Tim McGraw's "Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools" lyrics have returned the country superstar to the kind of story song that he does best.

The 47-year-old singer has wandered around stylistically quite a bit in his career, most recently keeping pace with the changes in the contemporary radio marketplace with singles like "Southern Girl" and "Lookin' for That Girl." But with "Meanwhile Back at Mama's," he came home to simple, honest-to-goodness song-based country, and "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools' continues in that vein, conveying a classic country tale of star-crossed love with a few simple chords and an uncluttered, evocative melody.

It almost didn't happen that way. Songwriter Barry Dean tells Taste of Country that when he got together with Luke Laird and Jonathan Singleton for a co-writing session, they spent the entire morning working on another, more commercial song.

"We're all friends, and I write with both of those guys, but we'd never written the three of us together," he says of penning McGraw's "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools" lyrics. "We worked on another song until about 3:20 in the afternoon. So we had spent most of our day working on this other song. We had a verse and we had a chorus, and it was what I would call a straight down the middle song; a modern country song. Very little western in the country, whole lot of ... it was real flashy. Just like you'd imagine."

As the day went along, work on the song ground to a halt.

"You could tell we kinda all lost what we were doing," Dean says. "I think if you're a real songwriter, if you believe in it on some level, if you don't have some connection to a song, eventually you'll just stop writing. The writer part of you will just stop working, and you'll just go, 'I don't know what do to in the second verse. I don't know what to do in the bridge.' It's not writer's block, it's just truth serum."

Laird and Dean fell back on jamming out some different musical ideas for fun, just to lighten the mood. "Luke just starts playing guitar, and he goes, 'Diamond rings and old barstools ...,'" Dean recalls. "It was not a title he had written down, it was something that was just floating in the air."

The trio quickly switched gears and dove into the new idea, which rapidly developed into a song. They hit upon the device of using things that don't mix as a metaphor for a relationship that just isn't meant to work out.

It just happened ... it was like we had been wanting to write it forever.

The "Diamond Rings and Old Barstools" lyrics deliver on that idea: "It ain't like midnight and cigarette smoke / It ain't like watered down whiskey and coke / I guess some things just don't mix like you hoped / Like me and you / And diamond rings and old barstools."

"We had the first verse and the chorus in about 10 minutes," Dean says. "By then, Jon was just locked in — he kinda had that second verse in his heart. It just happened. It was like it just wanted to happen, just that moment. It was like we had been wanting to write it forever. Within 40 minutes, we had written it and done the work tape."

They tried at various points to commercialize the song by adding a modern bridge and some other sections, but soon realized that it just didn't lend itself to that approach. After they finished the song, the writers actually went back to work on their first idea, which they felt was more likely to get cut in the current Nashville environment. But the standout from the session turned out to be "Diamonds Rings and Old Barstools," which Dean says is all about pure songcraft.

"That song is not built like a fireworks show or a rock concert," he points out. "It's built like a country song. I don't know if it's an easy song for someone to hear and say, 'Yes, that's what I want to do and that's what I want to put on the radio,' which says a lot about Tim McGraw to me — that he can hear it and love it and do something with it. It may be one of his greatest gifts; overall, his song selection is just unreal. And to be a part of that in any way, honestly, it's a big deal as a writer."

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