Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”

1994 | Peak: #1

After the loud, thumping, controversial nature of “Indian Outlaw”, it’s a good thing that Tim McGraw had another trick in his bag to be found on that second album, which needed to be successful after his debut album, as he has stated, “went wood.” There’s little doubt that the sappy, three act single is what catapulted McGraw’s status to the superstar level that he’s enjoyed since.

The story goes from an eight-year-old Johnny begging his father not to include “the Girl” in their fishing outing to the same boy, now a young man, willing to do anything to protect the, presumably, same girl. the simplistic pull-at-the-heartstrings story song was not the type of single that was dominating country music at the time of its early mid-nineties release. What’s more, McGraw’s early exaggerated twang and an amped up production to match helped to make the sing-able song even more attractive to country music listeners whose emotions had been easily stirred by the touching story of Johnny and “the girl” with no name.

Patriarchal implications aside, “Don’t Take the Girl” was a perfect recipe for a quick heart melting experience. And while it is likely considered one of McGraw’s signature songs that must be sung at every concert to this day, it is too simplistic and, ultimately, predictable to have a lasting effect beyond the first few experiences of hearing it. Instead, it’s become more of a cringe inducer than a tear jerker.

Written by Craig Martin & Larry Johnson

Grade: B

Listen: Don’t Take the Girl



  1. Yesterday’s sentiment is today’s sap. It’s amazing how few of the songs in this vein age well. For every “Love, Me” or “Where’ve You Been”, there are a good dozen “Honey”‘s and “The Little Girl”‘s.

  2. I like a lot of songs that could be called sappy but “Don’t Take the Girl” is not one of them. The songs Kevin mentioned that age well, “Love, Me” and “Where’ve You Been”, both had the added advantage of being recorded by great vocalists, Collin Raye and Kathy Mattea.

  3. This was one that I used to enjoy when I was younger, but now hardly ever listen to. I guess I ‘outgrew’ it. Leeann’s assessment definitely held true in my case.

  4. Nice write-up here, Leeann.

    This one and “Indian Outlaw” were two of the first singles that I can recall vehemently disliking once I was able to approximate having an informed opinion or any self-awareness of what I liked and *why*. McGraw has been a really hard sell for me ever since, too, though he’s rarely been quite this cloying and maudlin again.

  5. I think this song mixes just enough sap and sentiment to be timeless, and not just to your every country radio listener. I for one have enjoyed this song through the years and find it a sweet, sincere ballad that makes a true emotional connection with the listener.

  6. Like Occasional Hope, I never liked any of Tim’s first handful of hit singles. (I did sorta like “Welcome to the Club”.) It wasn’t until his Set This Circus Down album and “Angry All The Time” that I really paid attention to him, when he was already a seasoned superstar, and arguably the biggest thing in country music.

  7. This is an example of where we differ greatly. I happen to really like this song and always have. I love the production and story because it elicits a good feeling for me. And I have a harder time disliking songs I grew up with because they always bring back nostalgia. I get so caught up in it, it can cloud my judgement of a song’s quality. I can’t help it, it’s just my natural response to country music.

    One of my favorite moments at a country concert ever was when Tim sang this at the TD Garden in Boston on the Soul2Soul II tour in 2006. I vividly remember being in the audience that night and it was so cool hearing the crowd sing the final chorus back to him word for word. I’ll never forget that moment. He didn’t have to sing one word, they (and me included) did all the work for him.

    But I do understand where you’re all coming from. I rarely take into account how well songs age over time. And I know all to well the feeling of loving a song at a certain age and then “growing out of it.” But through the educational benefits of reading blogs like this one, I’m taking new perspectives on the songs I’ve always loved.

    And as always, fantastic review Leeann.

  8. And I have a harder time disliking songs I grew up with because they always bring back nostalgia. I get so caught up in it, it can cloud my judgement of a song’s quality.

    That’s understandable. There’s a lot of stuff that I grew up with that I probably wouldn’t like if I were hearing for the first time now, but I still like it because it’s been a part of my life for so long. Some of Dolly’s ’80s stuff, for example. It’s not her best work but I like it better than a lot of people seem to — and I can fully understand why those people don’t like it.

  9. I can relate to that feeling too.

    Off-topic: I remember that moment of the concert too! Only for me, it took place in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Believe it or not, Tim and Faith’s Soul2Soul II, which I attended with my dad, was my first real concert (I was 14).

  10. I’m right there with you guys. I loved this as a teenager – it felt so powerful. Now it falls flat for me.

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