Behind the Song: Tim McGraw’s ‘Highway Don’t Care’

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Tim McGraw (Courtesy of Nigel Parry)

Tim McGraw (Courtesy of Nigel Parry)

By Kurt Wolff

For Tim McGraw, part of the appeal of “Highway Don’t Care,” a moody anthem that serves as the closing song on his 2013 album Two Lanes of Freedom, was it’s “timeless” quality.

“It’s a track that has sort of a timeless feel to me,” McGraw told Radio.com about the song, which reached No. 1 last June and is currently battling it out for Best Country Duo/Group Performance at this year’s GRAMMYs. “It’s something that felt like I could have heard it ten years ago, and I could hear it ten years from now as well.”

Written by Mark Irwin, Josh Kear, and Brad and Brett Warren, “Highway Don’t Care” begins in a quiet place, from the point of view of a character thinking about a relationship that is hanging in the balance. The male voice is singing to a female lover, who is driving either away from or back to home, we’re never entirely clear — which is part of the song’s appeal. At the same time, as she drives, she hears a singer on the radio whose voice seems to be speaking to her — mingling perhaps in her mind (and certainly in ours) with the voice of her lover.

Related: Read and watch all of our Behind the Song features for this year’s GRAMMYs

Adding to the song’s strength are its two superstar guests. The first is Keith Urban, who doesn’t sing but plays some standout lead guitar (the two “had been looking for a song to do together for a long time,” McGraw explained). And that haunting voice on the radio? It’s none other than Taylor Swift.

“I’m a huge fan of Taylor’s,” said McGraw. “We have a history, going back to her first song,” which was titled “Tim McGraw.”

Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and Taylor Swift McGraw, Urban and Swift (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

McGraw went on about Swift, practically gushing. “I think she’s just one of those special rare artists that come along not very often,” he said. “Her sense of style, her sense of songwriting, her beautiful vocals — all those things are really impressive.”

He also said he wanted her on the song right from the get go, “because I thought it fit her vocal perfectly, and I liked where it’s set in the song. And I liked that it wasn’t a love interest in the song. It was sort of this third person interjection.”

Related: Tim McGraw’s “Highway Don’t Care” Video Drives Home a Tragic Message

That “third person interjection” is also something that “Highway Don’t Care” shares in common with Swift’s song “Tim McGraw.” In the latter song, Swift sang of a summertime love affair where McGraw’s music served as their soundtrack (When you think Tim McGraw I hope you think my favorite song,” she sings). McGraw was a part of the story, but only via a song on the radio, as is the case with Swift’s presence “Highway Don’t Care.”

“It does tie back to the same sort of theme that her song had,” McGraw admitted about the connection between the two. “I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about it that way.”

See if McGraw takes home the win at this Sunday’s GRAMMYs, airing live on CBS Jan. 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

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