Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors’ – Tim McGraw 
Summary: Overall, Tim McGraw doesn’t stray too far from his tough but tender persona. However, there are surprises – both pleasant and hideous.
Length: 1:06:10 | Released: Nov. 26, 2002
Producers: Tim McGraw, Byron Gallimore, Darran Smith
Peak position on Billboard Album Chart: 2 | Top 40 U.S. Singles: 4
Tim McGraw. My arch nemesis.
I may not have always known that Pete Best was the original drummer for the Beatles. Or that Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours sold more than 40 million copies. Or even that David Bowie’s real name is David Jones.
But I always knew Tim McGraw sucked.
It became an ongoing joke with my friends. Who’s the worst? It’s got to be McGraw, with his bad-boy-come-clean shtick and those sappy duets with his uppity bombshell of a wife. What’s to love about a performer who trots out clichés that have been around since the Depression? I figured he was just talking down to his audience, as if his people were afraid he’d lose the guys with the barbed-wire tattoos if he didn’t resort to lazy songwriting tactics.
In truth, I’d never listened to a Tim McGraw album all the way through. Until now.
Tim left his trademark hat on the table for this 2013 radio interview.
I chose 2002’s Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors simply because I remembered it and its biggest hit, “Real Good Man,” from my high school days. I remember girls in study hall leafing through the CD booklet and I remember – very distinctly – rolling my eyes and assuming they were idiots.
Okay, that sounded harsh. I meant in a musical sense.
Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors peaked at number 2 on both the Billboard 200 and Billboard’s country chart. It continued the hillbilly parade that started a year before on 2001’s Set This Circus Down, which also reached the runner’s up position on Billboard’s album chart. That record, however, managed to top the country charts.
The Dancehall Doctors sold more than 602,000 copies the first week of its release. That just doesn’t happen anymore. McGraw’s latest album, 2013’s Two Lanes of Freedom, sold roughly 107,000 copies the first week of its release. And Two Lanes was considered a hit – another one that peaked at Number 2 on Billboard’s album chart.
Times have changed. People aren’t buying full records anymore.
But in 2002 they were. And Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors was a big one. So on to the heart of the matter… is it as bad as I assumed? Or, and I’m not afraid to admit this, even as bad as I sort of hoped?
No. It’s not. It’s not very good, but it’s certainly not the scum I assumed it was.
The album opens with a subtle march of a snare drum, topped with light acoustic strums that blossom into a full-on woman-come-save-me anthem in “Comfort Me.” It’s an Opry opus that establishes the record’s tone nicely. But the early stunner is “Tickin’ Away,” the record’s second track. I’m not ashamed to say I love the tune. And if you’re not into McGraw, you might too. There’s not a worn-out country cliché or stock banjo in sight. Just pensive piano playing to set an uninhibited tone, razor-sharp guitars crashing at the opportune moment and some of the most universal C&W boots you’ll ever walk a mile in. It’s lovely. It’s sympathetic. It’s adult. It’s country.
Chances are so hard to come by
And the second one is impossible to find
The clock keeps runnin’ and the odds keep getting higher
That it’s all just a fantasy of mine
Say this about Tim McGraw – he knows how to hit you with a Hallmark moment. I thought “Tickin’ Away” would be the diamond in the rough – the one pleasant surprise that would come with my purchase of Tim McGraw & the Dancehall Doctors. But “Red Ragtop” had me wondering if I’d been wrong about McGraw all along.
Well you do what you do and you pay for your sins
And there’s no such thing as what might have been
That’s such a waste of time
Drive you out of your mind
It’s cinematic. It’s bittersweet. The flashback at the end of the song is more than suitable walk off for a tune that was a total surprise in terms of intimacy and candidness. It’s another reminder of what country – mainstream or otherwise – can do.
The video for “Red Ragtap,” a top-five hit for McGraw on the Country chart.
But McGraw’s a peculiar dude. For every “Tickin’ Away” or “Red Ragtop,” there are three other songs that unequivocally miss. McGraw’s either talking down to his audience or talking up to his woman.
In McGraw’s world, high school was a magical time for all and every romance begins with lying in the tall grass. No wonder he’s been so popular. Like the Republicans I’m sure he votes for, he presents life the way you’d like to imagine it. His songs are set in a modern Mayberry. Is there trouble along the way? Why, of course. But like every episode of the Andy Griffith Show that ever aired, wrongs are righted quickly. And that’s that.
And like Griffith’s program, McGraw’s rural ambition is shamelessly commercial.
See the album’s runaway hit, “Real Good Man.” THIS is the Tim I remember from high school. Total cheddar cheese. Total hot air. Total bullshit.
I may drink too much and play too loud
Hang out with a rough and rowdy crowd
That don’t mean I don’t respect
My mama or my Uncle Sam
Equally bad is “Home,” which threads a Dixieland melody so trite the sheet music is probably see-through. Apparently Tim and the Doctors had their respective homes on their minds a lot, as “Sing Me Home” illustrates that you’re never going to find anything better.
So, you know, why leave at all? How’s that for worldly insight?
The clip for the record’s most enduring tune, “Real Good Man.”
“I Know How to Love You” is just like “Real Good Man,” which is pretty much like “Watch the Wind Blow By.” All of these songs are about rough and tumble men who double as attentive lovers. Just like women always dreamed.
“Illegal,” “Sleep Tonight” and “She’s My Kind of Rain” are all pleasant enough. I’m not sure why the boys chose to cover Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” It was a hit, I guess, so maybe that answers the question.
Then there’s “Who Are They,” a song beaming with so much simplistic pride the cast of Duck Dynasty probably has a verse each tattooed across their rears.
Don’t say hell, what the heck
Do what’s politically correct
Don’t pray in school, but have safe sex
Isn’t that what they expect?
I guess all them big city boys are just out of touch, huh? That may be true, but there’s a sharper argument to be made – if you really want to make it. Tim and the boys are so broad they ultimately talk around the point. They trot out the same weary debates but don’t add anything new. There’s no fresh perspective. Why do they believe the things they believe? We’re not sure. Not with lines like this:
I wonder if they’ve got a life
A broken car and two ex-wives
Do they drink beer on Friday night?
I wonder if they like to fight
Rustic philosophy aside, Tim McGraw remains a treasure in a multitude of ways. He’s a marketing treasure, with his trademark black hat and the bad-boy-come-clean image. Nashville has worked so hard to promote it.
McGraw is a people pleaser. He didn’t write any of the songs on the album. Neither did any of the Dancehall Doctors. Tim and Co. are interpreters of songs. That’s how we should view them. And songwriting whizzes have lined up at his door for years, as if his approval will be etched on their tombstones.
The album, in the end, is decidedly middle of the road. And that was totally by design.