The Regretful Meaning Behind Willie Nelson’s 1989 No. 1 “Nothing I Can Do About It Now”

In retrospect, there’s a tendency to want to go back in time and fix some wrongs. Nearly everyone has regrets, and moving on from them, and realizing there’s nothing you can do about them now was the exact sentiment of Willie Nelson‘s 1989 hit.

Videos by American Songwriter

The Meaning

The opening track on Nelson’s 37th album A Horse Called Music in 1989, “Nothing I Can Do About It Now” follows a man haunted by his past regrets. He can still see all the people he’s hurt, like a picture in the back of his mind.

I’ve got a long list of real good reasons
For all the things I’ve done
I’ve got a picture in the back of my mind
Of what I’ve lost and what I’ve won

I’ve survived every situation
Knowing when to freeze and when to run
And regret is just a memory written on my brow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now

I’ve got a wild and a restless spirit
I held my price through every deal
I’ve seen the fire of a woman’s scorned
Turn her heart of gold to steel

Midway into the song, the narrator takes full responsibility for his past mistakes and doesn’t want to cry over it since there’s nothing he can do about it now.

I’ve got the song of the voice inside me
Set to the rhythm of the wheel
And I’ve been dreaming like a child
Since the cradle broke the bow
And there’s nothing I can do about it now

Running through the changes
Going through the stages
Coming round the corners in my life
Leaving doubt to fate
Staying out too late
Waiting for the moon to say good night

And I could cry for the time I’ve wasted
But that’s a waste of time and tears,
And I know just what I’d change
If went back in time somehow
But there’s nothing I can do about it now

[RELATED: 6 Songs You Didn’t Know Willie Nelson Wrote, Made Famous by Other Artists]

The Charts

Written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, “Nothing I Can Do About It Now” topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, while A Horse Called Music reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top Country Album chart.

“Nothing I Can Do About It Now” remains the most recent No. 1 Nelson has earned as a solo artist.

More Regrets

Songs of regret have always slipped into Nelson’s catalog throughout the years, including his biggest apologetic hit “Always on My Mind” from 1972.

In 1980, Nelson also sang of more regrets—Pickin’ up hookers instead of my pen / I let the words of my youth fade away—on his cover of Waylon Jennings‘ “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” which he took to No. 1. His 2002 song “You Remain” reveals that trying to cover up past regrets is futile: What do you do with old regrets / There’s a box full underneath the bed / Just close enough not to forget.

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage

Leave a Reply

Interview: Dylan Schneider Shares Personal Story in “Daddy Drinks Whiskey”

Song Review: Olivia Rodrigo Switches Up Her Sound for ‘Hunger Games’ Prequel Offering, “Can’t Catch Me Now”