Dad's Music Week: Willie Nelson's GREATEST HITS (& SOME THAT WILL BE) [1981]

Nearly all of us have had one or more people who were our portals into music and for me that person was my father, HERC SR. It wasn't intentional, this I know, it just happened - he liked music, played it constantly so I picked it up through osmosis and then I was off and running. He never discouraged me, Mom says it was always his first inclination to buy me an album for any occasion and so I received lots of good stuff, stuff he knew I'd like. He never pushed his favorites on me or passed judgement on the stuff I liked. And as the years passed, the tables turned and I began turning him onto lots of good music, paying him back for all the great musical treasures he had bestowed upon me. Yet standing here today, surrounding by so much music in various physical forms from 8-track tapes to vinyl, I find myself seeking comfort in the bands and artists and songs I knew he loved. It is nearly impossible to listen to any song without thinking of him and that makes him immortal.
It's weird that I only remember Dad having one Willie Nelson 8-track, but it was the doozy of an album pictured above, Red Headed Stranger.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Dad often told me how he and his buddies used to sneak down the seventy miles of bad road from Navasota down to Houston to watch a man named Willie Nelson perform in various bars and clubs around town in 1964-1965.  Nelson, a Texas native and Air Force veteran just like Dad, was physically unrecognizable back then as a clean cut country crooner - no beard and no long braids - but Dad was a fan. Like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson began as a songwriter and before he cut his first LP, several of his songs had topped the Country chart.  Nelson performs those songs at the Grand Ole Opry in the clip below from before my time:

Willie's first album, cleverly titled ...And Then I Wrote, featured those songs and more in 1962 but it wasn't until the release of Red-Headed Stranger in 1975 that Nelson got his first Top 200 album. How good is the album?  Rolling Stone gave it a rare five star rating and it currently is ranked as number 183 of their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.  Other critics claimed it was country music's "Gospel", it's defining and guiding accomplishment while others likened the album as the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band of country music, a revolutionary album that forever changed the way country music would be both written and played. None of these accolades mattered to my father, he liked Red Headed Stranger for one song and one song only: Willie's haunting cover of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" which he would rewind to listen to over and over.  Below, Kris Kristofferson introduces a laid back Shaina Twain who performs the song with Willie:

To the best of my knowledge, Dad never saw Willie live except for those few times in the mid Sixties.  He did not buy all of his albums either though to his credit, Nelson put out a lot of albums.  It helped that Nelson was signed to Columbia and Dad was a member of Columbia House Record and Tape Club - he would get boxes of nothing but Willie Nelson albums in them.  Albums like Wanted! The Outlaws, The Sound In Your Mind, Willie And Family Live and Stardust. The depth and breadth of Nelson's catalog is simply staggering.  The only one of the many duets albums Willie recorded that Dad picked up was Waylon & Willie in 1978 and of the several tributes to other artists Willie did, the only one that caught Dad's eye and ear was Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson, which came out the following year.
Willie Nelson had recorded eighteen studio albums for three different labels before signing with Columbia in 1975 and therefore never had a comprehensive compilation though he averaged about one Country Top 40 hits single per year between 1962 and 1975.  Dad had one album, called The Best Of Willie Nelson, that covered those early years but it mostly focused on the songs that other singers had greater success with like "Crazy", "Hello Walls" and "Funny How Time Slips Away" among others.
Later, in 1979 and 1980, Willie released two consecutive soundtrack albums: Electric Horseman (though Nelson only appeared on side one) and Honeysuckle Rose, which actually starred Nelson in a semi-autobiographical role as a touring country musician.  It was Nelson's Purple Rain as the soundtrack went on to sell double platinum and reach number 11, Willie's highest ever on the Pop chart.  Dad picked up the latter double album the same night after we saw the movie and then for Christmas 1981, I bought him another Willie double wide, Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be).
Twenty songs covering Willie's lucky thirteen Columbia albums from Red Headed Stranger through Honeysuckle Rose and the years 1975 through 1981.  It is unquestionably a Greatest "Greatest Hits" Album with nine of Willie's 10 Number One Country Songs during that period and yet I still had the audacity to make my own mix using six or seven favorite songs from some of his other albums including that missing Number One, "Blue Skies" and its follow-up from the Stardust album, "All Of Me".  Nelson would go to record several other albums of standards but my heart rests with the Stardust album and 1982's Always On My Mind.
That multi-label compilation finally became a reality in 2003 with the release of The Essential Willie Nelson, a two disc forty song celebration of Nelson's entire career up to that point.  In 2009, The Essential Willie Nelson 3.0 was released featuring 49 songs across three discs.  And just last week, The Essential Willie Nelson album was re-released, newly updated to include Nelson's career output through 2015 and now boasts 45 tracks across its 2 discs.  Is it superior to Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be)?  None of the versions of The Essential Willie Nelson can hold a candle to the earlier compilation.  Listen to the latest incarnation of The Essential below and make up your own mind.

While I never bought Dad a copy of The Essential Willie Nelson, I did make him copies of my two Willie Nelson box sets, pictured below.  And when I transferred Dad's iTunes library earlier this year from one hard drive to another, Willie Nelson had far and away had more plays (and more skips) than any other artist in his library.

1 comment:

  1. Annnd... The similarities don't end there, apparently:

    'Moms' was a big Willie Nelson fan, too! She'd switched from vinyl to cassettes-only by the Late-80's and began accumulating a boatload of 'em. Played 'em in the car, and on the two different boomboxes she had around the house. Haven't looked through 'em all lately to do a count, but I know for a fact that she must have a half a dozen Willie tapes in her collection.

    Dirk considers himself a fan, but probably a casual one at best. Love his voice, but Country music at its essence is just never gonna' be my thing. I do regret that he's kinda' become the poster boy for weed, however. He embraces that, I know... But it's hard to escape the Willie Nelson/marijuana jokes these days, especially when it comes to late-night TV. Way I see it: Anytime people are making jokes about you--wheter postive or negative--your reputation's gonna' suffer. And when I hear the name Willie Nelson nowadays, the first thing that pops into my mind is "weed" (And that's unfortunate).