If you're looking for a song that perfectly encapsulates the innocence and heartbreak of fleeting high school love, look no further than Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw." Released in 2006 as the debut single from her self-titled debut album, the song finds a 16-year-old Swift detailing the perfect summer with her boyfriend before he went off to college. She also recalls the pain and heartbreak felt after he left and their relationship ended. Although Swift sings of her sadness, she finds comfort in the thought that her long-lost love may think of her when he hears a specific Tim McGraw song on the radio.
"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," she sings in the chorus.
It's impressive that such a young singer had a country music record deal and was releasing songs to radio, but what's more impressive is that she wrote the tune when she was even younger. When Swift was 14, she and her family moved from Pennsylvania to Tennessee so she could explore a music career. Swift attended Hendersonville High School, and one day in math class during her freshman year, she came up with the melody for "Tim McGraw." Many of Swift's songs are written from true situations in her life, so she decided to write about her boyfriend, a senior, who would be going off to college in the fall. She then tied this in with her favorite Tim McGraw song, "Can't Tell Me Nothin.'"
At this point, Swift was already collaborating with top Nashville songwriters and writing songs at Sony/ATV music after school. She brought the idea to frequent collaborator Liz Rose, and the two finished the tune in 20 minutes. Rose shared that she wasn't initially sure about including McGraw's name in the song, but she let Swift take the reins.
"I was like, 'Ah, okay. We're really gonna write a song with Tim McGraw's name in it?'" she told iHeartRadio. "But I was like, 'Okay.'"
Soon after writing the song, Swift secured her record deal with Big Machine Records. She played "Tim McGraw" for label head Scott Borchetta, who decided it would be her first single. Swift promoted the song on radio tour and during her opening slot on Rascal Flatts' Me and My Gang Tour. She also met McGraw for the first time and performed the song in front of him at the 2007 Academy of Country Music Awards. The song ended up peaking at No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, a solid showing for a brand new, 16-year-old artist singing a song about an established country star.
While Swift was busy launching her career with her debut single, McGraw himself wasn't so sure about being the topic of a song from the new country artist.
"Well, when I first heard 'Tim McGraw' by Taylor Swift, I mean, I thought it was a good song. I was a little apprehensive about it when I first heard it," McGraw told Apple Music's Alecia Davis (quote via Billboard). "Then I thought, 'Have I gotten to that age now to where they're singing songs about me? Does that mean I've jumped the shark a bit? Is everything still cool?'"
The country legend seemed to get over his apprehension pretty quickly, though, as he and wife Faith Hill invited Swift to open for their Soul2Soul II Tour, which ran from '06 to '07. He also famously collaborated with Swift on the 2013 track, "Highway Don't Care," also featuring Keith Urban.
"Tim McGraw" is a song that has lived on for years after Swift's career has reached unmitigated heights, and it will continue to do so. With its acoustic country instrumentation and Swift's young voice, which featured a bit of a twang, the song personifies the feeling of bittersweet, young love in an unparalleled way. Although Swift has gone on to become a worldwide pop star, she can always trace her roots back to country music and this sweet song that started it all.