Behind The Meaning of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Willie Nelson certainly knows how to pen an enduring classic, but he also has a knack for putting his own spin on other artists’ songs to the level that his version becomes the definitive one.

Though “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” was originally written by Fred Rose in 1945 and recorded by Roy Acuff and Hank Williams Sr. before Nelson got his hands on it, the version that appears on Red Headed Stranger has just the right amount of somber notes and plaintive yearning that it has gone on to be a classic in the country mythos.

There are differing opinions as to what this song means. Is it an ode to a lost love or a eulogy for a passed loved one? And where does it fall in the context of Red Headed Stranger? We’re going through the meaning behind “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” below.

The Red Headed Stranger

Nelson’s version of this track appears on Red Headed Stranger, a 1975 concept record about a fugitive preacher on the lam after killing his wife. The entire album went on to be a name-making effort for Nelson, reviving his career in one fell swoop.

[RELATED: Willie Nelson Speaks Out About Death of His Friend Loretta Lynn—“I’ll Miss Her A Lot”]

Before releasing “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” Nelson was primarily known as a songwriter, penning songs like “Crazy” for Patsy Cline and “Hello Walls” for Faron Young. His success as a performer had just begun to pop up. In 1975, Nelson released Red Headed Stranger, and subsequently this iconic track, and the rest is history for the Texas icon.

Meaning Behind The Lyrics

In previous versions, the lyrics to “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” are nothing more than an ode to love lost. In the verses, a man is looking back on a broken relationship, thinking about the moment they parted ways.

In the twilight glow I see them
Blue eyes crying in the rain
When we kissed goodbye and parted
I knew we’d never meet again

In the context of the rest of Nelson’s album though, the dark theme adds a new air to this track. With Nelson’s titular character having killed his wife for cheating on him, his goodbye to her seems more twisted than loving.

Later on in the song, he fantasizes about seeing her in the afterlife (though we’d venture to guess he would be getting a much colder reunion than he seems to be anticipating) and finds himself an old man, regretting his choices.

Some day when we meet up yonder
We’ll stroll hand-in-hand again
In a land that knows no parting
Blue eyes crying in the rain

Now my hair has turned to silver
All my life I’ve loved in vain
I can see her star in heaven
Blue eyes crying in the rain

Other Versions

Since Nelson’s version, a number of other artists have lent their voices to this track. Elvis Presley recorded it in the Jungle Room at Graceland, making “Blues Eyes Crying In The Rain” the last known song that he sang before his death in 1977.

Elsewhere, Olivia Newton-John performed a cover of it on her 1976 album, Come On Over, while Nelson hopped on the mic with Shania Twain for a duet rendition, which appeared on his 2003 live album, Live & Kickin’: Willie Nelson and Friends. In 2017, a posthumously released album from George Jones found a stunning cover of this track.

Photo: Rachael Polack *Provided by The Oriel PR

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