“Instantly, I knew,” he said. “And I knew exactly who I wanted on it.”
He talked about the song during a recent interview with Cody Alan , host of CMT Radio Live With Cody Alan and CMT After MidNite With Cody Alan.
McGraw’s instincts were obviously on target. The song, which features Taylor Swift on vocals and Keith Urban on guitar, is nominated for a Grammy for best country duo/group performance. The track is featured on his most recent album, Two Lanes of Freedom, which also received a Grammy nomination for best country album.
In that highly coveted category with McGraw’s song is Little Big Town’s “Your Side of the Bed,” The Civil Wars’ “From This Valley,” Kelly Clarkson and Vince Gill’s “Don’t Rush” and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
So when McGraw first hears a demo of a song, it sounds like he always has an immediate reaction.
“If I don’t like a song, it usually gets turned off pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s rare that I’ll go back and listen to something once or twice to see if I like it or not, so I usually know right away if I’m gonna like a song.”
However, there can be a difference between a great song and a hit single.
“You don’t always know that they’re gonna be a big hit or not,” he said. “Some of them stand out. When I first heard the demo on (“Live Like You Were Dying” ), I knew it was a big hit record. You just know if you like stuff. And stuff’s gotta move you viscerally. You gotta feel it. If it doesn’t move you at the beginning, how are you gonna move anybody at the end of it?”
McGraw’s visceral reaction to a song’s first few seconds is also what keeps him from recording some of his original material.
“Every time I hear myself sing a song that I wrote, I don’t want to record it,” he joked. “Nobody else would record it if they heard me.”