Tim McGraw began his career as a country radio hitmaker with the lyrical controversy of "Indian Outlaw." Eight years later, another more sober McGraw song is again sparking consternation among some li

Tim McGraw began his career as a country radio hitmaker with the lyrical controversy of "Indian Outlaw." Eight years later, another more sober McGraw song is again sparking consternation among some listeners. The lyric of "Red Rag Top," the first single from McGraw's upcoming Curb album (due Nov. 26), deals with an abortion and its emotional aftermath. While most country radio programmers support the song and say that listener reaction has been positive, others report complaint calls, and a few have pulled the song or refused to play it altogether.

Written by Jason White, "Red Rag Top" begins as a coming-of-age song about the relationship between an 18-year-old woman and the 20-year-old narrator. But in the second verse, the woman is pregnant, and the narrator sings, "Life was fast and the world was cruel/We were young and wild/We decided not to have a child/So we did what we did and we tried to forget/ And we swore up and down there would be no regrets."

In the song's final verse, the couple has long broken up, and the narrator sings, "You do what you do and you pay for your sins/And there's no such thing as what might have been/ That's a waste of time."

WSM-FM (Live 95) Nashville pulled the song after a handful of spins because of listener complaints about the lyrics. Program director Kevin O'Neal, who says he "was just being safe," has since reversed that decision. "I think the song is reality," he adds. "We're not in the censor business."

But WCOS Columbia, S.C., operations manager/PD Ron Brooks says he is "unlikely" to ever play the song again because of a strong negative reaction from his audience. "Abortion is the most divisive issue in our nation, and it is a very hot topic in this part of the country," Brooks explains. "I think it is bad business to play a song that is likely to alienate 40% to 50% of the audience. This is not a 'political correctness' controversy, like 'Indian Outlaw.' It is a true, broad-reaching social and political issue."

Such controversy doesn't appear to have held the record back on Billboard's Top Country Singles & Tracks chart. It debuted at No. 34 a few weeks ago, rising to No. 18 this week.

Curb Records VP of promotion and media strategy Carson James says he has heard very little negative feedback from radio. "It's about three things: pain, loss, and regret," he says of the song. "It's country personified." WYAY (Eagle 106.7) Atlanta PD Steve Mitchell agrees. He fielded a complaint "from a father who was riding in the car with his son [who] asked what they meant about not keeping the child. To anyone who would complain, I would simply say, 'Next time, listen to the whole song.'"

Several PDs, like KMLE Phoenix's Jeff Garrison, note that "country songs have always been about real life. 'Red Rag Top' is another great song about life." That's how McGraw's manager, Scott Siman of rpm management, sees it. "Tim, when he heard the song, recognized that it was a real song about real issues and things people have to deal with," he says. "He views it as truly a slice of life."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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