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All You Had To Do Was Stay

1989 (2014) | 1989 (Taylor's Version) [2023]

“All You Had To Do Was Stay” got the meaningful track five spot on Taylor’s fifth studio album 1989 (2014).  In the song, she realizes that no matter what she does, she can’t seem to make a former lover stay. His indecision eventually put the final nail in their relationship’s coffin. The re-recording of the song, “All You Had To Do Was Stay (Taylor’s Version)”, was released on October 27, 2023.
Of note, “All You Had To Do Was Stay” was the fifth song to contribute to Taylor’s “Track Fives”, her tradition of placing the most “emotional and vulnerable” ballad of the album as the fifth song on the tracklist.
Table of Contents

Background

Inspired by pop music of the 1980s and its experimentation with synthesizers, drum pads, and overlapped vocals, Taylor decided to move away from the signature country styles of her previous releases and incorporate a straightforward pop production for 1989. The recording process began in mid-2013 concurrently with the start of Taylor’s “The RED Tour” in support of her fourth studio album, RED (2012). Taylor announced in February 2014 that she was again working with Max Martin and Shellback, with whom she had collaborated on three songs for RED. The two produced seven of the thirteen tracks for the album’s standard edition; Martin also served as executive producer with Taylor.

Lyrical Theme

“All You Had To Do Was Stay” was one of the first songs Taylor wrote for 1989. It was originally a piano ballad. In an interview with Time Magazine in November 2014, she explained that the idea for the song came to her in a dream. In said dream, her ex had come to her front door to get her back, and all she could say back was a high-pitched “Stay:”

«There’s a song on my album called 'All You Had To Do Was Stay.' I was having this dream, that was actually one of those embarrassing dreams, where you’re mortified in the dream, you’re like humiliated. In the dream, my ex had come to the door to beg for me to talk to him or whatever, and I opened up the door and I went to go say, 'Hi,' or 'What are you doing here?' or something — something normal — but all that came out was this high-pitched singing that said, 'Stay!' It was almost operatic. So I wrote this song, and I used that sound in the song. Weird, right? I woke up from the dream, saying the weird part into my phone, figuring I had to include it in something because it was just too strange not to. In pop, it’s fun to play around with little weird noises like that.»

Perhaps that’s part of the brilliance of 1989, but also of Taylor’s mastery. Behind the pulsing synths, drum pads, and processed backing vocals, lyrically, the story she’s trying to tell is just as vulnerable, relatable, and cutting. “People like you always want back the love they pushed aside. But people like me are gone forever when you say goodbye”—a line that lands with a sinister calm before an explosive “Stay!” carries listeners into the chorus. There, with brutal honesty, Taylor battles how complicated breakups can be: how you might hate someone and still want them back. How people inflict their deepest wounds on each other despite their best intentions. And how you can dance through the sadness and feel release—from that person and sometimes, even, from yourself.

Track Five

There’s a science, of course, behind “All You Had To Do Was Stay” and its placement on 1989. The song falls into what Swifties call the “Track Five” factor. If you look at Taylor’s albums, the fifth track of each one is the saddest and most cathartic of the project. On Taylor Swift, it was “Cold As You“, on Fearless, it was “White Horse.” On Speak Now, it was “Dear John” and on RED, “All Too Well.” The list goes on.

Contrary to popular opinion, this is also true of “All You Had To Do Was Stay.” It’s one of the saddest songs in Taylor’s discography, but it’s created in a way that feels foreign to those who have been following her music since her guitar-driven country music.

Live Performances

“All You Had To Do Was Stay” was initially part of Taylor’s setlist for “The 1989 World Tour” (2015). However, a few shows into the tour she cut the song to make time for her many surprise guest appearances. On the last leg of the tour, she once again added “All You Had To Do Was Stay” to the setlist. It is therefore featured in the concert movie The 1989 World Tour Live (2015). Taylor also sang the song acoustically on piano at a private concert at the Grammy Museum in October 2015, although footage of that performance was never released. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” was the first surprise song during Taylor’s show on June 10, 2023, in Detroit on her “The Eras Tour” (2023-2024). On July 9, 2024, she played an acoustic mashup of the song with “right where you left me” (2020) in Zurich. Before singing the song, she said:

«So, tonight is our 113th show of 'The Eras Tour,' and that’s my favorite number, which I never mention, it’s like a secret, no one knows that. But I just thought, since it’s my favorite number, I’d just do some of my favorite songs for the acoustic set and see if they’re yours too!»

Critical Reception

Rolling Stone namend “All You Had To Do Was Stay” one of the best pop songs of the 2010’s decade: “A 1989 banger that could have made an excellent single – it sounds a bit like “Out of the Woods,” except with a livelier chorus and a stormier range of electro-Tay sound effects.” Writing for Time Magazine in 2023, Rachel Sonis wrote, “The song’s drama, sharp storytelling, and dreamlike quality are unmistakably Swiftian. At the same time, it shows the beauty of how pop music works: How weird and crazy sounds and your most embarrassing stories and dreams can be operatic and accessible. If only you give yourself enough room to lean into it and dance.”

Taylor's Version

The re-recording of the song, “All You Had To Do Was Stay (Taylor’s Version)”, was released alongside 1989 (Taylor’s Version) on October 27, 2023.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
People like you always want back
The love they gave away
People like me want to believe you
When you say you’ve changed
The more I think about it now
The less I know
All I know is that you drove us off the road

[Chorus]
Stay
Hey – all you had to do was stay
Had me in the palm of your hand
Then
Why’d you have to go and lock me out
When I let you in?
Stay
Hey – now you say you want it back
Now that it’s just too late
Well, it could’ve been easy
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay

[Verse 2]
Here you are now
Calling me up
But I don’t know what to say
I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess you made
People like you always want back
The love they pushed aside
But people like me are gone forever
When you say goodbye

[Chorus]
Stay
Hey – all you had to do was stay
Had me in the palm of your hand
Then why’d you have to go and lock me out
When I let you in?
Stay
Hey – now you say you want it back
Now that it’s just too late
Well, it could’ve been easy
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay (Stay, stay, stay, stay)

[Bridge]
Let me remind you…
This was what you wanted
You ended it
You were all I wanted
But not like this…
Not like this
No, not like this
Oh, all you had to do was –

[Chorus]
Stay
Hey – all you had to do was stay
Had me in the palm of your hand
Then why’d you have to go and lock me out
When I let you in?
Stay
Hey – now you say you want it back
Now that it’s just too late
Well, it could’ve been easy
All you had to do was stay

[Final Chorus]
Hey – all you had to do was stay
Had me in the palm of your hand
Then why’d you have to go and lock me out
When I let you in?
Stay
Hey – now you say you want it back
Now that it’s just too late (All you had to do was stay)
Well, it could’ve been easy
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay
All you had to do was stay

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
Albums1989
1989 (Taylor’s Version)
ReleasedOctober 27, 2014
Re-ReleasedOctober 27, 2023
RecordedJanuary 10, 2013
StudiosConway (Los Angeles)
Kitty Committee (New York)
Prime Recording (Nashville)
GenreSynth Pop
Length3:13
LabelsBig Machine Records
Republic Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Max Martin
ProducersMax Martin (original)
Shellback (original)
Mattman & Robin (original)
Christopher Rowe
Taylor Swift
1989 CHRONOLOGY
Out of the WoodsAll You Had To Do Was StayShake It Off
Single Certification
Hidden Message
They paid the price
Song Artwork
Taylor on Recording Day
Instagram Teaser
Live Performance
Lyric Video
Taylor's Version
Original Audio