Tim McGraw’s magnificent career proves he’s a real good man for country music fans. For the past 16 years, he’s still one of the genre’s most reliable artists, equally skilled at catchy singalongs and thought-provoking ballads.
With his new two-disc compilation, Number One Hits, set for release Tuesday (Nov. 30), several members of the CMT.com staff compiled their own list of 10 prime hits from the country superstar.
“Angry All the Time” — A main reason “Angry All the Time” appeals to me so much is that it is so vastly different from his earlier recordings, such as “Don’t Take the Girl” and “Indian Outlaw.” He recorded “Angry” on Set This Circus Down, which I feel remains his most underappreciated album, with such other solid songs as “The Cowboy in Me.” I feel that deciding to record “Angry” showed genuine artistic and career growth. By 2001, when “Angry” became his 13th No. 1 single, he had been recording for eight years. The maturity of the song’s lyrics — it begins with, “Here we are/What’s left of a husband and a wife” — can be ascribed to the fact that it was written by gifted Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison, who cut it on his 1999 album, Wrapped. He also made a video of it with his wife, singer-songwriter Kelly Willis. Although McGraw didn’t shoot a video for the song, he did perform it live in Minneapolis with Martina McBride, and clips of that pop up now and then online. — Chet Flippo
“Don’t Take the Girl” — An 8-year-old boy is so grossed out by girls that he begs his dad not to take a little blond one fishing with them. But when that boy grows up, he falls in love with the girl, marries her and watches her give birth to their baby. He loves her so much that when he’s in danger of losing her in the delivery room, he hits his knees and says, “God, please, don’t take the girl.” Has any other song ever made childbirth complications so moving? The song was a huge hit in 1994. But it wasn’t until I saw the video that I could finally stop crying, because God did not take the girl. — Alison Bonaguro
“Everywhere” — Some people are destined to find happiness and fulfillment in their hometown, but others have some sort of inherent need to get away from there — if only to see what the rest of the world has to offer. That emotion is at the core of this song written by Craig Wiseman and Mike Reid. In it, McGraw sings about a former girlfriend who settles down with a husband and children in the community where she was raised. McGraw’s character hits the road, savoring the sights and sounds while never quite shaking the memory of what he left behind. No judgments are passed, but Wiseman and Reid put everything into perspective when they wrote, “No matter where you choose to be/In my heart, I’ll always see you everywhere.” — Calvin Gilbert
“I Like It, I Love It” — Writing about music for a living, I’m often asked, “What do you think of so-and-so’s new single/album/tour?” And whenever I reply, “I like it,” the knee-jerk sensors in my head will silently and automatically finish off my thought with “… I love it! I want some more of it!” This crowd-pleasing hit is 15 years old now, so this trigger has been firing longer than I realized. Anyway, I don’t know what it is about that simple song’s chorus, but I like it, I love … . D’oh! — Craig Shelburne
“Just to See You Smile” — Sure, love has its perks. But sometimes you can get so caught up in another person that you lose track of yourself. McGraw’s character in this song makes big sacrifices to please his woman, but in the end, he’s left watching her latch onto some other guy, lying that he’s happy for her. The truth is that he’s probably not really invested in her happiness. He just depends too heavily on her affirmation. So is his love selfless or simply spineless? It’s for each listener to decide. Either way, it makes for a timeless country song — sweet, sad and all too relatable. — Dan Milliken
“Live Like You Were Dying” — I really like the message that life is meant to be celebrated, but when this is done lazily, the theme has a potential to sound awfully cheesy. For “Live Like You Were Dying,” personal circumstance prevented anything of the sort. Released only a few months after the singer lost his father to cancer, his words come across as completely genuine. The pain is still there, but it’s overshadowed by a bittersweet sense of thankfulness and wonder. Instead of focusing on the inevitable, the characters in this story reconnect with each other, with their families, friends and complete strangers, and choose to squeeze the last drop out of each day. The idea that McGraw now takes that lesson to heart would be an interesting enough song on its own, but he takes it one step further and poses the ultimate question to the listener: “[If] tomorrow was a gift … what would I do with it?” — Chris Parton
“One of These Days” — This song transports me back to my hometown and back to my high school love. I spent most of my days waiting for his phone call, waiting for his truck in the drive, waiting and waiting for him to love me as much as I loved him. Though he gave me my highest highs, he never failed to happily hand me my lowest lows. We spoke a few years ago, and he apologized for any of the hurt he once caused me. I told him it was water under the bridge and that my heart had since healed. After all, I was not so naïve as to believe a lifetime with a bad boy would actually work. I just hope that one of these days, he knows how truly special he is, as special as I always knew he was. — Whitney Self
“Please Remember Me” — I’m a sucker for a heartbreaking song, maybe because it seems like it takes much more effort for a singer to truly convey grief, rather than just contentment. McGraw does an exceptional job of showing his vulnerability in this powerful tune, and the backing vocals of Patty Loveless, along with the mesmerizing melody of the string instruments, make it even more haunting. Although McGraw’s film career was in its infancy, the video for this 1999 hit shows his acting ability in the role of an inconsolable man who just can’t shake the past. He makes it absolutely believable. — Stephanie Pendergrass
“Something Like That” — To a lot of people, this 1999 song is McGraw’s signature “Barbecue Stain” hit. But to me, this song has always been about much more. It’s about running into an ex you never quite got over. They met as teenagers at the county fair, but it’s kind of a mystery where their love went after that. Five years later, when they meet on an airplane, he tells her that, of course, he remembers her. The bridge of this song is enough to make anyone feel hopeful about rekindling that first crush: “Like an old photograph, time can make a feeling fade/But the memory of a first love never fades away.” — Alison Bonaguro
“Southern Voice” — In this recent hit, McGraw pays tribute to Southern icons who have made their mark on American culture. From Hank Williams to Hank Aaron, he recognizes each legend for the part they played in making the “Southern voice” known. I can’t help but share his pride in Southern roots as he playfully sings, “Sweet iced tea and Jerry Lee … that’s what gets to me.” Overall, the catchy melody leaves me appreciating down-home hospitality and, not to mention, craving some of that sweet iced tea. — Andrea Graff