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Highway Don't Care

Two Lanes of Freedom (Tim McGraw Album) | 2013

“Highway Don’t Care” is a song performed by American country music artist Tim McGraw and features Taylor on vocals, as well as Keith Urban on guitar. It was released in March 2013 as the third single from McGraw’s album Two Lanes of Freedom (2013). The song tells the story of a person driving down the highway in a hurry, trying to escape their thoughts and feelings of heartbreak or a troubled relationship.
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Background and Lyrical Theme

“Highway Don’t Care” is a mid-tempo ballad.  The artists’ recording sessions were all done separately with McGraw the last to add his voice. “When we got it back, it was pretty spectacular. Taylor’s voice on there, she just really nailed it,” he told The Boot. “And Keith’s guitar playing…I don’t think you’ll find a more talented guy around.” He also told Billboard: “There’s a sultriness to it. Taylor sang her ass off on that thing.” In a video released by his label, he also said:

«Taylor on 'Highway Don't Care', I never had a second thought that that's who I wanted to sing that part on that song. And that record wouldn't be the same without her singing it. I just think she brings something special to it. Not only 'cause she's Taylor Swift, but the quality that she brings, and the vulnerability in her vocal on that record is just spectacular.»

The song is featured as track 13 on the Deluxe Version of Two Lanes Of Freedom, in honor of Taylor and her famous favorite number.

Lyrical Theme

The song was written by some of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, Mark Irwin, Josh Kear and the Warren brothers. The lyrics tell the story of a person dealing with loneliness and heartbreak. The song emphasizes their isolation and despair, portraying a helpless individual trying to drown their sorrows by driving aimlessly on a highway, hoping to escape their painful reality. Then, a song comes on the radio, where a voice is singing, “I can’t live without you, baby.” Brad Warren told Roughstock the following about that part of the song:

«It's just the voice on the radio. The person you're singing about in the song or singing to in the song is driving down the road. It says, 'And the song says' and she comes in with, 'I can't live without you, baby. We wrote the girl's part as just the voice on the radio. It's not actually part of the lyrics; it's just looked at as a voice on the radio. Then it kicks into the regular chorus. That's one of those tricks you learn when you've been around for 20 years!»

The highway becomes a metaphor for indifference and emotional distance, as it doesn’t acknowledge or care about the person’s struggles or loneliness. It is portrayed as an impersonal entity that doesn’t offer solace or understanding.

Notably, Taylor and the Warren brothers used to co-write together, back when Taylor was just starting out in the Nashville country music scene as a teenager. Among other songs, they co-wrote “That’s When”, which was released as a Vault Song on Fearless (Taylor’s Version) in 2021 and also features vocals from Keith Urban.

A Collaboration of Superstars

“Highway Don’t Care” is a collaboration between three members of country music’s Olympus. And it was a long time coming. Famously, Taylor’s debut single is titled “Tim McGraw,” in which she discloses that a song by its namesake (“Can’t Tell Me Nothin'”) was her favorite song during an early romance. Taylor said:

«I had always hoped that Tim would pick up the phone and say, 'Sing a song with me.' And it's almost like for years I was just waiting for the call. And finally, it was actually a text message. But he said, 'I have this song I found. I really, really think it's the right song for us to sing together.' And then figuring out that Keith was going to play guitar on it, it was just the perfect storm! And just like as a fan I trusted Tim's choice in music, I trusted his choice in music as a collaborator.»

Taylor’s voice on “Highway Don’t Care” serves as a random song on the radio while the protagonist is driving. That makes it something of an answer song to the lyrics in Taylor’s song. “It does tie back to the same sort of theme that her song had,” McGraw admitted Radio.com. “I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it that way.”

Fellow country music superstar and friend of both Tim and Taylor, Keith Urban, provides an extended guitar solo towards the end of “Highway Don’t Care”. He said:

«The great thing about 'Highway Don't Care' was how it started. For me, Tim just called me one day and said, 'I've got a song I'd love you to play on.' And I said, 'Well, send me the song!' And he sent it and I thought the song was great. Went to the studio, did a solo, and it was that simple. I just love the fact it was that simple.»

Music Video

The song’s music video was directed by Shane Drake and features Taylor and Keith Urban as a young woman’s guardian angels. The video doubles as a public service announcement about the dangers of texting while driving and the heartache that can come as a result. The visual’s thoughtful imagery was inspired by Terrence Malick films, while McGraw’s teenage daughters were largely the inspiration behind the video’s treatment. “I’m not gonna stand on a soap box and tell everybody how they should live their lives and what you should and shouldn’t do,” McGraw said. “It just felt like it was the right opportunity. It really meant something for me to say it because I do have teenage daughters, so it wouldn’t be like just throwing a message out there for the hell of throwing a message out there.”

Live Performances

Tim McGraw, Taylor, and Keith Urban have performed “Highway Don’t Care” together on three occasions. The first live performance was at the 2013 ACM Awards on April 7, 2013, in Las Vegas, where the superstars captivated the audience and showcased the emotional depth of the song. A day later, on April 8, they sang together at the Superstar Summer Night 2013 event. On June 6, 2013, Taylor invited Tim and Keith on stage during her set at the CMA Fest in Nashville. Taylor also performed the song alone once, when she chose it as the secret song for her show on June 15, 2013, in Toronto.

Critical Reception

“Highway Don’t Care” garnered widespread acclaim for its powerful lyrics and exceptional vocal performances. In his review of the album, Thom Jurek of AllMusic wrote that “the hook is irresistible and McGraw’s vocal, paired with the young singer’s, is a perfect match.” Chuck Dauphin of Roughstock also reviewed the song favorably, saying that “this song flows well, with winning performances from two of the format’s top vocalists.” Billy Dukes of Taste of Country gave the song five stars saying that the track is arguably “one of the best collaborations of the decade – maybe even ever. Each artist brings his or her best effort to the song from McGraw’s Two Lanes of Freedom album. ‘Highway Don’t Care’ feels like a special moment from the very first listen, and only becomes more cathartic with time.” Jeff Benjamin of Fuse said the track has “major crossover potential”. The song was ranked 30th best country song of the 2010s by Taste Of Country.

Commercial Performance

The single was a tremendous commercial success. “Highway Don’t Care” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Originally, it debuted at No. 13 on the Hot Country Songs chart and No. 43 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart for the week of February 23, 2013, due to unsolicited airplay seven weeks before being released to radio. It also debuted at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of February 23, 2013. The track set a record for single week audience impressions with 41.3 million during the week of the May 27-June 2, 2013, Nielsen BDS tracking week. It was the biggest weekly audience sum since the Country Airplay chart switched to audience-based rankings in January 2005. Eventually, “Highway Don’t Care” topped Billboard’s Country Airplay and became McGraw’s 34th and Taylor’s 7th career No. 1 single on the chart.

Accolades

“Highway Don’t Care” has won nine awards, including both “Musical Event of the Year” and “Video of the Year” at the 2013 CMA Awards. It also received multiple nominations including the Grammy Award nominations for “Best Country Duo/Group Performance” and “Best Country Song”.

Lyrics

[Verse 1: Tim McGraw]
Bet your window’s rolled down and your hair’s pulled back
And I bet you got no idea you’re going way too fast
You’re trying not to think about what went wrong
Trying not to stop ’til you get where you goin’
You’re trying to stay awake so I bet you turn on the radio
And the song goes

[Pre-chorus: Taylor Swift]
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby, baby

[Chorus: Tim McGraw]
The highway won’t hold you tonight
The highway don’t know you’re alive
The highway don’t care if you’re all alone, but I do, I do
The highway won’t dry your tears
The highway don’t need you here
The highway don’t care if you’re coming home, but I do, I do

[Verse 2: Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift]
I bet you got a dead cell phone in your shotgun seat
Yeah, I bet you’re bending God’s ear talking ’bout me
You’re trying not to let the first tear fall out
Trying not to think about turning around
You’re trying not to get lost in the sound
But that song is always on, so you sing along

[Pre-chorus: Taylor Swift]
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
I can’t live without you I can’t live without you baby, oh baby

[Chorus: Tim McGraw]
The highway won’t hold you tonight
The highway don’t know you’re alive
The highway don’t care if you’re all alone, but I do, I do
The highway won’t dry your tears
The highway don’t need you here
The highway don’t care if you’re coming home, but I do, I do

[Bridge: Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift]
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
I can’t live without you I can’t live without you, baby, oh baby
The highway don’t care
The highway don’t care
The highway don’t care, but I do, I do

[Outro: Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift]
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
(The highway don’t care, the highway don’t care)
I can’t live without you I can’t live without you, baby, oh baby
(The highway don’t care, but I do, I do)
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
(The highway don’t care, the highway don’t care)
I can’t live without you I can’t live without you, baby
(The highway don’t care, but I do I do)
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby
(The highway don’t care, the highway don’t care)
I can’t live without you I can’t live without you, baby, oh baby
(The highway don’t care, but I do I do)
I can’t live without you, I can’t live without you, baby

General Information
ArtistTim McGraw
FeaturesTaylor Swift
Keith Urban
ReleasedMarch 25, 2013
GenreCountry
Length4:36
LabelBig Machine Records
SongwritersMark Irwin
Josh Kear
Brad Warren
Brett Warren
ProducersByron Gallimore
Tim McGraw
Single Certification
Music Video
Live Performance
Official Audio
Livestream