Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties: Tim McGraw, “Can’t Be Really Gone”

“Can’t Be Really Gone

Tim McGraw

Written by Gary Burr

Radio & Records

#1 (4 weeks)

December 15, 1995 – January 5, 1996

Tim McGraw’s journey to greatness begins.

The Road to No. 1

All I Want launched with the 5-week Billboard No. 1, “I Like it, I Love it.”  Its second single stopped at No. 2 on that listing, but spent four weeks at the top of the Radio & Records chart, closing out 1995 and spilling over to 1996.

The No. 1

Before the third verse arrives, “Can’t Be Really Gone” is already leagues beyond anything Tim McGraw had released until that point.  It’s a smart, tender ballad with a keen eye for detail, as the lover left behind clings to abandoned mementos.  She might not value him enough to come back, but what about that hat from Mexico and those shoes from Christmas Eve?

It’s been 27 years, and I can still remember the impact of hearing that third verse for the first time, and realizing immediately that McGraw was going to be more than just a moderately entertaining superstar churning out radio filler:

Her book is lying on the bed
The two of hearts to mark her page
Now who could ever walk away at chapter twenty one
So she can’t be really gone

McGraw’s path to legendary status in the genre and his inevitable induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame begins with that line.  It was the first indication that he had a strong enough ear for material to stand out among the crowded nineties field by making better music than most of his hat-donning contemporaries, even though nearly all of them were more technically proficient singers.

McGraw will spend more time on the top of the singles chart than anyone else over the next ten years, and he’ll do it with compelling and often challenging compositions that he’ll deliver as tastefully as he does here.

The Road From No. 1

“All I Want is a Life” went top five, and the fourth single from All I Want then returned McGraw to the top.  We’ll cover it in 1996.

“Can’t Be Really Gone” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Nineties

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Next: Bryan White, “Rebecca Lynn”

8 Comments

  1. Agree with your A rating. Great review of a great song. I like your point about McGraw’s ear for material but I don’t know what percentage of the time he (or any other singer) records good material.

    I have Gary Burr’s recording of “Can’t Be Really Gone” on his “1997 CD, “Stop Me If You’ve Head This One …”. Among the 18 songs you’ll also find Time Machine, What Mattered Most, That’s My Job, etc.

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  2. In my opinion, this is one of the top three singles he ever released, and quite possibly #1 (some order of this, “Just to See You Smile”, and “Red Ragtop”). It’s amazing how much he grew in just one album.

    (Now if “When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone)” from this album had been released like it should have, the aforementioned list would have been for #2-4.)

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      • You guys are listing some of my most favorite McGraw songs here! I also absolutely adore “Just To See You Smile” (Can’t wait til we get to that one here!). I also love “Please Remember Me” and “Red Ragtop.” Even “Shotgun Rider” is one of the much better songs that came out in the 2010’s.

        Personally, I’d also add “Everywhere” as one of his best.

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  3. A very sad, but also very beautiful song. It’s simply gorgeous, from the pretty melody that gets stuck in your head to Tim’s gentle, soothing, and emotional vocal performance. I just love how Tim started singing ballads from this point on, as if he were singing a lullaby very closely into the microphone. He also thankfully learned to tone down the overdone twang that made some of his earlier ballads (looking at you, “Don’t Take The Girl”) a chore to listen to. I also love the lush production style with the strings and keyboards in the background coupled with Sonny Garrish’s unmistakable steel guitar playing. This is one of many 90’s country songs in which Garrish’s steel guitar is like the shivers you get from the chills created by the emotional impact of the song itself. It’s also very fitting that it was a Fall/Winter release.

    For the longest time, I always debated to myself as to whether this song is about someone who left the narrator or about someone who’s recently passed on. I love how it kind of leaves it up to the listener to decide. I’ve come to hear it as the latter, though. Perhaps, she might’ve died while she had angrily left the narrator, hence him saying “I’ve seen the error of my ways.” Either way, it perfectly captures that feeling of knowing deep down that someone you love is gone, but you still refuse to accept it, and you just can’t believe it’s actually happened. Like it’s a very bad dream you just hope to wake up from soon. Like you, I also love the line about her leaving her book at chapter 21, along with the rest of the heavily detailed lines. The part that always gets me and tears me up the most though is: “Just look around the room. So much of her remains.” It’s even more relatable for anyone who’s lost someone forever and refuses to let go of his/her personal belongings for sentimental reasons. Again, it’s just a very beautiful tearjerker, all around.

    Stephen, I also really love “When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone),” and I think it would’ve made a great single, as well. However, for me, the biggest missed opportunity for single release on All I Want is “I Didn’t Ask, and She Didn’t Say.” LOVE that song so much!

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  4. This single certainly stood out as being more full grown than any of his previous singles for the reasons already mentioned. A great Gary Burr composition capably handled by a maturing vocalist. There was justified reason for renewed optimism for McGraw’s career with this single. That being said, their is still something wimpy about the production with the full orchestration. The song should hit harder.

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