Ranking the Vault Songs from Red (Taylor’s Version)
“Too young to know it gets better. I’ll be summer sun for you forever.”
A man I’m close with used to write for ScreenRant and he was able to write about the best vault tracks from Fearless (Taylor’s Version). That’s why I never ranked the vault tracks here, despite discussing Folklore and Evermore in depth. I wanted to let him do it! But now that he’s free of that website and one of its dysfunctional editors (also why a Lover ranking will be coming soon to this site, as ScreenRant was keen to make that impossible), those rankings are coming here. A much better fit. Where there’s no monetary interest and no faux-precocious editors bearing over every word.
Anyway, I think Red (Taylor’s Version) is a masterpiece and a true showcase of how Taylor Swift is in a groove that comes along very rarely for musicians right now. Her past two years have been truly bonkers and her latest output is just phenomenal. I know recency bias is a thing, but I’m out here like, “Yo, is Red the best album ever made?”
We’ve known how great the album is for nearly a decade now, but I want to spend some time celebrating the vault tracks; they’re stunning works of art. How did these not make the original album? They’re already some of my favorite songs. So far, her re-record project is 14 for 14 on vault tracks. Spotify streams or not, this shows the merits of welcoming back her art from those who’d rather squeeze it.
My girlfriend has described “Run” the best. She says it’s more of an Ed Sheeran song, whereas the other collaboration between Swift and Sheeran, “Everything Has Changed” is a Taylor track. That’s a great way of putting it. I do enjoy “Run,” but something has to be in ninth place. Regardless, whenever I hear “Run” snippets on TikTok, I’m reminded that it’s actually a beautiful tune.
Technically, “Babe” (and another song on this list later, “Better Man”) are not brand new Taylor songs. She wrote the song for the original Red, but later threw a dime to Sugarland. Here it is now, though, in its truest form and it feels like a much more fully-realized song now that it’s Taylor’s all the way through. (Not just backing vocals. Shouts to Maren Morris.) Forget about the 2006 rom-com-esque poppy opening hook, though. The real breakthrough with Taylor’s version of “Babe” is that she fully embraced orchestration, as if potentially enlisting the Peter and the Wolf Trio.
7. “The Very First Night”
At the latest one of those Le Petite Fete events, “The Very First Night” came in clutch as a reminder that the night should be about Red (Taylor’s Version) and not another “Out of the Woods” remix. It’s a cut above a standard Swift pop song and super fun to listen to, but doesn’t quite rise much further above that, in my opinion. I do love the lyric, “I wish I could fly / I’d pick you up and we’d go back in time,” though. Taylor Swift is a master of taking specific memories and finding the ubiquitously relatable elements of them for her songs. Forget about the negative implications of later verses and the bridge: Who wouldn’t want to go back to the very first night? It’s like reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time again. Special and impossible.
6. “I Bet You Think About Me”
One aspect of Taylor’s Avengers: Endgame-esque trip through albums’ past that has delighted many of her fans is that the vault tracks tend to skew country. After all, her first three and a half outings were rooted in those country/Americana genre vibes. This isn’t the main appeal for me (I’m still game for the pop of it all), but I’m totally cool with it when Aaron Dessner re-ups as producer for some of them. I love Taylor and Jack Antonoff together, but Swift and Dessner is just a wholly singular collaboration. They make some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard together. Dessner’s vault contributions just rip. “I Bet You Think About Me” is no exception. Enlisting friend Blake Lively for the direction of the music video (and hopefully-newly-vaccinated Miles Teller for the acting (side-side-bar: Chris Ryan telling Andy Greenwald, “Miles Teller and Aaron Rodgers leading the vaccine-hesitant brigade is truly the death of Grantland,” is really funny)), as well as Chris Stapleton for the backing vocals she’s previously reserved for women (not this time, y’all!), the song is an impassioned, forceful meditation on yet another individualistic feeling that only a song can truly reflect. Anyone who says Swift is getting lackadaisical in her music need only listen to the oft-repeated chorus here. Get off the million dollar couch and dance.
5. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”
We do love a sweaty song title. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” Might as well throw in some “Featuring” or “Dancing Witch Remix” or “Long Pond,” too. Just make it as long and sweaty as possible because the song is anything but. The idea of a ten minute version of an already-five-and-a-half minute song is like wondering what a two-hour version of “The Injury” from The Office would be like. How could it matter? Why mess with something the fans already see as perfect? Yet, the interviews over the years built and built in the minds of Swifties and the notion of all the original, occasionally-improvised verses being added back into “All Too Well,” the fan-favorite anthem and Rolling Stone list-topper, was too tantalizing for anyone to resist. So, Taylor enlisted Antonoff, her most-trusted collaborator — and someone who is also leveling up here — , to help bring it to life and make it function as a song in a way unseen since “American Pie.” Somehow? It all does work. (If this had dropped out of nowhere, it’d be number one easily, but we have heard at least half the song already.) The new verses hit hard (and some harder) with a “Fuck the patriarchy” soundbite by Jake Gyllenhaal, a devastating use of the word, “maim,” and an unforgettable reminder of the age gap that spurred the song’s existence initially. The only thing not contributing to this placement on the list is the Swift-directed, Rina Yang-shot short film that ostensibly casts Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien into the roles of Swift and Gyllenhaal, respectively. It’s a masterful short film with a special memory attached to it, but I’m only focused on the song here. That haunting, ghostly outro alone would be enough to situate the impossibly successful “All Too Well” right here on the list.
4. “Nothing New”
Speaking of special memories: How about “Nothing New”? The first genuinely new song heard when listening to the album in order (“Ronan” doesn’t apply here; that’s its own precious thing) hit splendidly on first listen — and every listen since. Never say that Taylor doesn’t listen, either. After criticism for her featuring of women on songs, she stepped aside for verses/choruses at a time to allow Phoebe Bridgers to shine. Bridgers is an immaculate artist all her own and one of the best working today. That’d be reason enough to feature her prominently, if the song wasn’t also perfect for her soulful, solemn vocal timber. It has thematic overlap with other tracks on the album, but it’s also the more melancholy side of “22,” when compared to the hit single from the album. Plus, Taylor’s contemplating on knowing everything when she was young just never get old. I love this song.
3. “Better Man”
Swift received a solo writing credit for the original “Better Man,” back when she dished it to Little Big Town and before she considered pseudonyms like Nils Sjöberg. The track ended up netting everyone involved a Grammy, but no one knew the true potential of the song until this version, which comes from the Swift-Dessner brain trust. And it’s incredible. I’m so glad Nathan Hubbard has welcomed us all to “Better Man” Island because it helps me understand what sort of country music I actually enjoy listenng to: Dessner’s version of the genre. In a way, it’s hard to put this above some of the new, new songs, simply because we have familiarity with it. But I won’t deny how fun it is to sing along to and how excited I become when I hear the opening chords. “Better Man” is too grand of a song to be displaced by age.
2. “Message in a Bottle”
After sitting with the vault tracks for a weekend, I thought that “Message in a Bottle” was the one. All those “Willow” remixes with Elvira were worth it because it meant that we had the two collaborating on what was the Red equivalent of Fearless’ “Mr. Perfectly Fine”: an absolute, rip-roaring jam banger pop smash hit to dance to forever and ever. And while “Message in a Bottle” certainly meets that criteria, there is just one vault track that hits soaring heights of beauty for me. Enough about that, though! Please, do yourself a favor and pop “Message in a Bottle” on whenever you need to get the mood going or you need the energy back in a hang. Just don’t listen to the lyrics. Those are sad. But the music is fantastic! Sometimes, that’s all a song needs to be and we all know how much we love bangers here.
1. “Forever Winter”
“Message in a Bottle” is more fun to dance to; “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” is the more impressive feat; “Nothing New” has the best harmony. This is all true. But none of them have the moment on “Forever Winter” that feels like it reaches into an upper echelon of human existence and remind us what warmth and love can feel like at the drop of a key change. “Too young to know it gets better / I’ll be summer sun for you forever.” Forget about the lyrical brilliance of that moment, but just recall the way Taylor sings it. Oh my god, I love that melody forever. The rest of the song is also truly great-to-stellar, but that moment sings and soars every time I hear it. It does repeat in the song, too, which is even better because “Mr. Perfectly Fine” has the gorgeously song lyric, “Mr. ‘I’ve been waiting for you all my life.’” But it only has it once so you have to rewind if you miss it. “Forever Winter” just keeps coming back over and over with the beauty to remind you that Swift is singular and an all-timer of a tune like this can just be in her vault for a decade until she trots it out and showcases the idyllicism all over the industry. Effortlessly. Gloriously. Time and again. Just like winter.
The problem with ranking music is that it will change every day. “Forever Winter” might not be my favorite by this time next week, just as it took me a while to see that “August” was the one from Folklore, even though “Betty” was also genius. “‘Tis the Damn Season” forever, though. Either way, Red (Taylor’s Version) is an over-two-hour-long, thirty-track masterwork. Whatever comes next knows the new ceiling now.