From his time as a honeyed crooner to becoming an outlaw country star, Willie Nelson has more than a few hits to his name. With tracks like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” to the quintessential travelogue “On the Road Again,” even casual music fans can hum along to Nelson’s iconic tracks.
Despite his unending success, there are still a few that got away. Let’s go through five underrated Willie Nelson songs below.
1. “Darkness on the Face of the Earth”
Originally released on Nelson’s debut album, …And Then I Wrote, this song is a classic Nelson jilted lover tale. It’s almost biblical in its apocalyptic vision of a world without love.
The song has cropped up around Nelson’s career a number of times. It appeared three years after its original release on Country Willie: His Own Songs Album with a slightly different feel. In 1998, he returned to the track once again for Téatro, this time with a cinematic, hypnotic rendition. But it’s his original 1962 version that best conveys the hapless romantic Nelson proved himself to be in the early days of his career.
2. “No Place But Texas”
Switching gears from crooner to the outlaw we know and love today, “No Place But Texas” is a love letter to Nelson’s birthplace, with imagery so rich it makes you fall in love with the Lone Star State too.
Written by Alex Harvey, the song takes a turn for the morbid about halfway through, laying out the author’s burial plans. Though Nelson’s trademark levity takes the whole thing in his light-hearted stride, the lyrics when I die, I hope they bury me/on the Pedernales River/beneath a live oak tree make the inevitable very clear—that one day the country music scene will feel a Texas-sized loss.
3. “The Great Divide”
Nelson partnered with a handful of artists, ranging from Kid Rock to Rob Thomas in 2002 for The Great Divide. The end result was an underperforming—and maybe even a little regrettable—collection of duets. One track that does deserve a bit more love is the title track, which saw Nelson team up with guitarist Jackie King. The Western ballad is sweeping, conjuring up images of empty deserts and towering mountains. Nelson is trekking in vain across the sprawling terrain, in search of a relationship lost in the “great divide.”
4. “The Warmth of the Sun”
In 1996, the Beach Boys recruited a group of country stars to interpret their catalog on Stars and Stripes Vol. 1—with Nelson being amongst the pack. Though the red-headed stranger may have been an unlikely choice to take on Brian Wilson’s “The Warmth of the Sun,” Nelson makes it his own with his quavering voice conveying every ounce of heartbreak in the song.
He then offers a bit of solace in the chorus singing Still I have the warmth of the sun / Within me tonight. “I got tears,” Wilson said while witnessing Nelson’s performance in the studio. “That’s absolutely phenomenal.”
5. “Wives and Girlfriends”
Having been married four times, Nelson himself would admit to being a ladies’ man—which he does in a very tongue-in-cheek manner on “Wives and Girlfriends.” Characteristically defiant, he starts the song with the lines I love my wives/and I love my girlfriends/and may they never meet. He then begins a running tally on his wives recalling that some were “fine” and some “made him sick.”
Though the song delights in hyperbole, it’s easy to tell Nelson had fun while playing the part of a philandering husband. In the end, he shrugs the whole ordeal off saying I might be a Mormon/ or I might be a heathen / I just don’t know.
Photo: RachaelPolack/ The Oriel