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Our Music Year No. 344: Willie Nelson, ‘Red Headed Stranger’

By From page A11 | December 09, 2013

Artist: Willie Nelson
Title: “Red Headed Stranger”
Year: 1975
Format: Spotify
Grade: A-

“Red Headed Stranger” marked the beginning of Willie Nelson’s career with Columbia Records, a deal that gave him complete creative control.

That meant that the dusky, sparse sound of “Red Headed Stranger” stayed intact, despite the label’s objections. For Nelson, it worked, becoming one of his most commercially successful works.

It’s a concept record in which the main character, The Preacher, slays his cheating wife and her lover before splitting town. A number of other artists’ songs are used to tell the story, including “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” a song Roy Acuff first recorded in 1945 that went on to be Nelson’s first No. 1 single.

The tale unfolds in less than 35 minutes, which means he progresses from scene to scene quickly.

Using others’ songs to convey his emotions forces listeners to connect the dots. “Remember Me (When the Candle Lights Are Gleaming)” reads as a lament for The Preacher’s wife, which isn’t hard to figure out, but a flowing narrative is difficult to track since these aren’t Nelson’s creations.

Nelson carries the somber, reflective mood throughout without falling victim to boredom, leaving little wonder as to why this album earned him his nickname.

Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.
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