Billy Joe Shaver says it best when it comes to Willie Nelson: “Willie Nelson is everybody’s brother.” And in the country music world he is. He’s performed with virtually every artist in the genre and the new artists in every genre flock to be able to say they shared the stage with Willie. Like many artists his age, 70 year-old Willie Nelson has recorded albums for a lot of labels. He’s seen numerous greatest hits packages and best of collections but never before has there been a collection of the best songs from his entire career; until now.
To kick off his 70th year on the planet, Columbia/Legacy has secured agreements with each of the labels Willie has recorded with in the past to create a vital collection simply titled The Essential Willie Nelson.Containing 41 songs over the course of 2 CDs, the collection is truly one of the best albums to be released in a long time.
To many, Willie Nelson is the Red-Headed Stranger with the funny guitar with a hole in it. To others he’s the wild outlaw from Texas. To yet another set of people, Willie is virtually the ambassador for all of music. Quite simply, Willie Nelson is all of those men rolled into one unique gifted poet who overtime has become a stylist.
Starting out in 1961 on a tiny label called “Bellaire Records” with the song “Night Life”(later a hit for Don Ho and others) Willie showed off both a solid voice and writing ability.
Those who hear the next couple tracks, “Hello Walls” and “Crazy”will not realize that, while Willie recorded these songs after they were hits for other people, he is the writer of them. The average fan who knows these standards will identify them with their singers Faron Young and Patsy Cline. Along with these stellar renditions of timeless classics (these tracks are from the early 1960’s for Liberty Records).
After a minor chart hit for Monument Records with the Tex-Mex styling of “I Never Cared For You,” Willie went on to have some more minor success with Chet Atkins’ RCA Records. “Party’s Over” features a countrypolitan style from Willie that really didn’t seem to fit him. His follow up single, “Good Times” went on to be a bigger hit in 1981 (from a greatest hits collection released during a red hot time for Willie). From there Willie recorded and released a few singles for Atlantic Records (as their first country artist). Produced by the famed producer Arif Mardin, the song “Shotgun Willie” would be the first song to showcase Willie’s own style and begin the process of creative control that would go on to change the way that Nashville does business. Also recorded during this time Willie’s “Bloody Mary Morning”became his first Top 15 hit in 1974.
In 1975 Willie released his first song from the Red-Headed Stranger album “Blue Eyes Cryin’ On The Rain”and Fred Rose’s 1945 composition became a smash hit and Willie’s first No. 1 hit song. The song literally changed 1970’s Nashville from pop oriented songs to a more organic sound that was prevalent on albums by Willie and friends for the majority of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Always a man who liked to record songs with his friends, Willie got that ball rolling with his songs with his “partner in crime” Waylon Jennings. “Good Hearted Woman” went on to become a smash hit and the version from the first platinum album Wanted: The Outlawsis a wonderful achievement of both song and friendship.
Another standout duet by Waylon and Willie is the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” It’s one of those western steel guitar drenched songs that has been covered by numerous people since the original from the Waylon and Williealbum.
The pundits all said that a concept album like Red-Headed Stranger wouldn’t work, and it did. They said that again when Willie released the album Stardust. All that record did was become the longest charting country music album of all time (and second all time to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon). Produced by Booker T. Jones, the album had covers of standards like “Georgia On My Mind,” “Blue Skies” and “All Of Me.”
Another of the “Outlaws” from the 1970’s was Kris Kristofferson. Willie saw fit to record a slew of this poet’s songs on one record with the best track represented on this record. That track is the beautiful love ballad, “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”
Perhaps one of his better known hits, “On The Road Again” was a song that ushered in the 1980’s with the film Honeysuckle Rose. It’s a wonderful recording with a classic style that Willie has become known for, making music with his friends.
Another of the songs from the Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack is the beautiful track “Angel Flying To Close To The Ground.” It’s a bluesy ballad about a woman who had fallen to the ground only to be caught by a man who fixes her up and falls in love with her.
The lush and beautiful “Always On My Mind”is one of my all-time favorite songs and it shows a different side to Willie. It’s one of those songs that say stuff that men cannot normally say to their loved ones.
The fun songs “Pancho And Lefty” and “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”paired Willie with one of his close friends, and a man whom most wouldn’t connect with Willie. Merle Haggard and Willie dueted on Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho” while Willie teamed with pop star Julio Iglesias on the lush “Girls.” Both again show that Willie loves to sing duets as much as he does his own songs.
When Willie recorded Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” it gave Ray the idea for Willie to sing a song with him on his own record. The fruit of their labor was the song “Seven Spanish Angels”which became a smash hit in 1984. Of all the duet partners other than Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles sounds the best with Willie.
With its lush production, “The Highwaymen”served as the first single and title track for both the super group of Waylon, Willie, Kristofferson and Cash and their first of three CD’s. The song is a nice slice of country music history.
In 1986, Willie recorded David Lynn Jones’ “Living In The Promiseland”and took it to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It is a song that shows the uniqueness that is America, and how America is the “promised land” for many people. The whole song is an exquisite piece of 1980’s country music.
After a few more hits for Columbia Records, Willie went on to record when he felt like it in the 1990’s returning to the charts with the Grammy winning duet “Mendocino County Line” in 2002 with Lee Ann Womack. Also featured on this CD are a couple of rare duets with the rock band’s Aerosmith and U2. While not really “Essential” tracks, they show that Willie is willing to work with everyone.
With 41 tracks, The Essential Willie Nelsonis the CD to own if you don’t own any of Willie Nelson’s stuff and will only make you wanna dig deeper into his large collection of songs and albums.
Funny How Time Slips Away
I Never Cared For You
The Party’s Over
Me And Paul
Bloody Mary Morning
Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain
Good Hearted Woman(with Waylon Jennings)
If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got The Time
Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (with Waylon Jennings)
Georgia On My Mind
All Of Me
Heartbreak Hotel(with Leon Russell)
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Stay A Little Longer (Live)
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Faded Love(with Ray Price)
On The Road Again
Angel Flying To Close To The Ground
Always On My Mind
Last Thing I Need First Thing In The Morning
Pancho And Lefty(with Merle Haggard)
To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before(with Julio Iglesias)
City Of New Orleans
Seven Spanish Angels(with Ray Charles)
Forgiving You Was Easy
Highwaymen(with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash)
Living In The Promiseland
Nothing I Can Do About It Now
Everywhere I Go(with Emmylou Harris)
Slow Dancing(with U2 and Mickey Raphael on Harmonica)
Mendocino County Line(with Lee Ann Womack)
One Too Many Times (with Aerosmith)