By the standards of rock and hip-hop, "Red Ragtop" is tame, but several radio stations in the country banned the song at first. Many fielded negative calls and e-mails from listeners.
Now there are just a few holdouts: Of the 147 country stations reporting to Radio & Records magazine, only seven are not playing the song, according to Nashville bureau chief Lon Helton.
Helton says several of the stations that weren't playing the song were from heavily Roman Catholic areas of Louisiana. "But people who heard the whole song took it in context," he adds.
The controversy certainly isn't hurting McGraw: "Red Ragtop" is from the album Tim McGraw & the Dancehall Doctors, which sold more than 600,000 copies its first week and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart. And after a month, it's still in sixth place.
Several country-music experts say the song is about real life, which is what country is supposed to be all about. "The song reminds people of their lives, and that's what country is supposed to do," says Dave Kelly of Nashville's WKDF-FM. "We've had some negative calls, but only two or three have ended with the caller saying, 'I don't care who he is, I'm not listening to it.' You wouldn't believe the amount of calls saying, 'That's my life; it reminds me of my ex-boyfriend.' Or their ex-girlfriend. People really relate to different aspects of the song."
Helton also notes that "Red Ragtop" follows a pattern in country: initial resistance to a song about a hot-button topic, followed by acceptance. He points to such songs as Loretta Lynn's "The Pill" and the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl," which were pulled by some stations, only to later be considered classic songs by those artists. "Those songs are by superstars," he says, "which makes a huge difference in content acceptability. Being a superstar overcomes the controversy."