Tim McGraw‘s musical canon is filled with automotive imagery.
Beyond the album titles Two Lanes of Freedom and Emotional Traffic, his singles have included “Truck Yeah,” “Red Ragtop,” “Highway Don’t Care” and “Shotgun Rider” — each of them an obvious vehicle for a car-related storyline. Additionally, “Where the Green Grass Grows” opens in a rush-hour commute, and even 2020’s “I Called Mama” found the protagonist parked by the river.
“I like cars, but I think it’s more of a coincidence than anything,” says McGraw. “I have a couple of cool cars, but the car I drive the most is a 15-year-old Cadillac Escalade that’s got 120,000 miles on it. I can’t get rid of it because it’s the car that I hauled my kids around in all the time. For years, I would clean that car up and find French fries from McDonald’s Happy Meals in it. When the transmission went out on it a couple of years ago, it almost broke my heart because it was like part of the family. So that’s the car that I drive the most.”
McGraw’s latest single — “7500 OBO,” which Big Machine released to country radio via PlayMPE on July 19 — adds to his catalog of behind-the-wheel themes. The actual title is a hair confusing by itself, though the opening lines — “Got an ’06 stick shift/Dark blue F-150 in good condition” — gives it away. The F-150 is the subject of a Craigslist ad, an attempt by the owner to divest himself of an inanimate object he associates with the painful loss of a loved one. It’s a theme that has played out repeatedly in country songs, including George Jones‘ “The Grand Tour,” Charley Pride‘s “Where Do I Put Her Memory,” Dylan Scott‘s just-released “New Truck” and Robyn Ottolini‘s current “F-150.”
The Ottolini title is the same one that songwriter Nathan Spicer (“To a T,” “Every Other Memory”) suggested when he initiated McGraw’s song with fellow writers Jenn Schott (“Better Than You Left Me”) and Matt McGinn (“Heaven,” “What Ifs”) on Oct. 1, 2018. Spicer had a track mapped out that his co-writers liked, but the “F-150” title got rerouted a bit.
“Matt was turning his wheels on how to make that work,” says Spicer. “The idea of it all being like a Craigslist ad was where Matt landed on how to make my idea cool.”
The opening verse adhered to that idea, playing up the vehicle’s leather seats, sunroof and smooth ride, waiting until the stanza’s final few words to introduce the girl. At that point, the song shifted from a fairly linear melody into a brighter, higher chorus.
“Matt was kind of steering that,” recalls Schott. “When we got to the line ‘Shotgun ridin’ down a two-lane road/Drivin’ around with no place to go/Singin’ along to…,’ at first, we just said, ‘The radio.’ We’re like, ‘Man, it would be nice if it was more specific and had a song title in there. What’s a song that has an ‘O’ rhyme?'”
Schott suggested McGraw’s “Where the Green Grass Grows.” Before the chorus was over, they cinched the Craigslist pattern with an “or-best-offer” asking price, “$7,500 OBO.” That number was definitely thought out.
“We landed on $7,500 OBO, but then we were like, ‘Should it be $8,500?’ ” says Schott. “I mean, we crunched them, trying to be accurate as we’re writing this with, ‘How many miles would it have on it with a new transmission?’ — all of these things of what a used classified ad or a Craigslist ad would be like.”
(Oddly enough, with the auto industry facing supply issues, the price of used cars has skyrocketed, and the $7,500 asking price is now $2,000-$4,500 under market value. In that scenario, the protagonist is really trying to unload the truck and its associated memories.)
Verse two was followed by another round of the chorus, an instrumental solo and then an additional piece. But instead of using a typical bridge in that position, they reprised the back half of the first verse, reiterating that moment when the song’s focus first transitioned from the truck to the girl.
“I would call it a pre-peat, if you will; a pre-chorus repeat,” says McGinn. “It needed something else, but there’s already a lot of words in it, and so just inundating a listener with more information felt like too much.”
McGinn sang the demo, produced by Spicer with a fair amount of programmed percussion and a short, steel-sounding riff. When it was nearly done, Spicer gave a listen to “Where the Green Grass Grows,” just to see if it spurred any additional creative ideas.
“I realized that the fiddle part that opens the track is in the same key and like two beats per minutes away,” he says. “So I just threw that fiddle sample into the demo, just to play around and hopefully turn some heads.”
SMACKSongs chief creative officer Robin Palmer hoped it would resonate with McGraw and pitched it to independent A&R executive Missi Gallimore, who funneled it along to McGraw.
“It tells a story,” he says. “It’s just a really good country song. It happens to have a modern cadence and sort of a modern approach to it. But you got the ‘Green Grass Grows’ fiddle in it, and it took me a while to even realize all the references to all the songs in it.”
Beyond “Green Grass,” the phrases “shotgun ridin’,” “two-lane road” and “let it go” all appeared in the chorus lyric, seemingly playing up McGraw titles. Thus, “7500 OBO” employs McGraw references to capture a past love the same way Taylor Swift used “Tim McGraw” to grieve an old romance.
“One of my friends texted me about it the other day and was like, ‘When you say, ‘Tim McGraw,’ I hope you think of me,’ ” says Spicer with a laugh. “That’s so good.”
Once he got used to the idea of referencing his own songs, McGraw cut “7500 OBO” in January 2019, co-producing with Byron Gallimore (Faith Hill, Sugarland) and imbuing the song with a more weighty atmosphere than the demo. They added a grimey guitar intro, a retro synthesizer solo that McGraw compares sonically to A Flock of Seagulls and a Shannon Forrest drum part that nods toward Don Henley‘s “Boys of Summer.” Fiddler Stuart Duncan reprised the “Green Grass” riff.
The song feels, says McGraw, like “your right wrist hanging over the steering wheel and your elbow hanging off the window kind of thing. It comes back to the car.”
The dollar sign in the demo’s title, which typically runs in a used-car ad, disappeared in the Big Machine listing, and label execs aren’t sure why.
“Hopefully, it shows up in our bank accounts in like nine months,” deadpans McGinn.
Meanwhile, “7500 OBO” rises to No. 46 in its second week on the Country Airplay chart dated Aug. 21. A video featuring McGraw’s youngest daughter, Audrey, premiered Aug. 13. But it’s the reaction of middle daughter Maggie‘s boyfriend that helped cinch the song’s emergence as a single.
“Somebody who’s never heard of country music and didn’t know who I was till he started dating my daughter, he’s playing this song on repeat and texted me about it,” says McGraw. “And my daughters like it. I have to pay attention to that.”
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