In order to attain creative ownership of her back catalog, Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six albums: 2006’s Taylor Swift, 2008’s Fearless, 2010’s Speak Now, 2012’s Red, 2014’s 1989, and 2017’s Reputation. Fearless was the debut installment in the “Taylor’s Version” series, followed by Red. We’ve already ranked the 50 best Swift songs; now we’re doing the same for every “From the Vault” song. “From the Vault” is Swift’s designation for previously unreleased songs. That means the re-recorded tracks and songs we’ve heard before, like “The Other Side of the Door” on Fearless and “Ronan” on Red, are not eligible. We’ll update every time there’s a new Taylor’s Version album.
With the fine print out of the way, it’s time to put on your scarf and read on.
15. “Run” (w/ Ed Sheeran)
I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of “All Too Well: The Short Film” at a movie theater in New York City last week. We cheered, we cried, we booed J*ke. But before the film debuted, a playlist of the same seven or eight Taylor songs played on a loop. I like “22” as much as the next happy, free, confused, and lonely guy, but not a half-dozen times in 90 minutes. Still, much of the crowd, myself included, found ourselves singing along to “State Of Grace” and “Holy Ground” even though we heard them 20 minutes ago (and 20 minutes before that), because those are great songs. The only song that didn’t get a pop from the 400-strong crowd every time was “Run.” It was met with indifference. Among Red songs with Ed Sheeran, stick with “Everything Has Changed.”
“Babe” is one of the final country songs that Swift wrote before transitioning to full-blown pop (and her only songwriting credit with Train lead singer Patrick Monahan), but she declined to include it on Red. Instead, she offered her “promises, promises” to country duo Sugarland, who turned it into a Billboard-charting hit with Swift on guest vocals. She’s the lead vocalist on the “Babe” that’s included on Red (Taylor’s Version), though, and while there’s some fun new flourishes in the production, like the trumpets, it’s not different enough from Sugarland’s version to really stand out.
13. “That’s When” (w/ Keith Urban)
I have a confession to make: many of Taylor’s colloborations with other featured artists don’t do it for me. Please respect my privacy in this time, but “Breathe” ft. Colbie Caillat, “Everything Has Changed” ft. Ed Sheeran, “Bad Blood” ft. Kendrick Lamar, “End Game” ft. Sheeran and Future, and “Me!” ft. Brendon Urie rank among the least impressive songs in Swift’s prolific catalogue. She course-corrected on Folklore (Bon Iver) and Evermore (Haim, the National, more Bon Iver), but “That’s When,” an endearing throwback that Swift sings with country music legend Keith Urban (she opened for him during the Fearless era), is no “Coney Island.” It’s also not as bad as “End Game.” It’s a fine song that fails to leave much of an impression.
12. “The Very First Night”
From here on out, every “From the Vault” track is all killer, no filler, beginning with the starry-eyed anthem “The Very First Night.” You can practically picture Swift smiling in the recording studio while singing, “I wish I could fly / I’d pick you up and we’d go back in time / I’d write this in the sky / I miss you like it was the very first night.” “The Very First Night” was written for Red, but it has the youthful, dancing-around-your-childhood-bedroom exuberance of Speak Now.
11. “You All Over Me” (w/ Maren Morris)
“You All Over Me” is a sweet little song (and a prequel to 1989 closer “Clean”) with maybe the most Taylor Swift chorus ever:
And I lived, and I learned, had you, got burned
Held out, and held on
God knows, too long, and wasted time
Lost tears, swore that I’d get out of here
But no amount of freedom gets you clean
I’ve still got you all over me
Holding onto a relationship for too long? Unable to completely shake the person you once loved? Crying? Couldn’t be every Taylor Swift fan.
10. “We Were Happy”
If you removed the line about “your daddy’s farm,” “We Were Happy” could effortlessly slide onto Folklore and Evermore and no one would notice. Heck, make it the B-side to “Happiness” and call it The “Happy” Songs That Will Break Your Heart collection. The tender ballad about a future that could have been with a former lover highlights Swift’s maturity as a songwriter even when she was still a teenager (look at this demo CD!). “Oh, I hate those voices telling me I’m not in love anymore,” she sings in the bridge. “But they don’t give me choices and that’s what these tears are for.”
9. “Forever Winter”
For someone as meticulous as Taylor Swift, it’s thrilling when it feels like a “mistake” slipped through the cracks. I use that word in quotes because nothing on Red (Taylor’s Version), or any of her albums, is an actual mistake, but listen to the way Swift’s voice cracks during the pleading chorus to “Forever Winter” — she would not have allowed this “mistake” to make the final product 10 years ago. But Swift is now more confident in her vulnerability, and her perfectly imperfect vocals add texture to a wounded song about a partner’s mental health struggles.
8. “I Bet You Think About Me” (w/ Chris Stapleton)
Reputation is Swift’s I Drink Now album, but “I Bet You Think About Me” will go down as one of her best drinking songs. “We wanted to kind of make people laugh with it, and we wanted it to be sort of a drinking song,” she said about her duet with country music star Chris Stapleton. “I think that that’s what it ended up being.” It begins the way all the best drinking songs do: sh*t talking an ex- in the wee small hours of the morning. “3 a.m. and I’m still awake, I’ll bet you’re just fine / Fast asleep in your city that’s better than mine / And the girl in your bed has a fine pedigree / And I’ll bet your friends tell you she’s better than me, huh,” she sings, sounding more sarcastic than hurt. Personally, I can’t think of a better last call drinking partner to kvetch about your old flame with than Stapleton.
7. “Bye Bye Baby”
There’s a theory among Swift fans that “Bye Bye Baby” was left off Fearless because it sounded too much like “Goodbye To You,” the third single from Michelle Branch’s pop-rock classic The Spirit Room. I have no idea whether this is true, but we do know that “Bye Bye Baby” was originally titled “One Thing” (or “The One Thing”), and the lyrics were reworked for Fearless (Taylor’s Version). It takes a bit to get going, but it’s worth it for the build, especially the moment in the final chorus when the music comes to a halt so Taylor can vamp.
6. “Nothing New” (w/ Phoebe Bridgers)
It’s no shock that “Nothing New” is devastatingly lovely. But it is surprising how it sounds like a Phoebe Bridgers song with Taylor Swift, rather than a Taylor Swift song with Phoebe Bridgers. “How long will it be cute / All this crying in my room / Whеn you can’t blame it on my youth / And roll your eyes with affеction?” has a haunting specificity that would fit at home on Bridgers’ remarkable debut album, Stranger In The Alps.
But the song it most closely resembles in terms of subject matter is Red standout “The Lucky One,” which tells the story of a singer who chose “the rose garden over Madison Square” and “got the hell out,” and Swift understanding her decision once she reached the same level of fame. Swift wrote “Nothing New” in 2012 as an anxious critique of a culture that quickly moves on from female “ingénue” to another. But it hits differently in 2021: Swift no longer fears sharing the spotlight. She happily trades verses with Bridgers, one of her “favorite artists in the world.”
5. “Better Man”
Every version of “Better Man” is great. The Little Big Town single that won a Grammy, a CMA Award, and a CMT Music Award is great. The leaked demo is great. The Red (Taylor’s Version) cut is great (and a great choice the next time you’re looking for a song to sing-scream along to during a late-night drive). But my favorite performance of “Better Man” — and one of my favorite Taylor performances, period — comes from Bluebird, a documentary about the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Her voice has rarely sounded as powerful as it does here (it’s even better without a certain someone else in it).
4. “Don’t You”
Of all the “From the Vault” songs so far, “Don’t You” is the one I most wish we could hear what it originally sounded like. In its Taylor’s Version form, it sounds more at home on the synth-heavy 1989 than Fearless’ country-pop. “Sometimes, I really wish that I could hate you / I’ve tried, but that’s just something’ I can’t do,” Swift sings over dreamy synths. It’s a shame “Don’t You” was buried — it has all the makings of a yearning fan favorite. But it’s already a favorite of this fan.
3. “Message In A Bottle”
Red (Taylor’s Version) has only been out for a few days, but I’m ready to make a bold prediction: “Message in a Bottle” will go down as one of Taylor’s best bops. It’s a peppy blast with a hook that will burrow its way in your brain. Unsurprisingly, the ear worm was co-written by Shellback and pop music mastermind Max Martin, the team behind Red singles “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22,” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” as well as much of 1989. It was the first song she worked on with them — and one of their best.
2. “Mr. Perfectly Fine”
One thing that I think about a lot — inarguably too much — is the setlist for Swift’s next tour. The last time she hit the road, it was three years ago for Reputation. Since then, she’s released five albums: the rainbow-colored pop of Lover; the lost-in-the-woods folk of Folklore and Evermore; and re-recordings of Fearless and Red. That’s a lot of albums to tour for at once! Will we ever hear “The Story Of Us” live again? There’s going to be a lot of tough cuts (I’m already bracing myself for the disappointment of not hearing “Cornelia Street”), but one song that better make the final setlist is “Mr. Perfectly Fine.”
It was casually cruel of Taylor to not include “Mr. Perfectly Fine” on Fearless. It’s one of her best songs from any era, with an intoxicating hook and unforgettable kiss-off chorus: “Hello, Mr. Perfectly Fine / How’s your heart after breaking mine?” The way she sings “the best seat, in the best room” with a scoff gets me every time. “Mr. Perfectly Fine” proved that her “From The Vault” songs weren’t left off the original albums because they weren’t good enough; they are more than perfectly fine.
1. “All Too Well (10-Minute Version)”
The first time I listened to “All Too Well (10-Minute Version),” I gasped. It happened during the second verse, which begins familiarly enough with Swift recounting how a certain Oscar-nominated actor’s mom told her stories about when he was on the tee ball team — and then came the swerve. “And you were tossing me the car keys, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ / Key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town.” Gasp.
“All Too Well” is Swift’s best song, so what else could number one be? I already spent hundreds of words describing the power this anthem has over people, and “All Too Well (10-Minute Version)” is nearly as perfect as “All Too Well.” This thing is still a masterpiece, she did not tear it all up. But it evokes a different mood than the original. “All Too Well” is cathartic and dramatic, like Swift is past the worst of the pain. It’s reflective. But on “All Too Well (10-Minute Version),” she’s still in the middle of the hurt and sounds pissed off. “Some actress asking me what happened, you / That’s what happened, you” is a fantastic burn. So is, “And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes, I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age.” Another gasp.
“All Too Well” makes me cry. “All Too Well (10-Minute Version)” makes me [Taylor voice] want to die.