Thursday, May 1, 2008

Birthday Wishes

Willie Nelson was born seventy-five years ago on this date in Fort Worth, Texas. Yes, Willie is the name he was given at birth.

Willie has had two Top Ten pop hits, the mournful "Always on My Mind" and the regrettable "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," but most of the damage he's done has been on the country charts, where he's had a whopping twenty-two Number One hits. To me, the amazing thing about Willie is that he started out writing songs for other people, including "Night Life" for Ray Price, "Hello Walls" for Faron Young, "Funny How Time Slips Away" (I'm partial to Elvis' version) and Patsy Cline's (and Ross Perot's)
"Crazy," but he eventually became noted as an interpretive singer of other people's material. "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," for instance, which was his first-ever country Number One, was written way back in 1945 and had been originally done by Roy Acuff.

Yesterday, I was listening to "Always on My Mind," one of the saddest songs in the modern canon, and I was struck by how plainspoken Willie is. I don't think his version is better than Presley's, although the protuberance of the Jordanaires brings that one down a bit, but Nelson has a way of singing that makes you think he's just ruminating over the lyrics, singing to himself in that monotone, but his voice is actually marvelously expressive, with a wonderful timbre and pitch. In a bizarre way, he reminds me of Kurt Cobain, who sounds like he's just screaming a lot of his lyrics, but there's always a strong and carefully plotted melody behind them.

We wish you all the best, Willie. Let's hope it's a good long time before seven Spanish angels call another angel home.


Joe said...

As a singer, nearly the equal of Sinatra in his way around the melody. But what the hell is regrettable about "To All the Girls I've Loved Before"? (Written by the father of Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr, BTW.)

T. Nawrocki said...

Never been a big fan of Julio Iglesias' English-as-a-second-language phrasing. And the whole thing smacks of kitsch, except I don't believe in kitsch.

Albert Hammond Sr. is a fine songwriter, but that doesn't make everything he wrote especially good. He wrote Leo Sayer's "When I Need You," a prime OPC whipping boy, for one.