A life in 90 songs

Willie Nelson: A life in 90 songs

(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Paul Einerhand)


As long as there’s been country music, there’s been Willie Nelson. That might not be historically accurate, but it damn may as well be. For more than seven decades, no one has been able to embody all of the genre’s contradictions, facets, and elements quite like Nelson. A troubadour in every sense of the word, Nelson was able to turn the various twists and turns in his life into a tapestry of songs that still resonate as the man himself enters his 90th year.

Hailing from Abbott, Texas, Nelson first got into the music business not as a singer or songwriter but as a record DJ. His experiences would help shape early songs like ‘Mr. Record Man’, and by the end of the 1950s, Nelson had sold enough songs that he decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee. On the strength of his songwriting ability, Nelson was signed to Liberty Records and then RCA while he invested his royalties into his own career.

Unable to fit into the clean-cut Nashville system, Nelson retired from the industry in the early 1970s and moved to Austin, Texas. It was there that Nelson stumbled upon the burgeoning hippie scene blossoming out of the city. Now inspired to grow his hair and sing about more risque subjects, Nelson reinvented himself as one of the first true outlaw country superstars. Albums like Shotgun Willie and Red-Headed Stranger established his uniquely fragile vocal tone along with the singular guitar tone produced by his nylon acoustic guitar lovingly nicknamed ‘Trigger’.

By the 1980s, Nelson had become one of the most successful country music artists of all time. He reinvented himself with an album of jazz standards, Stardust, and began leaning more heavily on cover material. He also joined the supergroup The Highwaymen along with fellow outlaw country icons Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. His commitment to supporting American agriculture also led Nelson to found the benefit concert series Farm Aid along with John Mellencamp and Neil Young.

Even though his first recording was released more than 60 years ago, Nelson continues to be active as a musician, author, and activist. As politically conscious and pop-culturally relevant as he’s ever been, Nelson remains a figurehead for cannabis advocacy, left-wing politics, and outlaw country as a genre. In fact, Nelson is arguably still the face of country music as a whole, all thanks to his unmatched body of work that stretches back to the 1950s.

Here are 90 of Willie Nelson’s best songs, one for each year of his remarkable life.

Willie Nelson’s 90 best songs:

  • ‘Crazy’
  • ‘Shotgun Willie’
  • ‘Always On My Mind’
  • ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’
  • ‘Night Life’
  • ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’
  • ‘On The Road Again’
  • ‘Whiskey River’
  • ‘Bloody Mary Morning’
  • ‘I Never Cared For You’
  • ‘Good Hearted Woman’
  • ‘Pancho and Lefty’
  • ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’
  • ‘You Look Like The Devil’
  • ‘Hello Walls’
  • ‘The Party’s Over’
  • ‘Good Times’
  • ‘Me and Paul’
  • ‘Time of the Preacher’
  • ‘Denver’
  • ‘Bandera’
  • ‘Red-Headed Stranger’
  • ‘Family Bible’
  • ‘Half a Man’
  • ‘No Place To Fly’
  • ‘The Part Where I Cry’
  • ‘Mr. Record Man’
  • ‘Pretty Paper’
  • ‘Man With The Blues’
  • ‘The Storm Has Just Begun’
  • ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’
  • ‘What A Way To Live’
  • ‘Touch Me’
  • ‘The Wall’
  • ‘Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer)’
  • ‘Georgia On My Mind’
  • ‘All of Me’
  • ‘Blue Skies’
  • ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’
  • ‘Little Old Fashioned Karma’
  • ‘Forgiving You Was Easy’
  • ‘Living in the Promiseland’
  • ‘Nothing I Can Do About It Now’
  • ‘Let It Be Me’
  • ‘Highwaymen’
  • ‘Aint Necessarily So’
  • ‘Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other’
  • ‘It’s All Going to Pot’
  • ‘For Real’
  • ‘Live Forever’
  • ‘Sweet Memories’
  • ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’
  • ‘Bubbles in My Beer’
  • ‘Slow Down Old World’
  • ‘So Much To Do’
  • ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys’
  • ‘City of New Orleans’
  • ‘The Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning’
  • ‘Seven Spanish Angels’
  • ‘Local Memory’
  • ‘Bring Me Sunshine’
  • ‘Still Is Still Moving Me’
  • ‘Down Yonder’
  • ‘Still Not Dead’
  • ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’
  • ‘I’ll Fly Away’
  • ‘You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore’
  • ‘I Gotta Get Drunk’
  • ‘Yesterday’s Wine’
  • ‘Faded Love’
  • ‘I Wish I Didn’t Love You So’
  • ‘I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die’
  • ‘Healing Hands of Time’
  • ‘Buddy’
  • ‘Rainy Day Blues’
  • ‘Just Breathe’
  • ‘Cruel World’
  • ‘Tiger By the Tail’
  • ‘If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time’
  • ‘I’m the Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised’
  • ‘Ride Me Back Home’
  • ‘Tower of Song’
  • ‘Hands on the Wheel’
  • ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’
  • ‘Vote ‘Em Out’
  • ‘God’s Problem Child’
  • ‘Goin’ Home’
  • ‘Who’ll Buy My Memories’
  • ‘Without a Song’
  • ‘Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die’

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