Maybe it was the mention of “buffalo briefs” in Tim McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” that elevated him from Hank-to-hunk and endowed him with the dramatic stature to pull off “Don’t Take the Girl,” his first No. 1 single. Thursday (March 23) marks the 25th anniversary of this stellar achievement.
McGraw’s first three singles -- all from his eponymous debut album -- failed to excite much attention. The highest-charting one -- “Welcome to the Club” -- peaked at No. 37.
But McGraw’s flirty “Indian Outlaw,” from his second album, Not a Moment Too Soon, was a different animal altogether. Playing on his ingratiating smirk and motorcycle-riding masculinity, the music video presented him as a star.
The song’s lyrics, although ridiculed and reviled by many Native Americans, including Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller, didn’t dim the song’s popularity. It went on to reach No. 8 on Billboard’s country singles chart and clearly played a large part in eventually boosting the sales of Not a Moment Too Soon to more than six million copies.
“Indian Outlaw” was a perfect foil for “Don’t Take the Girl,” McGraw’s follow-up single. Instead of presenting him as a Tonto lady killer, it spotlighted his softer side. The Larry Johnson/Craig Martin tune was one of those popular songs in the 1990s that show a character evolving in three stages -- generally toward something better or more mature. Here the evolution was from girl-hating little boy to girl-cherishing young man to scared-to-death new father. The music video was a literal visualizing of the lyrics and ends with the young man on his knees, praying for his wife’s survival.
“Don’t Take the Girl” debuted on the charts April 2, 1994, and hit the top on May 23, where it stayed for two weeks.
In the years since, McGraw has scored 26 more No. 1s, the most prominent of which was “Live Like You Were Dying” in 2004 -- exactly a decade after his first triumph. This one held the summit for seven weeks and earned him a Grammy for best male vocal performance.
“Don’t Take the Girl” continues as a concert favorite.