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by Jim Allen

April 30, 2013

Willie Nelson's Greatest Hits

by Jim Allen  |  April 30, 2013

When George Jones (1931-2013) passed away just four days before Willie Nelson's 80th birthday, it served as a stark reminder that Willie (born April 30, 1933) is among the last of his legendary line. Looking back at a half-century of his country classics, it becomes startlingly clear that while one or two of Willie's peers may have matched his longevity, none comes close to equaling the enormity of his output or the broad stylistic range of his recordings.

Willie scored some hits in the '60s during his tenure at RCA, but it wasn't until the '70s that he truly started asserting his own identity, eschewing Nashville assembly-line production for a more unfettered, individualistic style. Tracks like "Bloody Mary Morning" established Nelson as a longhaired, bushy-bearded country iconoclast, but it was 1975's Red Headed Stranger, which included such singles as "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," that introduced him to the mainstream and made him a hero of the burgeoning outlaw country movement.

Freed from music-biz constrictions, Willie followed his ever-eclectic muse all over the map throughout the '70s, from the old-school honky-tonk of his Lefty Frizzell cover "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" to the gospel sounds of "Uncloudy Day." But 1978's Stardust proved to be his biggest success yet, a crossover smash sporting Great American Songbook standards like "Blue Skies" and "All of Me."

Incredibly, Willie's star rose still further in the '80s (a claim few of his contemporaries could make). "On the Road Again," "Always on My Mind" and his duet with Julio Iglesias on "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" became not only country smashes but bona fide pop hits, making Nelson more ubiquitous than ever. In later years, many of his biggest hits would come in collaboration with other artists, be it Lee Ann Womack on 2002's "Mendocino County Line" or Toby Keith on 2003's blockbuster "Beer for My Horses." The latter song even perpetuated Willie's multimedia profile by inspiring a 2008 feature film starring Keith and a certain septuagenarian country icon. Here's a playlist to guide you through Willie Nelson's all-time best stuff.

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