Song of the Day #3,311: ‘Tim McGraw’ – Taylor Swift vs. Simon & Garfunkel

Closing out the week with the fifth Round Three matchup in Montauk Madness, we have the odd pairing of Taylor Swift vs. Simon & Garfunkel.

Swift defeated a couple of celebrated veterans to get here, dropping David Byrne with 88% of the vote in Round One and Tom Petty with 72% in Round Two. Simon & Garfunkel defeated Rufus Wainwright with 80% in Round One and Prince with 64% in Round Two. That’s an impressive batch of artists left in the wake of these two contenders.

Both acts have released five studio albums, though 40 years apart. Swift, of course, is just getting started while Simon & Garfunkel broke up in 1970 with Simon moving on to an amazing solo career.

Simon makes two appearances in Round Three, both here and in a solo matchup against Lucinda Williams. Given his likelihood of winning that matchup, it’s tempting to go with Swift here just for the sake of variety.

I can’t bring myself to do that, though. While I like Swift quite a bit, she doesn’t measure up to the best work of S&G. ‘Sounds of Silence,’ ‘The Boxer,’ ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ ‘The Only Living Boy in New York,’ ‘America,’ ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ ‘April Come She Will’ … I can’t relegate those songs to the Montauk Madness dustbin just yet.

[Verse 1]
He said the way my blue eyes shined
Put those Georgia stars to shame that night
I said “That’s a lie”

Just a boy in a Chevy truck
That had a tendency of gettin’ stuck
On backroads at night

And I was right there beside him all summer long
And then the time we woke up to find that summer gone

But when you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
The one we danced to all night long
The moon like a spotlight on the lake

When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

[Verse 2]
September saw a month of tears
And thankin’ God that you weren’t here
To see me like that

But in a box beneath my bed
Is a letter that you never read
From three summers back

It’s hard not to find it all a little bitter sweet
And lookin’ back on all of that, it’s nice to believe

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
The one we danced to all night long
The moon like a spotlight on the lake

When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

[Verse 3]
And I’m back for the first time since then
I’m standin’ on your street
And there’s a letter left on your doorstep
And the first thing that you’ll read is:

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think my favorite song
Someday you’ll turn your radio on
I hope it takes you back to that place

When you think happiness
I hope you think that little black dress
Think of my head on your chest
And my old faded blue jeans

When you think Tim McGraw
I hope you think of me

Oh, think of me

He said the way my blue eyes shine
Put those Georgia stars to shame that night
I said: “That’s a lie”

39 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,311: ‘Tim McGraw’ – Taylor Swift vs. Simon & Garfunkel

  1. Madison says:

    C’mon!!!! Paul Simon is advancing, can’t believe you didn’t vote for Taylor Swift in this round. @Dana, if you betray us again I will not be a happy lady.

    • Clay says:

      I’ve loved Simon & Garfinkel since middle school… I can’t set aside 30+ years of fandom just to keep things interesting!

  2. Dana says:

    Lol! No betrayal here, my lady. 😊

    For much the same reason I voted for the Counting Crows over Ben Folds Five, I will vote for Swift over Simon & Garfunkle here. Had Paul Simon included S&G as should have been, Simon would get the my vote here, but as divided from his solo work, this is an easy vote for Swift.

    • Clay says:

      It’s nice that you’re supporting (or fearful of) your daughter. But I don’t believe for a second that, song for song, you would put Taylor Swift’s output ahead of Simon & Garfunkel’s.

      • Dana says:

        Obviously, a number of S&G songs have become classics and a part of the American songbook. However, Taylor has a number of great songs as well that I suspect I will enjoy 20 years from now. In any event, with Simon remaining in the contest, I’m fine with this vote.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    I do think this is a case of classic vs. innovation. I think we have a tendency to put a higher value on something because it’s older and has been critically acclaimed and lauded for longer. It’s entirely possible that a song like “Begin Again” or “All Too Well” is of the same quality as “April Come She Will” or “Mrs. Robinson” (I feel this is the case though I know I will get much flak for that opinion). However, we are unlikely to say something like that because we don’t want to think that some extremely popular, celebrity female artist could release today could be up to par with work from such an iconic duo like Simon and Garfunkel.

    I think Taylor Swift will be remembered in 30-40 years in the same untouchable light as the work of Simon and Garfunkel. I’m going to give her my vote now because I recognize what a fantastic artist she is at this moment and that she shouldn’t have to wait to get the respect she deserves.

    • Clay says:

      I definitely understand and respect your opinion. When you love an artist, it doesn’t matter that they’re too new or in the “wrong” genre or any of those things that make them less worthy when weighed against a bona fide legend.

      I got a lot of grief for voting for Tift Merritt over Frank Sinatra. I understand that knee-jerk response, especially from people who don’t know Merritt’s work. But to my core I believe that Merritt is one of the finest singer-songwriters I’ve ever heard, popularity be damned.

      I don’t think Swift gets enough credit as a songwriter, primarily because of her celebrity and her gender. I also think her output to date has been much too focused on her own relationships and that limits their potential to be future classics. Songs like ‘Sounds of Silence,’ ‘April Come She Will,’ ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ ‘The Boxer,’ etc. are timeless in part because they have universal themes. I don’t think many of Swift’s songs will age as well because of their specificity.

      • Dana says:

        Swift’s songs will certainly age better for everyone but you and the 10 members of the Tift Merritt fan club.:)

      • Maddie says:

        I’m not really sure how the songs you listed have much more universal themes than Swift’s songs. “Never Grow Up,” “22,”Fifteen,” “Back to December,”Mean,”All Too Well,”Innocent,”Tied Together with a Smile,”Clean,” and many others all deal with universal themes. Some of those themes dip into dealing with her own relationships and experience for source material, but I would say the same is absolutely true for S&G.

      • Clay says:

        I think she touches on universal themes in those songs (bullying, breakups, being 22, etc.) but it’s always about Taylor Swift. Maybe part of that is the curse of celebrity, where we know way too much about who she is and who she’s writing about. But she embraces it — bolding letters in her liner notes to spell out the name of the ex the song is about, that sort of thing.

        ’22’ has a sample of cool kids sneering “Who’s Taylor Swift, anyway?” ‘Mean’ directly references critics who claim she can’t sing. These songs are about her life, explicitly so. I don’t think that’s true of any of the S&G songs I mentioned above.

        I think ‘Fifteen’ is probably the best thing Taylor Swift has ever written.. it’s genius. And though it comes from a personal place (like most songs do, by most people, I’m sure) it feels far more universal to me than most songs she’s written since becoming a superstar.

  4. Peter says:

    Being a proud member of the Merritt fan club I am pretty sure that her songs will last much longer than Miss Swifts commercial efforts😎 Simon & Garfunkel, for heaven’s sake😅!

    • The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

      I don’t really understand what you’re saying. Though I do respect and appreciate her no one really knows her music now so I don’t exactly get how you think her music will somehow “last longer” than Taylor Swift’s music which is appreciated on a much larger scale and deservedly so. Also you show me a commercial “effort” from Ms. Swift because I only see commercial successes. 😎

  5. Peter says:

    By the way: recently I watched “Eternal Sunshine…” again. Meet in Montauk – I fell in love with Kate Winslet (again)…

  6. Peter says:

    Ok, I try to explain (a bit difficult for a German with no elegance in his choice of words, I just pick the first one’s that
    I get :-)). Tift is a songwriter, she tells her story, as honest as possible. I listened to an interview recently, she told about how bad she felt when the managers (at “Lost Highway”, highly acclaimed albums, Grammy nomination) told her “great work, great songs, but we need a hit, write a hit”. She felt uncomfortable. “Being expected to write hits makes my stomach hurt”. That’s why I love her work: honesty. Far away from thoughts about commercial success (included of course, but not the gist). Songs like “Good Hearted Man” or “Eastern Light” will last!

  7. Clay says:

    While I believe Merritt’s work is worthy of being celebrated for decades to come, I think it’s hard for a song to last if it doesn’t generate a certain level of success out of the gate, and sadly Merritt’s work might fall short of that level (commercially speaking, though she is critically adored).

  8. Amy says:

    “You’re so Vain” is loved for being a great song, though there is also the fun involved in wondering whether it’s about Warren Beatty. Of course, Carly Simon released the song at a time when there was no fervent Internet to wonder, gossip, criticize, embrace, and all the rest.

    At the same time you observe that Swift likely gets less credit for her songs because she is a woman and a famous one, you engage in the very act of diminishing her work for those reasons. Somehow I can’t recall you ever having been too concerned that a male songwriter (such as John Mayer, perhaps) used his life experiences as his source material, yet you’ve frequently demeaned Swift for that sin.

    This reminds me a bit of a debate my students once had whether Jane Austen could be as good/important a writer as John Steinbeck when she “only” wrote about relationships and he wrote about more consequential topics.

    For all the reasons voiced above by Maddie, Dana and Daniel, Ms. Swift easily earns my vote in this round.

    • Clay says:

      ‘You’re So Vain’ is a great example of a song rooted in personal experience and specific enough to work not just as art but as gossip. If every other song Carly Simon ever wrote was in that same vein, she’d be Taylor Swift. And a less interesting artist.

      John Mayer doesn’t do what Taylor Swift does, and neither do a host of female artists I love. Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann, Lorde, Miranda Lambert, Lucinda Williams, Shakira, Tift Merritt, Lana Del Rey… they all write about relationships, but not in a way that makes me feel like I’m reading Us Weekly.

      It’s not about Swift’s gender. It’s about her inability to write a song that isn’t in first person. She writes them very well, no question. I’ve just grown a bit weary of it. (But I’ll still pre-order her next album in a heartbeat, and included her in this contest because I’m a fan of hers overall)

      • Dana says:

        I think Amy is spot on with her observation about the negative impact of modern-day celebrity jading your opinion of Swift’s music. We are bombarded by 24 hour social media gossip about Swift’s love life, her critics, her feuds with other artists and every other thing she does, well beyond reading Us or Entertainment Weekly, in a way that simply did not exist even 10 years ago, let alone 30 or 40 years ago.

        So, when Swift writes songs about her personal experiences (which is what one is supposed to do anyway…write what you know), it amplifies and echoes what you already know and are, frankly, annoyed with. By contrast, when Simon (either Paul or Carly) wrote about personal experiences (“Hearts and Bones” being a good example), it feels more self-revelatory and “universal.” to you, both because their lives were not so publicly exposed and because you likely weren’t even reading Us Weekly articles about Simon, to the extent they were written at all, when you were first exposed to the music.

        It’s not that S&G’s music is more “universal” as no theme could be more universal than love anyway. And the specificity of Swift’s lyrical references only bother you because you know far more about her experiences before ever playing the songs than you did for S&G or even less gossiped-about artists like Tift Merritt, Aimee Mann, Lucinda Williams, etc.. Now, admittedly, S&G’s music is “classic” in a way that Swift’s music cannot now be, and perhaps that is a more apt description than “universal.”

        And while you may not be willing to acknowledge it, I do think the fact that Swift is a woman –not just a woman, but a celebrity woman- plays a subconscious role in your criticism. Eminem comes to mind as the closest male analogy–someone who received tremendous coverage about his personal life, relationships, drug use, rap feuds, etc…and infused almost every one of his songs with specific biographical content that echoed and amplified what you already knew. Yet, for Eminem, you not only don’t knock him for this–he is praised for being so raw and revealing.

        It is easy to reflexively and defensively dismiss the notion of subconscious bias, but I think it exists to a greater or lesser extent in all of us–and I think Amy is right in raising this possibility here.

      • Clay says:

        I’d be more willing to concede some of those points if you would simply admit that Swift does this self-referential thing more than most artists. That’s just a fact. There’s no comparison to any of the other artists we’ve discussed.

        Yes, Eminem is an exception. I think rap as a genre is more prone to this sort of thing, and maybe that’s part of why I’m not a huge rap fan.

        • Dana says:

          I really don’t know if Swift is more self-referential than other artists. I think we are certainly more acutely aware of this because of the overwhelming media spotlight placed on her. To the extent, however, that your observation may be accurate, I think it is important to consider Swift’s age when she began recording (and even now) and the era in which she lives. Paul Simon’s early work was far more personal, and this is true of other great artists such as McCartney/Lennon to Springsteen, than their later work, although they also wrote about social issues, war, civil rights, etc. which were far more at the forefront in the 60’s/70’s than Swift’s era of the 2000’s/2010’s.

          As for Eminem–you can’t avoid the comparison by saying that this is why you don’t generally like rap. Eminem is, for you, a huge exception to your general disfavor of rap, which is why he too appeared in this contest. And, song for song, I think Eminem gives Swift a run for her money on the self-referential specificity front.

      • Clay says:

        Then you haven’t paid enough attention to Swift’s lyrics vs. any of these other artists. Writing about herself is her thing.

        Yes, it’s Eminem’s, too. And I wouldn’t rank him above Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Aimee Mann, etc., etc. as a songwriter or somebody whose music is more universal than self-referential.

        • Dana says:

          But you don’t criticize Eminem for being self-referential and, arguably, you see this as a positive rather than a negative. I don’t think you like Paul Simon, Tom Petty or Aimee Mann more than Eminem because their songs are more “universal” or less self-referential. I just think you like their songs (and possibly their genres) more, period.

      • Clay says:

        Yeah, I think you’re right.

        This whole discussion started because I said I think Swift’s songs won’t age as well or (in most cases) become classics because of their self-referential nature. Different discussion than whether I like her music better or worse because of it.

        I like her a lot. In fact, I was higher on 1989 than any of you except Maddie, I think. I just feel like her subject matter is limited and I’d like to see her broaden it. I’ve been saying that for seven years now and I’m still waiting.

        • Dana says:

          I don’t think the measure of a classic is whether or not it is self-referential. Piano Man, Norwegian Wood, Fire and Rain, Your Song, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow…and I can go on and on…are all self-referential and all classics.

          Obviously, you have developed a pet-peeve about Swift being too self-referential, but I really haven’t heard you level that criticism against any other artist. Amy and my point was to simply suggest that it may be because of her intense celebrity and gender.

      • Clay says:

        None of those songs are self-referential in the way I’m talking about, but fine, I give up.

        I agree (and said as much in a comment yesterday) that the curse of Swift’s celebrity is that we DO know every little detail behind many of her songs, whether she likes it or not. I also suggested that she invites that scrutiny by adding hints to her liner notes, referencing specific events and people, etc. I guess that makes sense — she’s an artist who grew up in the social media age, where we all feel the need to Instagram our meals before eating them.

        The gender thing, I just find insulting. Recently I praised Lorde (in contrast to Swift) for writing personal songs in a way that feels universal, and I’m pretty sure she has ovaries. I love me some Carly Rae Jepsen, too, and I consider her a (considerably less famous) contemporary of Swift’s. It ain’t a boy/girl thing.

        • Dana says:

          As I said, all of the other woman artists you named do not have nearly the celebrity spotlight as Swift, so this is not about you liking other woman artists more or finding their songs more “universal.” Our thesis is that you are bothered and criticize Swift for being too specific and self-referential in a way that does not similarly bother you with similarly popular/gossip fodder male artist such as Eminem. Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows is another example of a very self-referential artist who had been the subject of tabloids for his dating and who not so subtly name checked and wrote about his famous celebrity dates, but I haven’t heard you criticize The Crows for that or wish that their next album is more universal.

          For you:
          Celebrity and self-referential + ovaries = criticism
          Celebrity and self-referential + testacles = silence or praise

          One great album + vagina. = exclusion from your contest
          One great album + penis = inclusion in your contest

      • Clay says:

        I’ve criticized Duritz plenty for being self-absorbed and whiny. And (in keeping with tradition) I usually get push-back from you guys!

        I think before you reduce me to some formula, you should come up with other examples of celebrity women I hold in contempt for being self-referential.

        Eminem is an interesting case because, yes, rapping about himself is his schtick. I think it doesn’t bother me because he’s usually exorcising some inner demon, like his relationship with his mother or his drug addiction, or he’s getting political, exploring the double standard of politicians who paint him as a corrupting influence while doing real damage to the country. That kind of thing.

        I am far less interested when he raps about his love life. I’ve said many times that those are my least favorite songs of his.

        And for the last time, I own more than one Van Morrison album!!

  9. Peter says:

    It’s an interesting debate. I think it is irrelevant if someone writes about personal relationships or global politics. Commercial success is also meaningless. The subject says nothing about artistic value. For example: Paul Cézanne painted apples. So what, just apples? But HOW did he paint them! Same with lyrics. “You’re so Vain” is fantastic and I am really jealous that a friend met Carly last year. Katherine Mansfield comes to my mind – I must read her short stories again! Music blog – Tift advocacy – literature, I like that 😉

    • Clay says:

      I agree, Peter. In fact, I’m usually turned off by songs about global politics, especially if they are very specific. I have a pet peeve against any song that name-drops Margaret Thatcher. 🙂

  10. Clay says:

    I found my review of Swift’s 2010 album Speak Now, which is interesting in the context of this thread’s debate.

    I was intrigued by her use of autobiography in that song cycle, but ended the review looking forward to her branching out into new territory. I’d argue that she has done so musically but not lyrically.

  11. Peter says:

    Maggie? You don’t like her? Are you English, not American? What do I tell my Irish friends? Jaysus, today I got a mail concerning the climb of Croagh Patrick – I’ve been there two years ago!
    Do you know the Sleaford Mods? They are great!

  12. Dana says:

    Self-absorbed and whiny is a different criticism than self-reverential and non-universal.

    As for other celebrity women, there is arguably no other female artist.over the past 10 years with as bright a spotlight on her and who reflects that spotlight in her music than Swift. I suppose Katy Perry and Beyoncé come closest, though neither is as consistently self-referential as Swift and Eminem.

    So, I guess Swift needs to have a fallout with her mother and become a heroin addict for you to stop criticizing her for being self-referential?

    And seeking out and owning more than one Van Morrison album, while not seeking out more than one Carol King or Bonnie Raitt album, is more of an indication of unconscious gender bias than a defense to it.

    • Clay says:

      Says the man who owns only one Carole King album…

    • Amy says:

      I’d say it’s an indication of what Clay likes more, which brings us back to this contest. Clearly, the person who has delved into so many women artists is not avoiding another album by Carole King because she is a woman. Why we have a tendency to gravitate towards the artists and works we like best is sometimes a mystery even to ourselves. It’s when Clay tries to come up with a logical explanation for why he prefers one artist over another that he invites these endless debates. So next time I’d suggest he just confesses that he likes what he likes just because…

  13. Peg says:

    Boy 38 responses to this choice; is that a record? Anyway just the other night we asked Alexa to play us Bridge over Troubled Water and the Boxer; I can’t imagine not voting for Simon and Garfunkel; I suppose a lot has to do with past history and listening to them through the decades; but now in our 70’s we still thrill to their sound. A good reason to vote for them I think.

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