North Texas Daily

Either cowgirl or hippie, this is why you should listen to Willie

Either cowgirl or hippie, this is why you should listen to Willie

Either cowgirl or hippie, this is why you should listen to Willie
April 20
14:00 2023

The entire genre of country music is often written off by young people because of its association with beer, tractors, mamas and post-9/11 hyperpatriotism.

This kind of music is definitely present in the genre, but there are many different subgenres of country that might appeal to a different crowd. Country music is a complex, multi-faceted form of American culture, and that in and of itself deserves some recognition.

It’s okay to not like a specific type of music — country is not for everyone. That being said, it is unfair to write off an entire genre of music based on stereotypes and generalizations. 

If there’s one country artist that deserves at least a listen, it would be Willie Nelson. Characterized by his iconic bandana and double braid, the Red-Headed Stranger is a Texan icon and national treasure. 

Nelson was born in 1933 and is still performing and recording music. Last month, he released his 73rd studio album, “I Don’t Know a Thing About Love,” a tribute to the late country artist Harlan Howard.

For his upcoming 90th birthday on April 29, Nelson is celebrating with a star-studded, two-day-long concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Over 30 artists will perform, including Kacey Musgraves, Snoop Dogg, The Lumineers and of course, the birthday man himself. Many of the artists have collaborated with Nelson, while others are just friends and fans.

To say Nelson has made a lot of music across nearly nine decades of life would be an understatement. He released his first single in 1957, and 66 years after his first single, he has a huge repertoire of original solo songs, covers and features with other artists and bands.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but some top Nelson originals are “Shotgun Willie,” “Always On My Mind,” a song originally made famous by Elvis Presley but done much more justice by Nelson, “Hello Walls,” “Night Life” and “Vote ‘Em Out.” The first four songs listed were released three decades before many current university students were born, but most great songs were. 

“Vote ‘Em Out” was released in 2018 and Nelson performed it in 2018 and 2022 at events supporting Beto O’Rourke’s campaigns for Texas senator and governor. Nelson was born and raised in Texas, and he and his wife are registered voters in the Lone Star State.

Even though he caught backlash from conservative country fans for his public support of O’Rourke, Nelson has been an activist nearly his entire career. In 1985, he organized the first Farm Aid festival with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to raise money to support farm families and agriculture. Nearly 40 years later, Nelson is still performing at Farm Aid concerts, which have raised over $70 million.

Nelson is also notably a huge stoner — he has even smoked a joint on the roof of the White House with Jimmy Carter. Thus, it is no surprise that he is a strong advocate for marijuana legalization, serving on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

Inspired by his love of the leaf is another top Willie song, “Roll Me Up,” featuring Snoop Dogg, Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristofferson. If you have a strong aversion to anything even closely related to country music, you should at least listen to this song. Yes, it is definitely still a country song, but it is nearly impossible to be unhappy while listening to it. Plus, it has Snoop Dogg on it.

Another good song for anyone with a country music aversion is Nelson’s cover of “The Rainbow Connection,” originally sang by Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) in “The Muppet Movie.” Kermit’s rendition of the song in his goofy muppet voice can bring a tear or two to the eye, but listening to Nelson sing it can really get the waterworks going. 

There are many other great songs that are collaborations between Nelson and other artists. Some “Roll Me Up” runner-ups include “Are You Sure” with Musgraves, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” and “Good Hearted Woman” with Jennings, “Just Breathe,” one of many songs with Willie’s son Lukas Nelson, and “Against the Wind” with The Highwaymen. Some festive honorable mentions go to “A Willie Nice Christmas” off of Musgraves’ “A Very Kacey Christmas” album.

What has been mentioned hardly scratches the surface of Nelson’s work. If you can’t find at least one thing Willie-related to like, just keep looking — the man has written over 2,500 songs.

Image Credit Pamela Smith

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Kaitlynn Hutchins

Kaitlynn Hutchins

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