fact there’s absolutely no hook in the melody.

  9. I never really thought about this song much until I got older. I use to sing this song when my mom would play it on road trips all the time. Never once have I thought I was “generally” singing about myself, being a Native American. Like this song, had been part of my childhood and remembering those memories. I am a Native American of the Navajo Nation. Right now, I’m in college. I don’t like it how the old typical Hollywood movies have displayed Native Americans as ONE group. We all don’t live in teepee and have feathers in our hair. We all don’t have the same type of traditions and dress the same. In this song, there is so much stereotypes about Native Americans. Like some of us, take it pretty seriously and we’re really proud people. Who we are and where we have been and where we are going with our sovereign nations.

    One question I have about this song that has aways puzzled me was: why make a song that is about a group, a nation of people that you probably don’t know completely about? But by only making assumptions based on the old Hollywood stereotypes. It’s kinda common sense. If a certain ethnic group chooses to talk about another ethnic group, you should at least know you, yourself, wouldn’t like to be “sang” about.

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