“All Too Well” finds Taylor reminiscing on the memories of a past relationship from start to finish. It is generally looked at as Taylor's best song to date -- by both critics and fans,
as well as Taylor herself.
It was the first song that Taylor wrote for "RED". The heart-wrenching break-up tune came after a six-month writing block that followed a particularly painful ending of a relationship.
"There's a kind of bad that gets so overpowering you can't even write about it," she told USA Today of that time.
“All Too Well” [was difficult to write emotionally] because it took me a really long time to filter through everything I wanted to put in the song without it being a 10 minute song, which you
can’t put on an album. I wanted a story that could work in the form of a song and I called my co-writer Liz Rose and said, ‘Come over, we’ve gotta filter this down,’ and it took me a really long
time to get it." -- Taylor Swift
With the help of her trusted co-writer Liz Rose, Taylor was eventually able to consolidate her feelings into an album-friendly track.
"When we wrote the song, I hadn’t heard from her in a while. She hadn’t really been writing. I was in Nashville one day, slowly moving the last bits of junk out of my garage so I could move to
Dallas. […] I was in my driveway and my phone rings, and it’s Taylor saying, ‘Man, I’ve got this thing and I really need you to help me with it. Can you write today? What are you doing today?’ [I
later] drove over to Taylor’s. It was the first song she wrote for that record, I think. She had a story and she wanted to say something specific. She had a lot of information. I just let her go.
She already had a melody and she started singing some words, and I started writing things down, saying, ‘Ok, let’s use this, let’s use that.’ She mentioned a plaid shirt, and I wrote that down in
a corner, and when we got to the end, I said, ‘Let’s put the plaid shirt in there.’ That turned into one of the best lines. […] It was the most emotional, in-depth song we’ve ever written.
She’s such a force. You remember the songs you write with Taylor, because the emotion that goes into them is so palpable. One of my daughters is her age, so I understood that I needed to stand
back a bit and make sure we wrote Taylor songs, not Liz songs. I didn’t mess with her. The writers that did try to mess with her lyrics? She didn’t write with them a second time." -- Liz Rose
The song has received rave reviews from music critics, with many agreeing it was the best song on the album. Slant Magazine particularly lauded the song within its review,
saying “"All Too Well” is arguably the finest song in Taylor’s entire catalogue.
Taylor also played the song on the "RED Tour" and at the 2014 Grammy Awards after requests from fans, even though it was always painful for her to sing the song. That has since changed, she told
fans at a concert in summer 2018:
“You know it’s interesting, looking back on writing a lot of songs about my life, because when I first play it live, I’m obviously thinking about that experience that I had that inspired the
song. Then it kind of, over time, morphs? Because first of all, time helps you get over things, right? You hope! Hopefully! That’s the dream. But basically, I think that as time passes, what’s so
weird, is that like, my memory that when I relive a certain song, or when I play a certain song, changes from being about a person that was in my life, or an experience I had originally, and it
kind of morphs into like, times I’ve played the song and heard you [her fans] singing it back super loud. [When I play "All Too Well" now] I play it and I think of the times I’ve played it in a
stadium or an arena or my living room with you guys screaming the words back to me. And so it changed it, and I wanted to thank you for changing it, because it’s kind of nice to sing a song that
you’re proud of, but not feel pain while you sing it." -- Taylor Swift