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Willie Nelson’s 30 best songs – ranked! | Willie Nelson

30. I Don’t Know a Factor About Love (2023)

At 90, Willie Nelson continues to document and tour – it is likely to be some time earlier than his ashes are being rolled between the Rizlas. His 2023 album finds him specializing in the songs of Nashville’s premier songwriter, the late Harlan Howard; this, its title observe, is ideal Nelson: wry, reflective and superbly sung.

29. Deliver Me Sunshine (1968)

Initially recorded by the Mills Brothers and finest recognized within the UK as Morecambe and Clever’s theme track, Deliver Me Sunshine gave Nelson the final hit of his Nashville period. When he returned to the charts within the mid-Nineteen Seventies, the thriving counterculture of Austin, Texas, had remodeled Nelson’s look and sound.

28. All the time on My Thoughts (1982)

Take heed to Nelson’s smash-hit model of All the time on My Thoughts.

A decade after Elvis scored with this bathetic ballad, Nelson took uber-producer Chips Moman’s recommendation and recorded it. Nelson’s weathered baritone conveys a relatable heartache and he scored the largest nation hit single and album (of the identical title) of 1982 whereas scooping a number of Grammy and Nation Music Affiliation awards.

27. I Am the Forest (1983)

Recovering from collapsed lungs, Nelson wrote the songs for More durable Than Leather-based, his first album of unique materials in eight years. His band (which featured his older sister Bobbie Nelson on piano till her dying in 2022) present lovely accompaniment on a track that captures Willie’s Texas Zen spirit.

26. On the Highway Once more (1980)

Honeysuckle Rose gave Nelson his first starring function in a function movie (enjoying a struggling nation singer having an affair), however it’s this track that he wrote for the soundtrack – which encapsulates his need to stay life on a tour bus – that followers keep in mind.

25. Throughout the Borderline (1993)

Nelson’s album produced by Don Was discovered him surrounded by well-known followers; inevitably with such a challenge, it’s uneven. But Nelson sang the title observe, a haunting lament – written by Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Dickinson for Freddy Fender – about migrants crossing from Mexico to Texas, with such grace that it’s now a contemporary commonplace.

24. The More durable They Come (2005)

Watch the video for The More durable They Come.

Countryman, Nelson’s long-gestating reggae-country album (Chris Blackwell initially paired him with Sly & Robbie, to no avail), was typically considered a failure. But Nelson works wonders right here, reworking Jimmy Cliff’s Jamaican outlaw anthem right into a stark, sharp outlaw nation track powered by snapping guitar and fierce, foreboding percussion.

23. Too Sick to Pray (1996)

If the Eighties discovered Nelson dominating the charts (don’t point out that Julio Iglesias duet), the Nineteen Nineties had been extra musically adventurous. Spirit is a putting album that includes this effective observe on ageing and mortality. His beautiful acoustic selecting (on his battered Set off guitar) reinforces simply how gifted Nelson is as a musician.

22. Seven Spanish Angels (1984)

Nelson had lengthy been in awe of Ray Charles when the producer Billy Sherrill paired them to sing this dramatic, mariachi-flavoured gunfighter ballad. Each males rose to the event and delivered distinctive vocal performances. An enormous hit within the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, it is a gorgeous recording.

Willie Nelson in 1962
Willie Nelson in 1962. {Photograph}: Richard Weize/Getty Pictures

21. God’s Downside Youngster (2017)

Tony Joe White, Leon Russell and Jamey Johnson be part of Nelson – who left Nashville for Austin in 1972 – on this atmospheric slice of southern rock. Nelson’s interpretations of Russell’s A Track for You and Gregg Allman’s Midnight Rider reveal the shared nation and blues roots he and the rockers share.

20. What Is This Factor Referred to as Love (2018)

Nelson’s album My Method is a set of Frank Sinatra’s hits – Sinatra being the singer who most affected his vocal type. Right here, teamed along with his common duet accomplice Norah Jones, he cooks up a joyous country-jazz boogie.

19. Immigrant Eyes (2019)

Throughout the many years, Nelson has recorded a number of songs by his fellow Texas songwriters and outlaw nation poets Billy Joe Shaver and Man Clark, neither of whom ever loved his mainstream success. This elegant interpretation of Clark’s homage to ancestors who crossed from Europe to Ellis Island is intimate and deeply felt.

18. Bloody Mary Morning (1974)

Disillusioned by Nashville and his lack of success, Nelson briefly left music in 1971 to lift hogs. When he returned, he continued to battle till Phases and Phases, an idea album reflecting on a pair’s divorce, produced this jaunty, bluegrass-flavoured boogie, his first vital hit of the Nineteen Seventies.

17. Good Hearted Girl (1976)

Nelson and Waylon Jennings wrote this rousing celebration of their longsuffering wives in 1969, recording it individually. Remixed as a duet for The Outlaws, a compilation RCA threw collectively that shortly offered greater than 1m copies, Good Hearted Girl hit huge and helped Nelson and Jennings develop into American legends.

Watch Nelson carry out Good Hearted Girl in 1979.

16. Blue Skies (1978)

Columbia’s executives feared Stardust, interpretations of songs from Nelson’s childhood, can be rejected by followers who needed the outlaw they knew. However they beloved it. Backed by a small combo, Nelson sings the Irving Berlin commonplace with a wistfulness few earlier than or since have matched. One in all his best vocal performances.

15. Pancho and Lefty (1982)

Nelson’s prodigious output has seen him document duet albums with lots of his contemporaries, Bakersfield’s Merle Haggard – an actual outlaw, having served time in San Quentin – being a favoured accomplice. Townes Van Zandt’s ode to weary bandits suited these grizzled singers’ personas and gave Nelson and Haggard a US hit.

14. Shotgun Willie (1973)

With Arif Mardin producing and the Memphis Horns blasting, the title observe of Nelson’s debut for Atlantic Data is a raucous celebration of Nelson the “hellbilly” (a time period for wild southerners coined by Rob Zombie) – he had lately had a gunfight with a son-in-law. Kris Kristofferson referred to Shotgun Willie as “thoughts farts” whereas Nelson later declared it “extra clearing my throat”.

13. Willingly (1961)

This duet with Shirley Collie, then quickly to be Nelson’s second spouse, is a rustic torch track consisting of little greater than aching voices and double bass. Willingly gave Nelson his first US nation Prime 10 hit (though he must wait till 1975’s album Purple Headed Stranger to determine himself as a bestselling artist).

12. My Heroes Have All the time Been Cowboys (1980)

Robert Redford solid Nelson in The Electrical Horseman, his first appearing job, and he delivered an enticing flip because the wisecracking Wendell. This peach of a ballad grew to become the movie’s theme track, appropriately addressing themes of ageing and pale goals, though Nelson was a youthful 47 when he sang it.

11. Hi there Partitions (1961)

Faron Younger’s model of Nelson’s track of existential dread – a jilted lover addresses the partitions, window and ceiling of his room, like a prisoner locked in torment – gave him a career-defining hit in 1961. Nelson has since recorded Hi there Partitions many occasions, together with as a duet with Younger in 1985.

10. Roll Me Up and Smoke Me After I Die (2012)

Nelson is joined right here by his outdated pal Kristofferson and his new pal Snoop Dogg, the trio joyously sharing a wry philosophy on what to do with their ashes. Willie launched the track on inexperienced vinyl for Document Retailer Day and named his 2012 memoir after this irreverent celebration of getting blunted.

Take heed to Roll Me Up and Smoke Me After I Die.

9. Mammas Don’t Let Your Infants Develop As much as Be Cowboys (1978)

Nelson and Jennings had been seen because the Butch and Sundance of outlaw nation. The opening observe (and largest hit) of the primary (and finest) of their three duet albums is a joyous decrying of the outlaws’ wayward way of life. Reggie Younger’s electrical guitar fires issues up properly.

8. Me and Paul (1971)

Nelson’s homage to Paul English (Nelson’s drummer from 1955 till his dying in 2020) is a witty, proto-rockabilly bromance about mishaps they endured whereas touring. English additionally served as Nelson’s enforcer. “For those who’re writing songs about taking pictures folks, it’s good to have a man who’s shot folks up there on stage with you,” famous English’s son Paul Jr.

7. Cowboys Are Ceaselessly, Secretly Keen on Every Different (2005)

Nelson first demoed Ned Sublette’s ode to homosexual cowboys within the mid-80s, lastly releasing it (“I stored it within the closet,” he joked) within the wake of Brokeback Mountain’s success. A heat, insightful track addressing small-town mores, it gained Nelson plaudits – he has lengthy been nation music’s most progressive voice – and brickbats.

Willie Nelson’s 30 best songs – playlist. Spotify

6. Humorous How the Time Slips Away (1961)

Nelson’s bittersweet ballad about encountering a former accomplice is one in all his most lined songs – everybody from Elvis and Al Inexperienced to Bryan Ferry and Tina Turner has sung it. Nelson has made a number of variations – maybe to do with him having been married 4 occasions.

5. Highwayman (1985)

Jimmy Webb’s mythic ode to reincarnation supplied not simply the title for a rustic supergroup comprising Nelson, Johnny Money, Kristofferson and Jennings, but in addition gave the quartet a large, Grammy-winning hit. Nelson sings the primary verse as a mythic outlaw “hung within the spring of ’45, however nonetheless alive”.

Willie Nelson at the Outlaws & Legends festival in Texas in April 2023.
Nelson on the Outlaws & Legends competition in Texas this month. {Photograph}: Ronald W Erdrich/AP

4. Blue Eyes Crying within the Rain (1975)

Fred Rose’s 1946 ballad had been recorded by everybody from Hank Williams to Gene Vincent earlier than Nelson reduce the definitive model. Aching and sparse, it’s the centrepiece of Purple Headed Stranger, an idea album a few killer on the run, and gave Nelson his first US nation No 1.

3. Night time Life (1960)

Nelson’s label rejected Night time Life as “not nation”, forcing Nelson to document it underneath the alias Paul Buskirk and the Little Males. Ray Worth made it a success in 1963 and everybody from Doris Day by means of Aretha Franklin to BB King has sung the immortal traces: “The night time life ain’t no good life, however it’s my life.”

2. Georgia on My Thoughts (1978)

When Booker T Jones produced Stardust, an album of Nelson singing a collection of requirements from the Thirties, his label was aghast. But Stardust gained Nelson worldwide stardom. Right here, he sings Hoagy Carmichael’s ballad with such eager, understated grace that it established him as one in all fashionable music’s nice interpretive singers.

1. Loopy (1961)

Throughout one week in 1958, despondent about his profession and marriage, Nelson wrote Night time Life, Humorous How Time Slips Away and Loopy, three songs that will develop into requirements. Loopy demonstrates his innate grasp of what makes an excellent nation track. It’s brief, melodic and heart-rending, a self-flagellating portrait of a breakup that the protagonist is aware of they need to have seen coming. When he first provided it to different stars, Nelson struggled for curiosity – Nashville musicians disliked the advanced minor chords and jazz-influenced phrasing – till a reluctant Patsy Cline turned his stately demo into an era-defining hit. Nelson’s first model, from his 1962 debut, is even slower: timeless moody blues brimming with heartbreak’s damage and sorrow.

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