Taylor Swift – Tim McGraw
It might be hard for us to imagine there was ever a time B.T. (Before Taylor), and as painful as it is to remember, we Brits were a little slow catching on. Nine years ago in the US, on June 19th 2006, Taylor Swift released the song Tim McGraw as her first single, just three months ahead of her self-titled debut. While the song was hardly an instant, cross-over hit even in the American charts, taking over four months to reach its no.40 peak on the Billboard Hot 100, Swift’s debut album sealed her position as the breakout artist of the year. Taking more than twelve months to reach its chart peak and eventually spending more than five years on the Billboard 200 album chart, Swift’s debut has since sold in excess of 5.5 million copies in the US alone. In the UK, the album was eventually released in September 2009, following the success of the single Love Story and Swift’s second album Fearless, and has yet to sell more than 150,000 copies. It’s hard to grasp what the problem was and why, even in the light of her more recent successes, UK record buyers haven’t gone back to re-discover and savour Swift’s earliest recordings.
I grew up listening to country music. In our household, June Whitfield – with her enquiries about “The Beatles and The Rolling Who” in those Absolutely Fabulous flashbacks – would have been hailed as a fount of contemporary musical knowledge in comparison with my parents. There was little respite from Elvis (God), Cliff (Son of God) or Shirley Bassey (Goddess). But my mum was also partial to a bit of country music and, for a time in the 1970s/early 1980s, her affection for the genre was briefly mirrored by a string of massive country hits in the UK singles chart. From the storytelling songs of Kenny Rogers and a brace of bizarrely disco-tinged hits for Dr Hook, the UK seemed to be falling under the spell of country. But into the 90s and 2000s, as ‘old country’ became ‘new country’, very few of the emerging artists who might be considered superstars back in the US found similar acceptance or record sales.
As I grew older, I never lost my affection for country music. There’s a prevailing attitude within the genre which matches my own, elevating the quality of ‘The Song’ above almost every other concern. Combined with my unwavering preference for powerful, soaring, female vocals, the genre has revealed a veritable treasure trove over the years, filled with legacy acts such as Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette, through to Trisha Yearwood and Pam Tillis, leading to the likes of Miranda Lambert and, more recently, Kacey Musgraves. It’s hardly surprising I was an early adopter for Taylor Swift’s debut, buying it on import shortly after its release in the US.
It’s fairly clear from the moment you hear the opening bars of Tim McGraw that you’re listening to something special. It doesn’t have the novelty of a young LeAnn Rimes – a child star with the power and range of a singer twice her age – or, as in the case of Carrie Underwood, merely showcases an outstanding vocalist who has been given a selection of hand-picked, top-drawer songs. This was a young artist expressing herself perfectly through her own, self-written songs – the fact that Swift was only 14 when she signed her publishing deal is both completely irrelevant and absolutely crucial to the music she makes.
Tim McGraw is a typically personal song. In a tale apparently ripped from the pages of Swift’s own teenage diary, the song’s protagonist delivers a lament for the first love she’s had to give up but will never forget. Recounting how they were inevitably forced to go their separate ways after a perfect summer romance, she hopes her ex-boyfriend still thinks of her whenever he hears her favourite Tim McGraw song. Perfectly encapsulating the exaggerated, overwhelming nature of teenage romance, she sings, “When you think ‘Tim McGraw’ / I hope you think my favourite song / Someday you’ll turn your radio on / I hope it takes you back to that place / when you think happiness.” It’s somehow both affectingly melancholy and wonderfully uplifting. Resigned to acknowledging an important moment has passed, but equally hopeful and optimistic about the future – it certainly says a lot more than “Hey, I just met you /and this is crazy / But here’s my number / so call me, maybe!” In some respects, at this point in her career Swift might seem old beyond her years, but her songs never patronised her younger audience, who are after all also her peers. Her ability to convey complex, but wholly relatable, emotions which resonate across a broad spectrum has meant her transition from ‘county protégé’ to the undisputed ‘biggest pop star on the planet’ has been virtually seamless. We can all be eternally grateful Swift has never lost her desire to appear totally honest and wickedly candid about her on-going matters of the heart. It may also explain why there is always a sizeable queue of anxious looking, vaguely familiar, rockstar-types in pulled down beanie hats, pulled up collars and shades, outside every Target store across the US on the day a new Taylor Swift album is released, desperately waiting to scan the CD’s lyric booklet for clues which might reveal their identities. On a personal note, I’d just like to congratulate every John, Dick and Harry who has every cheated on her, broken her heart or merely left the toilet seat up when they really should have known better. ‘Thank you’. Please carry on being complete and utter douche bags, album number six just can’t come fast enough.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? – Surely the only logical thing would be a mind-bending cover by Tim McGraw – changing the name and lyric of the song to Taylor Swift of course.