Every #1 Single of the Nineties: Tim McGraw, “Don’t Take the Girl”

“Don’t Take the Girl”

Tim McGraw

Written by Larry W. Johnson and Craig Martin

Billboard

#1 (2 weeks)

May 28 – June 4, 1994

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

May 27, 1994

A superstar’s first No. 1 single hasn’t aged as well as his future hits.

The Road to No. 1

Tim McGraw is a Louisiana native and the son of MLB legend Tug McGraw, a fact he learned late into his childhood.  Although he inherited his father’s athletic skills and actively played sports throughout high school, a college knee injury led to him picking up the guitar.  He eventually dropped out of college to pursue a music career full time in Nashville.

Curb Records signed him in 1990, and from 1991-1993, he sent four singles to radio from his self-titled debut album, which the label released in the spring of 1993.  The album didn’t chart, but it did produce a minor hit single, “Welcome to the Club.”   His second album started hot, thanks to its controversial lead single, “Indian Outlaw,” which went top ten at country radio and reached No. 15 on the pop chart based on singles sales alone.

With the album selling rapidly, Curb released the second single from Not a Moment Too Soon to radio, and it became the first of many No. 1 singles for Tim McGraw.

The No. 1

Someone who wrote for New Country magazine, quite possibly Brian Mansfield, reviewed The Essential Dottie West back in the mid-nineties.  Referring to the maudlin divorce numbers “Mommy, Can I Still Call Him Daddy” and “Six Weeks Every Summer (Christmas Every Other Year),” the reviewer noted that nothing ages worse than yesterday’s sentimentality.

Back in the days when “Don’t Take the Girl” could legit make me cry, that line still stayed in the back of my mind.  The writer was right.  “Don’t Take the Girl” is very much yesterday’s sentimentality, and it has aged like milk.

I will go to bat for many Tim McGraw singles this decade, and would do the same for many of his later hits, too.  I think he’s been as good at picking songs as any of the genre’s greatest song interpreters.

But this is a sappy, manipulative mess, and McGraw’s vocals make it whinier on record than it already was on paper.   He’s going to get so much better as a singer and recording artist.  There’s no need to go back to this one.

The Road From No. 1

After “Don’t Take the Girl” went gold, it received several award nominations for McGraw and its songwriters.  His third single from Not a Moment Too Soon was “Down On the Farm,” and it went top five.   The title track was next, and it returned him to the top.  We’ll cover it in early 1995.

“Don’t Take the Girl” gets a D.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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13 Comments

  1. Going forward, I am going to rely heavily on the comments section for Tim McGraw’s singles more than any other artist of this decade to help me see what all the fuss was about.

    Left to my own opinions, I think he is perhaps the one superstar who never sounded equal to the challenge of the material put before him. His vocals are so thin and pitchy. He is all nasal whine and no resonant twang. The songs of his I like, I have always attributed to the strength of the writing and not his gifts as a vocalist. I look forward to reading about which cuts fans feel McGraw elevated with his performance or interpretation. He certainly had a knack for selecting some great material, I just wonder if he may have been better served as an A&R rep than as a singer. I obviously struggle to separate his stardom from his singing.

    Kevin touches on just how whiny this particular song sounds. Lyrically, it is manipulative. There is no room to breathe. Listening to it feels like being dragged down the street. Yet, for some reason, I have always tried to like this song more than I do. What about it makes me come back to it time and time again?

    McGraw has me on the country therapy couch!

    • Good points Peter. I too am looking forward to the discussion of Tim McGraw’s hits in this feature. He has a number of songs that I quite like but I was surprised that he became as big a star as he did.

  2. It aged poorly, but it was a brilliant strategy by Curb to get him into the consciousness of the industry. Lead off the second album with a controversial novelty cut (one that REALLY hasn’t aged well), and follow it up with a three-verse, tug-at-the-heart-strings, every-chorus-uses-a-different-meaning-of-the-title story song. One album later he had gotten better control of his voice on a ballad (“Can’t Be Really Gone” comes to mind), but I don’t know if he becomes as big a star as he did without this song at this point of his career.

  3. Yes, Tim is extremely overrated but I actually like this song. It’s not a classic but a B- or C+ would be more appropriate.

  4. I 100% agree with this assessment. I used to love this song and now I can’t stand it, and I could not put my finger on what changed for me, but you nailed it!

  5. This is probably the first time I strongly disagree with you. Outside of Live Like You Were Dying, this is the other Tim McGraw song that comes to mind first, and I think he plays the sappiness really well. I’m not his biggest fan by any means but I really like this song.

  6. I’m team Kevin, I’m afraid.

    I actually did like this song as a kid when I got back into listening to country radio in the mid 90’s. Actually, I liked it a lot back then. That was just when I was starting to pay a bit more attention to the lyrics of some of the songs, and at the time, I was really drawn into the sentimental storyline and thought that the different ways the line “Don’t take the girl” was used was pretty neat. However, between the song being overplayed, Tim’s whiny vocals with the overdone twang, and the repetitive melody, it has aged pretty terribly for me. It’s become one of my very least favorite of his 90’s singles. I still like the overall production of it, but otherwise, I’ve about heard this one enough times to last a lifetime.

    Not A Moment Too Soon is not really too bad of an album (it has some pretty good album cuts), but it houses my three overall least favorites of his 90’s hits (this, “Down On The Farm” and “Indian Outlaw”), and they’re the ones that have easily aged the worst, imho. I agree with Stephen H. that he improved a lot both as a vocalist and song picker on the follow up album, and of course, he got even better on the album after that. With that said, I still personally love his 1993 debut album, and wish he had better success with it. It’s solid early 90’s neo-traditional country for the most part, with much less of the cringey stuff.

    • I also quite liked this song as a kid when it came out and I don’t mind it now if I hear it. “Not a Moment Too Soon” was one of the first albums my younger brother owned, so we listened to it a lot. My favourite songs from that album are “Wouldn’t Want it Any Other Way,” “Not a Moment Too Soon,” and “Ain’t That Just Like a Dream.”

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      • Those are actually my three favorites off that album, as well! Especially, “Wouldn’t Want It Any Other Way.” Some great steel and electric guitar playing on that one, too.

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