Even his great songs are almost too numerous to corral. A few tunes that didn’t make this list (like “Opportunity To Cry” and “Whiskey River” and “Picture In A Frame” and “Reasons To Quit”) would be another man’s crown jewels.
At any rate, here are 10 timeless gems—the cream of the cream of the crop.
10. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain — From the Red Headed Stranger album, which you may have heard of. It’s good.
9. On the Road Again — Some songs, like The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” for example, become so ingrained in the psyche that they’re almost not even songs anymore. They’re just part of the environment, like water and air. This one is in that same category.
8. Pancho and Lefty — Nelson is equal parts songwriter and interpreter, and he recorded this Townes Van Zandt song on the 1982 Merle Haggard collaboration album of the same name. The production sounds dated, but it’s still worth rescuing from the ’80s graveyard.
7. Sad Songs and Waltzes — Willie slips into self-pity from time to time—okay, a lot of the time — and yet it’s hard to wind up not rooting for him anyway.
6. Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning — Endearing self-pity, part two.
5. Always On My Mind — This is the top-selling Willie Nelson song on the iTunes store, a wrenching mea culpa for a relationship gone sour. No joke: The Pet Shop Boys cover is wonderful, too.
4. I Never Cared for You — Love the atmospheric guitar intro. At first, you might wonder who’s playing those haunting notes. Then you watch the video, and it dawns on you. This is a song of bitterness and malice—or is it? Does “cared” mean that he never liked you, or that he never took care of you? The song hinges on this one word.
3. Heartaches of a Fool — Have you recovered from “Always On My Mind”? Then move on to this, an unheralded song with the same basic theme—it’s a man’s lament for ignoring his sweetheart, then facing the crushing reality of what he’s done. Look for the cover version by Phosphorescent, who recorded the song as part of the all-Nelson tribute album To Willie.
2. City of New Orleans — A slice of classic Americana, complete with a train ride.
1. Crazy — Yeah, the Patsy Cline song. He wrote it. But you knew that, right?
Do you agree? Tell us your favorite songs!