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Not all songwriters can turn a "to-do" list into a hit. But Rand Bishop and Tim James did just that.

"Tim and I were doing other things besides writing songs to make ends meet," recalls Rand. "I was a crew leader for Census 2000, responsible for detailing the population of prisons, hospitals and dormitories in Davidson County, Tennessee. Tim was painting houses three days a week. He and I had been writing regularly for several years."

Tim had a song on Tim Rushlow's debut album on Atlantic Records. Rand, who came to Nashville from L.A. as a pop singer/songwriter, had racked up about 170 cuts and a Grammy nomination, and had written country tunes for Tim McGraw, Doug Stone, Lorrie Morgan and Dan Seals.

Then Tim and Rand got together for another writing appointment.

"I've made a to-do list every day for years," remembers Tim. "When I showed up to write, I told Rand I'd like to write a song about how my daily list is made up of chores - but that the truth is we also need to have a list for 'bigger picture' items."

Rand "got it" right way.

"I started singing the first line, Under an old brass paperweight is my list of things to do today," explains Rand. "The lion's share of the song was written that day. Over the next couple of weeks we made small, but significant, lyric changes over the phone. I demoed it in my attic studio at home, playing all the instruments and singing it myself."

Then Toby Keith heard the demo.

"Toby thought it was a hit," notes Rand, "but it wasn't consistent with his rebellious, fun-loving, masculine image, and he wasn't sure his vocal style would work on it. James Stroud, his producer, thought he should give it a go."

When "My List" was released just before Christmas 2001, the U.S. was still reeling from the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and many people - reminded that life is short and extremely fragile - were examining their priorities. The song soared to No. 1 and was on the charts for about 40 weeks, ending 2002 as the most-played song that year in country radio, according to Radio & Records magazine.

And the poignant tune was a natural springboard for an inspirational book. "We had received so many letters and e-mails from great folks all across America telling us how they had been positively affected by 'My List,'" notes Rand. It took Tim and Rand six months to write My List: 24 Reflections on Life's Priorities. "'My List' has been a blessing," sums up Tim.

"And to this day the line Call up my folks just to chat/It's time that I make time for that is one of my favorites. 'Call Mom and Dad' is on my to-do list every day."

-- Larry Holden

To read the lyrics of "My List" by Toby Keith, check out this week's issue of Country Weekly on newsstands now!