Influence is a funny thing. It’s a topic that, by all accounts, is very, very subjective. Something or someone that you may believe to be influential, for either your own life or for the wider world, either at a national level or at a global level; may in fact be regarded by myself or by someone else as not influential at all, and perhaps superfluous. When we’re speaking about influence, we’re usually speaking about people and the mark they’ve made on human history, for either good or bad, and the impression that they’re destined to leave us all when they die. Sure, you can measure popularity by the numbers- if it’s a music artist, then by number of albums sold or songs streamed, or even twitter followers or hit radio singles; or if its an actor then number of movies starred in or number of Golden Globe or Academy Awards won. Influence, on the other hand…. Well that’s measured by…that’s measured by… well what is it measured by? Number of lives impacted after watching a movie or listening to a song? How would you determine the magnitude of the impact and whether the direct impact of a song or an album on a person is life changing or not though? Did the song save them from death or give them a sense of direction or purpose? Or is a measure the number of people directly inspired by that artist, so much so that a person considers said artist a role model and someone they look up to? How about during an unforeseen tragic circumstance, a song from left field, by an artist one would never imagine or think they’d ever listen to, inspires and comforts and heals, and brings them back from the brink, from depression and from hurt and pain unimaginable. Is this artist influential to that person? If the artist has had little sales and hardly any radio hits, but has changed lives for the better, and has released maybe the ‘theme song’ for someone’s marriage or graduation or something like that- are they influential? Maybe… maybe not. But regardless, don’t you reckon influence is now a bit grey and dependent on a variety of factors that can change as they days, months, years progress?
We’ve been blogging about this particular series Momentous Mondays: Most Influential Artists Of All Time since February 2019, and now we’re 80 blogs in. We’ve dived deep into a number of popular artists and other artists that aren’t that well known, admired and respected. We’ve blogged about underrated artists and overrated artists alike, and we’ve found ourselves enamoured and captivated by certain genres over others. But now it’s time to change it all up. To take away the instruction manual and throw away the key too for good measure. For my brother Jon has always been blogging about his list of 100 influential artists- as have I about my list of 50 up and coming future music influencers. Now, it’s time to do the reverse. For the next ten blogs and maybe more, I’ll be writing about artists that have had more of an impact over time, while Jon will be diving deep into the here, the now and the future for the next little bit. While this musical experiment swap idea came from left field (it was my idea!), and was partly a way to expand our musical horizons; it’s also to get us to understand what the other person goes through when blogging. Sort of something like a ‘walk a mile in your shoes’ type of thing. And it’s a challenge as we both learn that there’s a whole lot of music out there that we do not know. And it’s ok if we don’t know it all. As long as we realise that music of all kinds out there and that one person will be blessed by a song, even if we do not connect with it in an overall sense. For me personally, throughout osmosis from Jon’s blog and me listening to these artists because of Jon listening through the speakers; I’ve been gravitating towards the genres of country (Lady A, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Sugarland, Keith Urban, Little Big Town) and meaningful pop (Carly Rae Jepsen, Pentatonix, Cimorelli, Owl City, OneRepublic, Kelly Clarkson) over the last few years, while always staying close to my roots in CCM (for KING & COUNTRY, Needtobreathe, Newsboys, Skillet, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, Rebecca St. James, Casting Crowns, Delirious?, Jason Gray, Tenth Avenue North, Carman). I’ve also been more exposed than ever before to Australian music (Delta Goodrem, Guy Sebastian, Tina Arena, John Farnham, The McClymonts, Natalie Imbruglia, Missy Higgins, Vanessa Amorosi) and UK music (The Corrs, U2, Ronan Keating, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Phil Collins, Dido, Adele, Seal); while rock (Goo Goo Dolls, Train, Daughtry, Lifehouse, Hanson, Alanis Morrisette, Creed, Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Hoobastank, Evanescence to a certain extent) has resonated with me too, as has Broadway/opera (Josh Groban, Jackie Evancho).
My musical tastes have expanded all over the map since the past two years- and that’s only via me partially listening to what Jon has been investing in. And so now that we’ve got that out of the way- that I have indeed been inspired and comforted and confronted (in a good way!) by all of these 80 artists in one way or another, as well as the 40 artists I myself have been immersed in for my own part of the blog; let me carry the proverbial torch and resume our list of influential artists… with probably one of the biggest country artists ever. Tim McGraw, active since the early 1990’s, has wowed us all with his thought provoking and comforting melodies, and has provided us honest, heart-warming and relevant material that even the most sceptical and cynical of country music would appreciate. Sure, Tim is no Garth Brooks, or Alan Jackson or Willie Nelson; but he is the real deal, from what I’ve heard and read. There’s hardly any good role model musicians these days that haven’t really found themselves on the back end of some scandal or controversy, which hence has tainted a name and a reputation. But Tim, who has been married to fellow country superstar Faith Hill since 1996, has reminded us that good music stands the test of time, and that if you keep it simple, like he has done for some time, and not overcomplicate the reason why you do what you do; then good things can and most often do, eventuate.
I do love playing music, I do want to be on stage and I do miss that. I’ve often said throughout my career, I’ve been doing this for thirty years now, and I’ve told my management, “Man, if I could just get six months off, eight months off, where I don’t have anything to have to turn the light switch on for, where I can just chill out and recharge my batteries,” then this [COVID-19] came up. And I’m like, “Well, I guess I’m gonna get that time.” And three weeks into I’m like, “Where’s my band? How can I play?” And part of it is because we were finishing up a new album and had an album coming. Part of it was wanting to play new music for sure. But really and truly that adrenaline shot and that instant gratification you get stepping out on stage, it’s not even that. It’s almost as much the ten or twenty minutes before the show when the lights go out and the music starts playing and that whole vibe starts happening. That energy vibration starts going off, it’s almost that as much as anything else. And lord knows with my wife and four daughters I’m not gonna get a whole lot of adulation around here so I gotta go on the road to get it…
Timeless songs can be applicable to any situation. That’s the sign of great music and great art. As artists that’s what we strive to do. Everybody wants to have the hit for the summer and all those kinds of things and that’s cool. But as an artist what you really strive for is to have that handful of songs that at any moment in time can strike somebody and it can comfort somebody or hold somebody up and be applicable to something they’re going through at that particular time. And it can be totally different than the first time they heard it.
I don’t know if Jon can say the same about him reading my blogs in a timely manner, but I personally have read each and every one of Jon’s 80 blogs virtually word for word. I know his style, the way Jon focuses on certain songs more than others, and how long generally his ‘pre-amble’ is before the ‘meat’ of the blog. So it begs the question- how was I going to structure this blog, considering that Tim has recorded 16 albums, each of them around about 15 songs long? In the past, Jon would write about every album, and standout songs on each album (maybe 50% of each album!). And that’s… still a lot in this case. More than what the average person can handle I’m afraid. And that’s the reason why some of Jon’s blogs went on for so long in terms of word length… because quite frankly Jon went overboard! Not that I minded per se- I was always captivated by whatever Jon wrote; but I’m sure other readers might’ve been irked and irritated by the length… just playing devil’s advocate here. Yet what I find to be the crux of the whole matter, is that as I was writing this blog, I wanted to see whether I can write in Jon’s style and around about his lengths. I mean, Jon’s writing style was extremely captivating- shouldn’t I emulate him? Yet the past few days I’ve stopped myself. I’ve realised that I’m my own person, and that I can write whatever I want about any artist I want to- and not feel guilty or weird or awkward about it all. And thus I listened to and examined Tim’s discography over and over this past week, and came to a conclusion. That I don’t have to examine and write about every single song. It’s not practical, it’s actually counter-productive- and when websites like songfacts detail the story behind a plethora of hit songs from almost every artist (inclusive of Tim!), well then be voicing my opinions- would that be wise or foolish? Don’t worry, I will speak up about a few songs I’ve heard from Tim over the past week that has indeed resonated with me greatly- but if you have read songfacts and the stories behind a number of his songs; can you at least agree that though Tim’s voice doesn’t have the best range nor power, there’s still so much passion and heart nonetheless? That if he keeps on singing with such intensity, that he’d still be recording music in 10 or 20 year’s time?
For those of you though who are lazy and can’t be bothered to look at songfacts, well then these next facts about Tim are for you. See, Tim has released 11 studio albums for Curb Records, four for Big Machine Records and one for Arista Nashville; whereby 10 of those albums reached number one on the Top Country Albums charts. His sophomore album, the 1994 Not a Moment Too Soon being the top country album of 1994. Just think about that for a minute. You’ve released your second album and it breaks all sorts of records on the country music charts. Pretty surreal and wild, right? Also… and here’s a mind blowing stat- Tim’s discography has produced 65 singles. Yep, you read that right- 65! 2 or 3 a year for nearly 30 years straight… is that sustainable? How could you not be swept up in it all, the glitz and the glamour, and not fall down due to the sheer weight and pressure? Regardless, when you consider that 25 of the 65 singles reached number one on the Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay charts, and a further three of these singles – “It’s Your Love”, “Just to See You Smile”, and “Live Like You Were Dying” – were respectively the top country songs of 1997, 1998, and 2004 according to Billboard Year-End… well those feats alone are reason enough for us to be actively and heavily involved and invested in Tim’s music. Tim has also won 3 Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music awards, 11 Country Music Association (CMA) awards, 10 American Music Awards, and three People’s Choice Awards. His Soul2Soul II Tour (embarked upon in partnership with Faith), is one of the highest-grossing tours in country music history, and one of the top five highest-grossing tours among all genres of music. And in terms of sales (if you’re the kind of fact loving guru that wants to know this kind of stuff!), Tim has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time (read Wikipedia for the full extensive list!).
Now that I’ve bombarded you with fact after fact after fact… let me ask you this question, do you think Tim is influential, objectively speaking? Even without the rest of the songs that aren’t hits that have also resonated with and impacted many? Before we dive deep into the songs, and a number of hits and underrated melodies that have made his career; let me dive deep into everything Tim has done away from the spotlight. Because when you’ve been in the spotlight for so long and when you’ve recorded plenty of songs for so long, then what sets you apart from the next guy? Is it one song that blows up? Maybe. But I reckon that nine times out of ten, when you’re a veteran artist; what sets you apart from everyone else is what you do and how you conduct yourself away from the spotlight. I’ve very sure that I’ve mentioned this time and time again, in my other blog posts I’ve written- but let me reiterate again that I firmly believe that the measure of a person, whether that person stands the test of time in influence and popularity, or whether they fall by the wayside, is determined by how they handle themselves off the stage and their private life. Whether an artist is influential (to me at least) is magnified when that person is by themselves, when no one is looking. Also, I think I’ve also reiterated countless times that my belief or anyone else’s belief in the song, the authenticity, vulnerability and honest behind the song, and the heart of the artist behind the song is paramount in whether an artist’s mark is just popularity or popularity and influence. If I’m going to assert ___ as influential, then what do they have to show for it at the end of the day? Maybe it is a unique voice. I mean, a voice like Josh Groban means that it’s that voice that carries them through to stratospheric career heights until their career ends. But for Tim McGraw, who’s voice is admittedly and unfortunately only so-so… well apart from his lyrical genius that still stands the test of time, his influence I feel is determined by what he does outside of the spotlight. And boy, has Tim accomplished a lot besides music. For one- he is an actor, and a well accomplished one. Mind you, not to the calibre of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford or Christian Bale; but Tim can hold his own somewhat- and I guess that’s what any multitalented and multiskilled artist/actor can hope for, I guess. Tim has acted in Country Strong (opposite Gwyneth Paltrow), The Blind Side (opposite Sandra Bullock), The Shack (opposite Sam Worthington), Four Christmases (opposite Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn) and Tomorrowland (opposite Britt Robertson and George Clooney)… and those are big films when you think about it. Sure, he’s probably not going to win any Oscars or Golden Globes. But is Tim dependable in his movie roles? Of course he is! Could he be cast as a lead in a TV show and carry it along with solid ratings? Quite possibly, I reckon! So I say kudos to him for spreading his wings all those years ago and taking a chance on acting when it may not have panned out- because I reckon the more multiskilled people there are in Hollywood the better. We can’t all be one-trick ponies, now, can we? If you think about icons like Jennifer Lopez or Will Smith or Jennifer Hudson or Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake or Selena Gomez; they’re all geniuses as singers AND actors. And now let’s invite Tim McGraw into this list now, shall we?
I’m always searching for big (and universal) themes that you can just reach outside the norm of what you’re doing. I’m very family-oriented. I’ve always been family-oriented. I came from a disoriented, dysfunctional family growing up. That probably instilled in me the need and want to have a strong family and a great foundation. That’s something I naturally gravitate towards. (I’m) just looking for a great story that moves and inspires you in a way (that) I want to be impacted viscerally.
Music and movie scripts are books. You want to be literally moved and that’s the sort of things I look for. When I read the script of “The Shack,” I had not read the book. My wife actually had the book on her nightstand. We’d heard about the book and knew what the story was. About a week after she put it on her nightstand, they were sending me a script to read. I read the script and was completely in an emotional meltdown.
I told Faith about it and we had a lot of conversations about whether I had time to be involved because it was shot in Vancouver, and I was doing concerts and flying at 3 a.m. I was working all day, flying to do shows. Finally, we just had to do it.
Let me offer a little bit of insight into it as a tool. I need to get those insights for tools; because I don’t think that the universal themes of love, compassion, and forgiveness (are present). (You’re) searching constantly for the next step, the next level and consciousness in your spirituality, who you are as a human being and what you contribute to society or what God means to you is always a course everyone goes on.
This movie does this, regardless of what your belief system is. It offers a view and perspective to you, that can open the door a little bit to think about what in your life has broken you? What in your life propels you forward? What in your life allows you to give up to other people, and allows you to forgive others and accept forgiveness. This movie can be a cracked door with a light behind it for a life that may need it.
Most of the time I ask, “Why have I forsaken God?” I look at myself and ask that question when probably the better question is to say, “Where are you God, and I’ll let you in.” Instead of thinking that you’ve abandoned God, push yourself in the other direction like, “God, how can I get closer?”
Music has to hit me in a visceral way. Sometimes I think as an artist you tend to go toward the heartbreak and the sadness because those are the deepest and heaviest emotions you can pull out as an entertainer and as a singer. Everybody loves a sad ballad because it’s cathartic. For artists, in a lot of ways, that’s sort of our therapy sessions is when you’re singing a song. But, yeah, music has to do that for me. And sometimes it’s big themes, which I’m always looking for big themes in a way to transcend just a love story or just a fun party song. You try to find something that will connect people in different ways. This film certainly does that.
I think there are more people waiting to forgive me than I need to forgive them. I look at things a lot differently than that. If there are, I hope that I can discover it and I hope that I can put my finger on it and hope that I can get it. I try to give as much blanket forgiveness as much as possible in my life because that’s the only way you can get past things and move forward. But, conversely, I’d like to be forgiven. In many ways, that’s the bigger leap, the bigger transformation and the bigger step forward.
It’s evident from these above quotes that The Shack changed Tim McGraw inside and out, and has deepened his relationship with God. There’s not too many believers in Hollywood (Denzel Washington and Matthew McConaughey are two that stick out to me!), and while Tim hasn’t explicitly said if he’s a Christian or not (I’m assuming he is), the values imparted in each of these roles that he has embarked on, and the lyrical themes in many of his songs, is all about Christianity and Christ-like behaviour. The son of baseball pitcher Tug McGraw, Tim’s humbleness and joy for life, as evident in his movie roles and his songs also, reminds us that celebrities are just like people, and that placing them on a pedestal isn’t necessary. In fact, I’d say I’m more inclined to declare an artist to be influential if they’re more down to earth and more real, like Tim seems to be. One such event that demonstrates Tim’s humanness is the annual Swampstock event which started in 1994. And Wikipedia says it better than I ever could- that it began as a charity softball game to raise money for hometown little league programs; the event now includes a celebrity softball game and a multi-artist concert that attracts over 11,000 fans per year. The combined events have funded new Little League parks and equipment, and have established college scholarship funds for students in the northeast Louisiana area. Pretty surreal right? Aren’t you in awe and proud of Tim who did that all on his own? Giving back to his community like that? Tim also regularly supports the Tug McGraw foundation, and even though his annual income is $38 million according to Forbes in 2015, Tim’s no stranger to pointing the spotlight away from himself and onto others in need- he was even an advisor on the Voice in 2016, to the contestants of all four teams, along with Faith. As far as awards go… well I’d say there’s too many to list- so perhaps look at them all right here? While Tim and Faith are both owners of a private island in the Bahamas (Goat Cay, Exuma… and I guess that’s the perks of being famous, and rich!); and Tim also has a private pilot’s license (as a backup plan in case his music career wanes!), and he also owns a single engine Cirrus SR22 (what anyone would do with a plane like that… I dunno!).
Tim has also released two major best-selling books in 2019– with the first co-written with “Pulitzer Prize” winner Jon Meacham which reached No. 2 on the NEW York Times Bestsellers list (Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation); while Tim’s second book, “Grit and Grace”, also reached No. 2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list. Away from music Tim seems to be a jack of all trades- and I guess it’s that versatility and adaptability that makes him an interesting person to actively follow, and someone who’s lyrics I wholeheartedly believe came from the bottom of his heart. There is no insincerity in Tim’s vocals, and if you’ve read up to now, then yes- now is the time to speak about Tim’s songs and the tracks that mean the most to me. How I would break down Tim’s recording career, is in year groups, or decades. There’s the 1990’s decade, the 2000’s decade and the 2010’s decade. In the 2020’s decade- there’s only one album so… does it really count? Thus when analysing each decade, I’ve come to the same conclusion. That whether it’s in his first album or his last, Tim’s emotions and honesty and vulnerability shines through the same. Sure, the lyrics aren’t the flashiest, but they are earnest and honest- is that enough for us all? I guess it’s enough for critics and the awards shows- otherwise Tim wouldn’t have won any awards, am I right?
The debut self-titled album in 1993, which probably was the only commercial failure of Tim’s career; was where Tim was introduced to the world, even though it probably wasn’t as grandiose a start as he would have liked. Singles from the album included “What Room Was That Holiday In”, “Memory Lane”, and “Welcome To The Club”- but I myself wasn’t that connected to the album. Not A Moment Too Soon on the other hand was a revolution and certainly wasn’t a sophomore slump. The title track, a reflective piano led ballad, speaks about a love that met him ‘not a moment too soon’ that reawakened in him… something; with the song presumably about his soon-to-be-wife at the time Faith, or even God! While the emotional “Don’t Take The Girl” speaks about three stages of life a young man finds himself in, all told from the anchorage point of his relationship with a girl, and how the evolving relationship changes him in many ways. It’s a very complex song, and a track that we all should listen to, to know how to cherish life and be grateful for what we have right now at this very moment. “Refried Dreams”, also from Not A Moment Too Soon, is an old-school 90’s inspired country song that speaks about making horrible decisions based on ‘refried dreams’- dreams that were based on someone else’s dreams and not your own, and encourages us to always live based off what you yourself want; while “Indian Outlaw” sparked controversy, as Tim was said to be patronising to the Native American Indians in the lyrics. Yet the song sold in spades- so much for controversy, right?
“I Like It, I Love It”, off 1995’s All I Want, is an ode to Faith, and depicts what Tim loves about their relationship, and that he loves all of the chivalrous things he gets to do with Faith, even though he didn’t like doing those things when he was single. Written by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns (and a couple of other songwriters!); love is the centrepoint and continues to be on a number of Tim’s songs around the time he was dating Faith, and around the time he married her. “Renegade” speaks about Tim’s nomad nature at the time, and highlights the fact that the bohemian lifestyle was at that point in history and should be something that is to be celebrated for being a part in something that made him to who he is today. “Just To See You Smile”, from the 1997 album Everywhere, highlights the fact that Tim longs for his girlfriend to be happy, and that he’d do anything ‘…just to see you smile, I’d do anything that you wanted me to, when all is said and done, I’d never count the cost, it’s worth all that’s lost just to see you smile…’– a selfless track that puts others’ needs above our own, even when we are in pain; while “Everywhere” tracks in at just under 5 minutes, and tackles the not-often-tackled concept of regrets and what-ifs, whereby the persona realises that even though he and his high school sweetheart have broken up, that he still ‘sees’ her ‘everywhere’ and imagines a life that could have been. “Everywhere”, though sombre and heartbreaking, is a song that should reassure us that life cannot be lived with regrets, and that if we want to do something or pursue something, we should do it now because we don’t want to wake up in 10 years and wonder why we’ve lived a life of mediocrity when we could’ve been living the life that God has called us to.
“Where The Green Grass Grows”, a happy-go-lucky song of thankfulness, speaks about having a heart of gratitude and choosing to live where we are at now, because the place where the green grass grows is right here at home rather than in some far off fantasy place in the distance; while Tim laments on a past love with “For A Little While”, and highlights self-love and knowing your own identity in “One Of These Days”. With the former, we can remember that exes don’t have to be this bogeymen type of fear- people can be civil and people can remember the good times; while the latter track is one of the most emotional and personal tracks that Tim has every recorded- as he speaks about two people he mistreated in high school, and ponders over why he specifically targeted them- and then it was because he realised, he didn’t love himself. It’s songs like these that inspire us and make Tim relevant, while “It’s Your Love”, a powerful duet with Faith, earnestly declares that ‘…it’s your love, it just does somethin’ to me, it sends a shock right through me, I can’t get enough, and if you wonder about the spell I’m under, it’s your love…’, and relays that he’s so in love with his wife- and that’s a love that we all should hope and pray for in the future…whenever is God’s timing.
The feelings and emotions are dialled up once again with the heartbreaking yet comforting ballad “Please Remember Me”, whereby the persona who is dying is singing their will over someone they love, declaring that ‘…You’ll find better love, strong as it ever was, deep as the river runs, warm as the morning sun, please remember me…’, and is a timely reminder to cherish the present with the ones you love right now, and to love deeply and holding nothing back. Lyrically this song is as vulnerable as it gets, as Tim has recorded another winner once again. “My Next Thirty Years” is another tear-jerker, as Tim sings about goals and dreams he has over the next thirty years, and encourages us to live our life with no regrets; and this introspective ballad is sure to even challenge us for at least thirty more years to come. “My Best Friend”, where Tim sings about his wife being his best friend, and “Somebody Must Be Prayin’ For Me”, where Tim eloquently highlights a somewhat fictitious situation about blessings coming to a family that need it, and the protagonist believing that someone was praying for them; are other standouts on the 1999 album A Place In The Sun, as Tim fervently relays to us relatable tracks, and reminds us time and time again why his music resonates so much!
Well, that was the 90’s, so is the 2000’s any different? Nope, there’s more Tim McGraw and more impacting and emotional melodies and works of art! “Set This Circus Down”, from the 2001 album of the same name, speaks about setting down roots with the one you love, and features a harmonica for variety, so that’s definitely a good thing; while “Grown Men Don’t Cry” dispels the notion of men not being emotional, with Tim presenting to us emotional situations in his life within the verses of this song, reminding us all that it’s ok to feel, and that feeling makes us human. The subdued fiddle inspired “The Cowboy In Me” poses question after question about how why we act the way we do, as Tim asks the question of why he feels discontent, and then chalking it up to the ‘cowboy’ within him, admitting that ‘…the urge to run, the restlessness, the heart of stone I sometimes get, the things I’ve done for foolish pride, the me that’s never satisfied, the face that’s in the mirror when I don’t like what I see, I guess that’s just the cowboy in me…’, as we are presented with the notion that sometimes we cannot act on our impulses and let the ‘cowboy’ within us win, otherwise where would that leave us in life? “Unbroken”, another relationship song, speaks about Tim’s love for his wife once again, and him claiming that she makes him unbroken, and is one of the few rockers that he has recorded- a standout amongst the radio friendly ballads; while “Smilin’” brings back the fun and the levity, as Tim sings about being hopeful and grateful- which stands true and relevant especially in this broken and uncertain world.
In 2002, Tim and his band The Dancehall Doctors, recorded an album called Tim McGraw And The Dancehill Doctors. In country music, recording a studio album with your live band (especially as a solo artist) is almost unheard of (that’s according to Wikipedia!), with country artists generally preferring to use session musicians in studio versions. But on this album, which sounds on the whole fuller, richer and much more free-flowing and one-take-ish; Tim decided to use his touring band to record a country album. The result is a soothing, emotive and solid album that is… nice to listen to. I’ll admit, I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics when I put these songs from this album on as background music, but I was just listening to how it all flowed and how the music made me feel. It’s not Tim’s best album, by any stretch- however the presence several obscure instruments all throughout, like the mandolin, banjo, steel guitar, slide guitar, fiddle and dobro, makes this album worth it to listen to at least once straight through. Lyric-wise, it’s similar to everything Tim has recorded in the past, but it’s pretty unique if only for the music and how its arranged. I mean, come on- Tim recorded a version of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, what more could you want?
“My Old Friend”, one of Tim’s hit singles from the 2004 album Live Like You Were Dying, tackles the theme of mortality. In fact, the entire album, which is probably my favourite from Tim’s ever; speaks about mortality and how we as people are scared of dying and the unknown, and scared to leave the ones we love. As Tim passionately apologises in “My Old Friend” about not staying in touch with someone who he used to be close with, he essentially sings to someone who has passed away or is passing away. And this gets us thinking as to how do we get our affairs in order so that everyone we love will be ok when we pass away? How do we cope when we lose a loved one? And where do we exactly go when we die? Tough questions, but Tim is prepared to ask them and ask them wholeheartedly here. Some would say an album about death is morbid, but Tim’s introspective album is needed, and is sure to be listened to in the future- if only to get us thinking about the tough questions.
“We Carry On”, though not a single, is one of Tim’s most emotional and heartfelt songs on this project, as he encourages us to all carry on in this good fight and keep on keeping on, because of the fact that the human spirit cannot easily be broken, and that God is with us, that ‘…there’s promise in the morning sun, we carry on, as the dark surrenders to the dawn, we were born to overcome…’. “Back When” has Tim reminiscing about the ‘good ol days’ when slang words didn’t exist, and all people were straight shooters, when things weren’t complicated and when people were open books (with the track also encouraging us all to live as authentic and truthful as we can!); while the controversial “Drugs Or Jesus” vividly explains Tim’s past in a town where people either became Christians or did drugs. As Tim concludes in the song that ‘…everybody just wants to get high, sit and watch a perfect world go by, we’re all looking for love and meaning in our lives, we follow the roads that lead us to drugs or Jesus…’, we are confronted with a track that questions whether we believe in God because of tradition or whether it’s the right thing to do, or if we choose our faith for ourselves. There’s no easy answer, and your faith is entirely your own, but what Tim has done here is to create a space for healthy discussion about meaty topics like these- and for that I reckon this song, and the album as a whole, will forever be imprinted in my heart and the hearts of all who listen!
“I Need You”, again with Tim’s wife Faith on guest vocals, is unfortunately a cliché title… but the song is anything but, as Tim again sings in earnest and praise to his wife, saying that he needs her like the very air he breathes. It’s a song that could reek of desperation or sweetness, depending how you look at it, and reminds us that while we do need our spouses in our lives very much, this song could very well be how we all need God and a Saviour. “Let It Go”, another quasi-spiritual song, and the title track from Tim’s 2007 album, speaks about letting go of the things that weigh us down, the hurt, the pain, the bitterness, the grudges, the burdens that we place on ourselves. The track doesn’t explicitly say that we should leave our burdens down at the cross… but that is implied, and for that I’m grateful that Tim is covert in his message about Jesus here! “Last Dollar (Fly Away)”, another spiritual song (wow, Tim’s really going all out with two back-to-back thought-provoking albums!), speaks about the moment before one enters heaven, and about them being at peace with dying because they’ve got nothing to tie them to this earth anymore. The amends are made and the material possessions are forgotten, and it’s time to ‘fly away’; the track is another that makes us think about eternity, and in a world today where songs are about the here and now and the transient; Tim’s heartfelt and hopeful melodies are a nice change of pace that has me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
While “Nothin’ To Die For” is another song that is just as inspiring as any other from the mid 2000’s period, and speaks about actively deciding to live for something, and to then follow through with it, and decide to not die for something petty like alcohol, like the persona in the song. As Tim encourages us to place everything that matter above our own vices, and to really take stock of what’s important like family, God, friends; we are reminded to man up and grow up if we haven’t and are also encouraged to run our own race, because each of our races are different, and we shouldn’t covet because then aren’t we living someone else’s life? if we’ve got something to live for, then why should we die for something insignificant? Should we be prepared to die for the very same things we live for? “If I Died Today”, from Southern Voice in 2009, speaks about the notion of dying, and asking the question of would we leave an impact or a legacy when we depart from this earth (a sombre yet sobering thought!); while the title track speaks about the ‘southern voice’ twang that country people have, with Tim declaring that people should wear their accents like a badge of honour!
Around the time of the 2010’s was when Tim was in a legal dispute with his label Curb Records. I don’t know the ins and outs and the intricacies of what occurred (for that you’d have to read the article I found online here!), but what I did find out was that the 2012 album Emotional Baggage resulted from the label conflict- Tim’s last album on Curb. “Better Than I Used To Be”, a piano led ballad and probably the only song that charted from the album, is lyrically slightly cliché, yet is nonetheless earnest and passionate, with Tim relaying that everyday he’s a work in progress, and that ‘…I’m cleaning up my act little by little, I’m getting there, I can finally stand the man in the mirror I see, I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be…’, an admission of not being up to the standards of those who love him, but also admitting that very day he’s being the best version of himself that he can be. These days, a song that speaks about our faults and our struggles, with actual wrestling and minimal resolution, is pretty hard to come by; so kudos to Tim for this diamond in the rough. “Only Human” is another inspirational and powerful anthem on Emotional Traffic, and as Tim sings with R&B and soul singer Ne-Yo about our own fragility and our own humanness, we are met with a stirring track that emphatically relays that our struggle to accept our humanity is actually a good thing, once we realise that as humans we can love, forgive, hope and dream. “Touchdown Jesus”, as close as a testimony as we’re going to get from Tim, brings a smile to my face the many times I listen, as the gospel-y worshipful anthem sings about the miracles Jesus undertakes everyday, with Tim singing the refrain ‘touchdown, Jesus!’ as sort of a shout-out to Jesus for all of the good things He’s done. Written By Rhett Akins (Thomas Rhett’s father), this melody is one of the most inspiring of Tim’s career- and I can’t sing this track’s praises enough!
Whenever an artist moves labels, we are met with either a new musical genre or more of the same. Or in some rare cases- a genre expansion for garner new fans, while still being faithful to existing lovers of your music. In the case of Tim McGraw, we are met with an electronic single (“Truck Yeah”) from the Big Machine Label Group debut Two Lanes Of Freedom, that is disappointing and uninspired (and that’s me putting it generously!). I don’t know what it is, but this song didn’t impress nor connect nor resonate at all, and the least I say about this… drivel, the better. Thankfully, this is the last of Tim’s mishaps, as songs like “Friend Of A Friend”, “Book Of John” and the title track make this new chapter of Tim’s all the more brighter and impactful. “Friend Of A Friend” is a piano led slow-tempo melody that essentially speaks about someone not being over their ex, who has found someone new, and reminds us that sometimes we need to let go of past relationships in order to grow and move on, and not stay stagnant; while “Book Of John” has Tim reminiscing about his childhood and all of the nice memories surrounding him and his family reading the book of John in the Bible. The title track of Two Lanes Of Freedom speaks about the freedom both Tim and Faith find when they’re driving their car down the highway- and as fast paced and energetic the song is, the track seems to be a metaphor for life. With Tim highlighting that the road ahead of him and his wife at first glance seems to be a literal road, in actuality the road is a symbol for the upcoming years ahead of them as a couple- and that’s such a beautiful journey for both of them to go on together. The tear-jerker “Number 37405” speaks about the consequences that we all need to pay for our actions, as the persona in this song is someone who is in jail for manslaughter, who gets out of jail later on in life to find out that everyone has moved on; while the fun and poppy “Mexicoma” speaks about how to deal with a break-up, albeit not that effectively (as in travel to Mexico and drink yourself to feeling numb!). Two Lanes Of Freedom overall didn’t receive much buzz nor success, but I reckon it’s one of Tim’s most inspiring, despite “Truck Yeah”.
“Keep On Truckin’”, a happy-go-lucky pick me up melody about keeping on keeping on, and running the race that God has prepared for us, is as cliché as country/pop songs get (although it is super catchy!); while the underrated “Words Are Medicine” is a slow-tempo country ballad that essentially speaks about the power of words, that ‘…sticks and stones can break you, but words are medicine, words are medicine, when you’re black and blue, you’re broken and bruised, just hear my voice again…’. Similarly, the eloquently sung, powerful and compelling piano ballad “Humble And Kind”, from 2015’s Damn Country Music, is another ballad with poise, grace and intensity, as Tim passionately cries out that we all need to be grounded and brought back down to earth, and that ‘…when the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you, when the work you put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind…’. “What You’re Lookin’ For”, a radio friendly ballad, wishes the persona’s ex well, as we hear a message of love and hope, and a genuine somewhat prophetic word of knowledge of hoping that they find what they’re looking for (and this song should spur us on to chase our dreams and try our very best in whatever we do!); while “Top Of the World” speaks about Tim’s contentment and satisfaction with Faith by his side, and that he personally feels on top of the world with her. That feeling of contentment is a feeling we all should strive for- so how about we become the kind of people we would like to be friends with? Let’s work within ourselves first and then outward, alright? “How I’ll Always Be” is a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ kind of song, as Tim reminds us all that this is who he is; while the title track of the 2015 album speaks about the fact that it’s the fault of the genre of country music that is to ‘blame’ for where Tim is today. It’s a playful jab to Tim’s roots… and though the song is serious, it’s playful and celebratory at the same time. Does that make sense? I hope it does!
Ever since… probably the dawn of time, fans have been clamouring for a duet album between Tim and Faith. In 2017, that dream that everyone was holding onto became a reality as Tim and Faith released The Rest Of Our Life. And though it’s not that different to anything Tim McGraw had been doing previously, for Faith the album was a nice surprise, as she’d been away from the spotlight for 12 years. The album was unfortunately only moderately successful, and spawned 2 singles in the title track and “Speak to a Girl”. As we see the couple passionately declare love and affection for one another as they long to spend life with each other by their side in the title track; “Speak to a Girl” is a timely reminder of how we should treat women, and that often how we treat our mothers and sisters, is ultimately how we’re going to treat our wives one day. It’s a warning, as well as a song that brings comfort, and is another reminder how well Tim and Faith sound together. Though this album isn’t my go-to in terms of favourite Tim McGraw album, it’s still solid nonetheless, and reminds us of the power of love and the devotion Tim has for his wife- and that trait is admirable and commendable no matter how you slice it. For this reason alone, listening to The Rest Of Our Life is a must.
Country albums may not be your cup of tea, but there’s a sincerity and calmness and authenticity to Tim McGraw’s voice that makes 2020’s Here On Earth completely relatable. For me last year, was the year when I ventured the most outside of my comfort zone in terms of music that I listen to. I’ve mentioned this in many blogs previously… but let me say it here again. That because of the downtime I experienced last year, I’m now more open to God speaking through other types of music than I would normally listen to. In actual fact, Here On Earth was the first Tim McGraw album I had heard from start to finish from him. It’s ironic, given the strength of his previous albums; but this one will always have a place in my heart. Electric guitar led light ballad “I Called Mama” is the lead single, and immediately dives deep into the heavy issues, as Tim relays to us that importance of grabbing onto life’s key moments as they happen, and before they’re gone. With Tim highlighting that death is always lurking and that anything can happen when you least expect it, the allegory of calling ‘mama’ translates to communicating with your loved ones that you love them and that you appreciate them. Is there a time when you can be too intense and sappy and too needy? Perhaps… but what this year has taught us is that it’s never too late to tell someone you love them and that you appreciate them for being their true and authentic selves.
Summery and breezy album opener “L.A.” speaks about Tim’s love for L.A. because of the presence of his wife, reminding us all that our love for people should be placed above our fondness for any particular place (because we only love places because of the people in them right?); while the laid back mid-tempo ballad “Chevy Spaceship” tries to describe a marriage as flying around the solar system, the galaxy and the universe in… a Chevy Spaceship! It’s a weird song, but still brings a smile to my face, as Tim brilliantly relays that a marriage, like a space journey, has ups, downs and bumps along the way, but still is enjoyable and satisfying if we stick to the course and take the good with the bad. The title track, the existential and reflective “Here On Earth”, thematically is like “Life Changes” from Thomas Rhett, and forms the backbone of the album lyrically; with Tim concluding that our quest for meaning and purpose would never stop, but would rather be made more clearer with every passing day and every important milestone added (like being married, having kids). The quirky, fun and energetic rocker “Sheryl Crow”, is where Tim compares his everlasting love with wife Faith to his love for a Sheryl Crow album (which I presume is Tim’s favourite artist aside from his wife?); while the melancholy and somewhat depressing piano led “Not From California”, delves into Tim being in a different stage of life to his friends or his family, and him lamenting their disconnect and inability to have anything in common. It’s a sad track, but a fact that occurs when people lose common interests, and relationships (either romantic or platonic) are fractured because of circumstances beyond our control. That doesn’t invalidate the relationship… it just makes things all the more bittersweet then dwelling upon it, as we decide whether to try to be close as before or to leave that relationship in the past.
Tim also laments in “7500 OBO” about a truck he needs to sell for $7500 or best offer, because of the truck reminding him of an ex he’s still not over as Tim lets us know that holding onto pieces of the past and sentimental objects can be good for us, but at times can be extremely unhealthy. Mid-tempo guitar led ballad “If I Was A Cowboy” reminds us that breakups are easier if we are a lone-wolf or hermit type of person (which is literally impossible, as relationships form the basis of living and being completely content and satisfied); while the existential and appreciative “Gravy” has Tim thanking God for the bare essentials in life (wife, kids, food, shelter, bed, electricity, water, cable TV), and then declaring that ‘…everything else is gravy…’. While the super-long track list of Here On Earth prevents me from really getting into these songs, despite my sentimentality; “War Of Art” is a song that is a must listen. Musically similar to the preceding 14 tracks before it (light acoustic guitar ballads), lyrically, this track is as deep as you get, as Tim relays that staying true to your art is difficult in a world of businesses and profits and corporate people trying to get you to say whatever they want you to say. It’s a fine line for artists like Tim to be true to himself as well as sell albums aplenty- and “War Of Art” beautifully encapsulates this dichotomy and this walking the proverbial tightrope quite well.
Apart from his hit songs and everything else that Tim has going on in his life outside of music (the acting, the Swampstock event and his piloting in his spare time; there are other songs that Tim has recorded that are either standalone singles or collaborations- that remind us just how far reaching, respected and sought-after Tim McGraw the person actually is, even now. “When The Stars Go Blue” a song I originally heard on a One Tree Hill episode, was covered by Tim on his greatest hits album in 2006, while “My Little Girl”, also from Tim’s greatest hits album in 2006, is one of the songs inspired by the movie Flicka released in the same year. “Felt Good On My Lips”, from his 2010 album called Number One Hits, is an energetic, joyous, poppy, upbeat track, and speaks about instant happiness and how it doesn’t compare to the unending and everlasting love that we’re all trying to find. Yet Tim also recounts that this kind of love is also needed somewhat so that we can realise that instant happiness is real and true and authentic sometimes. “Me And Tennessee” (from Country Strong), “May We All” (with Florida Georgia Line), “Let’s Make Love” (with Faith Hill), “Bring On The Rain” (with JoDee Messina) and “Forever Country” are a number of other hits and collaborations that remind us of Tim’s longevity and versatility as a singer; while he has also been slated to appear in the soundtrack for the Ice Road this year for “Drive”. Tim also covered Trisha Yearwood’s “It Wasn’t His Child” which is an original Christmas song sung from the perspective of Joseph and how he must’ve felt with Mary carrying Jesus (which wasn’t his own child!); as well as sung with Faith Hill in “Keep Your Eyes On Me” from the movie The Shack. He also recently sung the song “Undivided” with Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line- “Undivided” is pivotal for our time. As Tyler and Tim sing together in perfect harmony, and with intense passion and zeal; let’s take a read of the chorus below- I mean, it’s simple enough… but oh, so needed, don’t you think?
I think it’s time to come together
You and I can make a change
Maybe we can make a difference
Make the world a better place
Look around and love somebody
We’ve been hateful long enough
Let the Good Lord reunite us
‘Til this country that we love’s
Yet for me the songs that epitomise the heart and soul of Tim McGraw are “Live Like You Were Dying” and “Highway Don’t Care”. “Live Like You Were Dying”, from the 2004 album of the same name, is a call to action and a warning of sorts, as Tim imparts to us wisdom that he learnt from his father’s cancer in 2003. With Tim growing up not knowing his birth father until he was 18, the diagnosis of Tug’s cancer was a shock to Tim, yet Tug did impart wisdom to Tim as to how to live life- which became the inspiration of the chorus to this song. And as Tim relays in the chorus that his dad went …sky divin’, I went Rocky Mountain climbin’, I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, and I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying’; and he said ‘someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin’’…’, we are met with a poignant, emotional and heartfelt melody about living your best life, with no regrets, and not waiting until the moment has passed you by. Whereas “Highway Don’t Care” is as close to song perfection as you are going to get. With Tim and Taylor Swift brilliantly combining to create an anthem for the ages, the song is best understood and experienced through the picturesque music video, whereby a disagreement in a relationship brings a young woman out onto the open road, driving really fast to clear her head. I won’t say what happens in the video (but I’m sure you’ve all seen it already), but in essence the song speaks about how people still care about each other even when they are fighting, and even when one person doesn’t believe it. They may think that the ‘highway’ cares, but the reality is that ‘…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…’. It is these two songs alone that make Tim McGraw influential- and if you haven’t heard of Tim McGraw before… I’d say listen to these songs first before any other. You’ll be a fan in no time!
I think over the last year and a half, it’s been just personal contact with people has been a big deal. It’s so easy to start seeing people as two dimensional when all you do is you see them on FaceTime or on the news … you talk to people online and all of a sudden, everybody becomes two dimensional.
It’s so easy to not see the soul in people. And I think that that’s what we miss more than anything, is that human contact, that togetherness. Spending time together in groups and crowds of people that are different and finding each other’s souls. That’s the biggest thing that we’re missing!
I do think that it’s a big problem if that’s all you do, that’s where you’re stuck at and that’s the world that you live in. Fortunately, for me, I don’t really know how to do any of those things, so I don’t get caught up in it too much [laughs].
But I do think that it creates a false world, and anytime you create a false world you start discounting people. And when you start discounting people, then all of a sudden we’re headed down a wrong path.
So, I think there are some great things that social media has provided and there’s some great opportunities and connectivity that social media has provided, but I do think if you live on it and get lost in it, it can take you down some paths that are sometimes irrevocable.
Anyone who has children has to be optimistic because you want to be optimistic for your kid’s future. I refuse not to be optimistic. I refuse not to believe that the world is going to get better. And I refuse not to believe that our better angels are going to conquer our demons. It is a matter of us making that conscious decision that that’s the path we’re going to go down.
Did I just write about standout songs from Tim McGraw? Did I go overboard just like Jon? Can you guys cut me some slack as it’s my first blog from Jon’s list of 100 influential artists? The beauty of listening to the discography of a guy like Tim McGraw, is that his songs grow on you extremely. And pretty soon you’ll find yourself humming along and tapping your feet. For all that Tim McGraw has done in the music industry- he is a treasure that I’m sure you’ll find to resonate with you in some way or form. These days kids and teenagers like listening to the latest pop music like Lil Nas X, Zara Larsson, Dua Lipa, Shawn Mendes, Harry Styles or Olivia Rodrigo. I guarantee it- they’ll love Tim McGraw too if given the chance. So what are you all waiting for? Dive into Tim’s music- his voice soothes and stirs the soul, and his lyrics cut deep too. And now, let me ask this- does Tim McGraw make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of all Time’ list? Is there any song (other than “Highway Don’t Care”, “Live Like You Were Dying”, “Keep Your Eyes On Me”, “Let It Go”, “It’s Your Love”, “I Need You”, “Better Than I Used To Be” and “I Called Mama”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!