In 1993, a young Louisiana-born musician made his less-than-auspicious debut with the self-titled LP Tim McGraw. He would eventually go on to score dozens of Number One hits – not to mention an equally successful spouse with crossover appeal. All of this may not have registered with a four-year-old Pennsylvanian whose parents owned a Christmas tree farm, but once Taylor Swift – still in her early teens – moved to Nashville and began writing songs, McGraw certainly played a role in her burgeoning career. Ten years ago today, on October 24th, 2006, her debut album Taylor Swift was released. The album and the artist would be an undeniable game-changer for country music and Nashville, as it also introduced the world to the Big Machine record label, which is now home to both Swift and McGraw.
As the first single from her debut LP, “Tim McGraw” was a Top Ten country hit, followed by four more singles, all of which enjoyed crossover success, setting a pattern that would continue until Swift made the full-on pop LP, 1989 (her birth year) in 2014. Swift may have little connection to her country beginnings these days, but when fans hear “Tim McGraw,” they experience the sense of loss she called upon to write the song and the ways music and memory interact with one another. The song was penned with Liz Rose during Swift’s freshman year in high school as a bittersweet ode to a boyfriend she would be losing when he went to college. Rather than a song about McGraw, it’s a song about the way the budding star and her boyfriend shared the memory of McGraw’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothin'” from the superstar’s 2004 LP Live Like You Were Dying.
Swift explored similarly intense emotions of youthful relationships in the album’s other singles: “Teardrops on My Guitar,” “Our Song,” “Picture to Burn” and, finally, “Should’ve Said No.” Written by Swift alone, “Should’ve Said No” was the album’s final single and featured her spitting acid at a boyfriend who got caught straying. “You shouldn’t be beggin’ for forgiveness at my feet. You should’ve said no, baby, and you might still have me,” she chides him.
Back in those early days of her career, a teenage Swift paid a visit to streaming company Rhapsody to perform the song for Rhapsody TV. Flanked by a fiddler and banjo player, Swift energetically strums her acoustic guitar while singing. She had yet to come into her own as a live singer, but she was already a remarkably poised storyteller and performer on the brink of world domination, whether she knew it or not. One thing that is certain is that country music, while it had her, would never quite be the same again.