Tim McGraw

Lead Single | Taylor Swift (2006)

“Tim McGraw” is Taylor’s first-ever published song and the lead single from her debut studio album, Taylor Swift (2006).  She wrote it in her freshman math class about her remembrance of a summer love, and how a song by country music artist Tim McGraw brings back memories of that time.

Background and Release

Taylor and Liz Rose wrote “Tim McGraw” during Taylor’s freshman year at Hendersonville High School. She conceived the idea in the midst of her mathematics class: “I was just sitting there, and I started humming this melody.” She then related the melody to a predicament she was encountering at the moment. She knew that she and her senior boyfriend would break up at the end of the year when he left for college. In order to cope with the complicated emotions she was experiencing, Taylor wrote the song. Rose said Taylor showed up at her after school job, writing songs for Sony/ATV Music, “with the idea and the melody, knowing exactly what she wanted.” She desired for the song to capture the sweetness and sadness of loving and losing someone:

«This song means so much to me, that’s why we wanted it to be the first track on the album. The idea for this song came to me in math class. I just started singing to myself, 'When you think Tim McGraw.‘ The concept for this song hit me, because I was dating a guy who moved away, and it was going to be over for us. So I started thinking of things that I knew would remind him of me. The first thing that came to mind was that my favorite song is by Tim McGraw. After school, I went downtown, sat down at the piano, and wrote this with Liz Rose in fifteen minutes. It may be the best fifteen minutes I’ve ever experienced. It deals with the haunting power of music and how hearing a song years after it was first popular can have such an emotional appeal.»

Taylor Swift
The Tim McGraw song in question was 2004’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’.” Soon after the writing session, Scott Borchetta, CEO of Big Machine Records, signed Taylor to his newly formed label. Early into the album production, in a meeting where Borchetta and Taylor discussed potential songs for her debut album, she performed “Tim McGraw” for Borchetta on fluke ukulele. According to her, as soon as Borchetta finished listening to the song, he faced Taylor and said, “That’s your first single.” She responded, “Well. That’s how that works then.” Prior to that event, she did not believe that the song was single material. However, she followed what label executives told her and accepted that they were correct. Before releasing the song, Borchetta advised Taylor to shorten the original title “When You Think Tim McGraw” to simply “Tim McGraw” because it would get more attention from the industry and radio listeners that way.

Lyrical Theme

The lyrics of “Tim McGraw” regard a summer romance that came to a sudden halt. It presents a classic tragedy of a fleeting relationship and all the memories that were made. The song fondly reminisces a past love, and directs the lyrics towards Taylor’s partner. Taylor told Great American Country:

«If anyone has heard this song and really listened to it, they realize it's not about Tim McGraw. It's about a relationship that I was in. It was with this guy I was dating and he was about to go off to college and I was thinking about all the things that I knew would remind him of me. I didn't really think of Tim McGraw personally when I wrote this song. It was a song where I was listing personal things. One of things that I listed was that my favorite song is by Tim McGraw. The guy I wrote 'Tim McGraw' about, I dated him for about a year and we are still friends, but we don't talk that much because his new girlfriend isn't too much of a fan. He really thought it was cool that, even though we weren't going out anymore, I remembered our relationship nicely. I think that he was happy that I didn't write 'Picture To Burn' about him, another song on my album.»

Taylor Swift
In retrospect, Taylor has said that the song “is reminiscent, and it is thinking about a relationship you had and then lost. I think one of the most powerful human emotions is what should have been and wasn’t. That was a really good song to start out on, because a lot of people can relate to wanting something you can’t have.”

Music Video

The accompanying music video for “Tim McGraw” was directed by Trey Fanjoy. It was filmed at the former home of Johnny & June Carter-Cash, which burned down the next year. The letter which the boyfriend receives is addressed to “Johnny” for this purpose. In regards to the video’s concept, Taylor stated, “It deals with the haunting power of music and how hearing a song years after it was first popular can have such an emotional appeal.” Clayton Collins portrayed Taylor’s love interest in the music video. He was cast because of his physical resemblance to the real subject of the song, in that they were both tall with dark hair. The video premiered on July 22, 2006 on Great American Country. At the 2007 CMT Music Awards, it won the CMT Music Award for “Breakthrough Video of the Year”, which was Taylor’s first ever award she’d won.

Live Performances

Taylor has performed “Tim McGraw” almost 300 times. She spent six months of 2006 promoting “Tim McGraw” and Taylor Swift on a radio tour. She also performed the song as she opened for Rascal Flatts on several dates, from October 19 to November 3, 2006, included on the “Me and My Gang Tour (2006-2007). She also performed the song when she served as opening act on twenty dates for George Strait’s 2007 United States tour, and selected dates for Brad Paisley’s “Bonfires & Amplifiers Tour” in 2007.

Taylor first met the actual Tim McGraw while performing “Tim McGraw” at the 2007 ACM Awards. She bravely walked up to him and introduced herself, saying, “Hi, I’m Taylor.” Since then, they have been friends and have even performed duets together. During mid-2007, Taylor engaged as the opening act on several dates for Tim McGraw’s and Faith Hill’s joint tour, “Soul2Soul II Tour” (2006-2007), where she again performed “Tim McGraw”. She performed the song while she was again opening for Rascal Flatts for their “Still Feels Good Tour” in 2008.

Taylor’s first broadcast performance of “Tim McGraw” was on October 24, 2006, on “Good Morning America.” She continued promotion for the track at Billboard headquarters, The Engine Room, and a concert at the Apple Store in SoHo, New York, which was recorded and released as a live extended play (EP), iTunes Live from SoHo, exclusively sold through the iTunes Store. Since completing promotion for Taylor Swift and its corresponding singles, Taylor has performed “Tim McGraw” on all venues of her first headlining concert tour, the “Fearless Tour,” which extended from April 2009 to June 2010. She also performed the song on her “The RED Tour” (2013-2014) and “reputation Stadium Tour” (2018).

Critical Reception

“Tim McGraw” was acclaimed by critics. Rob Sheffield of Blender described the track as a gem that hit hard. Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine believed “Tim McGraw” followed “time-tested narrative conventions and […] massive pop hooks.” Jeff Tamarkin of Allmusic said that the song demonstrated Taylor was “a talent to be reckoned with”, because of her vocal delivery that, according to him, equated that of a seasoned professional. He selected “Tim McGraw” as Taylor Swift‘s main highlight for its homage to Tim McGraw, commenting, “It’s a device that’s been used countless times in as many ways […], yet it works as a hook here and manages to come off as an original idea.” Rick Bell of Country Standard Time stated, “It’s an impressive debut that, while she pines about lost love and Tim McGraw, will likely have others singing the praises of Taylor Swift.” In 2007, “Tim McGraw” was listed as a “Winning Song” by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).

In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked “Tim McGraw” at No. 11 on its “The 100 Greatest Debut Singles of All Time” list, placing second among female artists; the magazine stated: “With her first song, Swift immediately showed her Nashville peers she could beat any of them at their own game, acing the classic genre trope of nostalgic country song about how country music is nostalgic”.

Commercial Performance

On the week ending September 23, 2006, “Tim McGraw” debuted at No. 86 on the Billboard Hot 100. After 17 weeks of ascending and descending the chart, on the week ending January 13, 2007, the song reached its peak at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for two consecutive weeks. Prior to charting on the United States’ main chart, “Tim McGraw” charted on Billboard Hot Country Songs. On the week ending July 1, 2006, “Tim McGraw” debuted at No. 60 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. After spending 25 weeks upon the chart, the song reached the top 10 with its new peak of No. 10 on the week ending December 16, 2006. In the proceeding six weeks, the song managed to remain in the top 10 until finding its peak at No. 6 on the week ending January 27, 2007. “Tim McGraw” spent a total of 35 weeks upon the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

The Start of a Legendary Career

When the radio station Big 98 [WSIX] in Nashville played “Tim McGraw” in a song challenge one evening, it was the first time that Taylor, 16 years old at the time, heard one of her songs on the radio. She recalled to The Boot:

«My high school friends and I all sat in my convertible with the top down in my driveway and blasted it. Then, listeners called in and said whether they liked it or not, and I remember being more nervous than I'd ever been. Thankfully, they said nice things. I'll never forget that feeling!»

Taylor Swift
Seven years later, Taylor and the actual Tim McGraw linked up when she provided harmony vocals for his Two Lanes Of Freedom track “Highway Don’t Care.” In 2018, Taylor performed “Tim McGraw” with Tim McGraw and his wife Faith Hill at her “reputation Stadium Tour” at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN. It was a full circle moment for Taylor and the song.

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
He said the way my blue eyes shined
Put those Georgia stars to shame that night
I said, “That’s a lie”
Just a boy in a Chevy truck
That had a tendency of gettin’ stuck
On backroads at night
And I was right there beside him all summer long
And then the time we woke up to find that summer gone

[Chorus]
But when you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
The one we danced to all night long
The moon like a spotlight on the lake
When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

[Verse 2]
September saw a month of tears
And thankin’ God that you weren’t here
To see me like that
But in a box beneath my bed
Is a letter that you never read
From three summers back
It’s hard not to find it all a little bittersweet
And lookin’ back on all of that, it’s nice to believe

[Chorus]
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
The one we danced to all night long
The moon like a spotlight on the lake
When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

[Bridge]
And I’m back for the first time since then
I’m standin’ on your street
And there’s a letter left on your doorstep
And the first thing that you’ll read is:
“When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
Someday you’ll turn your radio on
I hope it takes you back to that place”

[Chorus Variation]
When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans
When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me
Oh, think of me (Mmmm)

[Outro]
He said the way my blue eyes shine
Put those Georgia stars to shame that night
I said, “That’s a lie”

General Information
AlbumTaylor Swift
ReleasedJune 19, 2006
Recorded2006
StudioQuad Studios-A (Nashville)
Sound Cottage (Nashville)
GenreCountry
Length3:54
LabelBig Machine Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Liz Rose
ProducerNathan Chapman
TAYLOR SWIFT CHRONOLOGY
Tim McGrawPicture to Burn
Single Certification
Hidden Message
Can’t tell me nothin
Single Artwork
Taylor Meets Tim McGraw
Music Video
Live Performance
Official Audio