Why ‘Phases And Stages’ Is Willie Nelson’s Greatest Album of All Time

Willie Nelson’s career has been long and fruitful, and that’s evidenced by his absolutely massive discography. The country legend has released 100 studio albums, over a dozen live albums, and dozens of compilation and video albums since he debuted in 1956. And out of all of those massive bodies of work, there’s nothing quite like the 1974 record Phases And Stages.

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It’s a bit of a controversial statement to say that Phases And Stages is Willie Nelson’s greatest album of his career. Die-hard fans often lean toward Red Headed Stranger, which is also an absolutely incredible piece of work. However, there are a few reasons why Phases And Stages should be considered Nelson’s best work.

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The Beautiful And Unique ‘Phases And Stages’

To start, Phases And Stages was released at a time when the concept album had been done to death; and often poorly, particularly in the rock and country genres.

Willie Nelson, though, did it right. This album followed the deterioration of a marriage as a whole story, and it was structured similarly to a pulpy novel. But Phases And Stages was far from pulpy. It was a mature approach to a concept album that hadn’t been done that well in a very long time.

The structure of the album is fascinating, too. Side one portrays the woman’s point of view, while side two portrays the man’s point of view. It’s the kind of concept album that managed to hold a narrative together perfectly; we’d say even better than Red Headed Stranger.

Just as well, each and every song on Phases And Stages was written by Nelson. He’s never lacked in the songwriting department; it’s what he’s known for. But the fact that this album was entirely his without any assistance makes it even better.

When you look at it as an instrumental production, there’s also a lot of value there. The album is bursting at the seams with fiddles, mandolins, steel guitars, and a wealth of resonator guitars. It was beautifully mixed by Tom Dowd, which was an excellent choice.

Even though Phases And Stages wasn’t Nelson’s biggest commercial success (that rarely matters when it comes to quality), it’s at the top of his huge discography as his best album of all time. If you haven’t listened to it entirely, do it. Find a vinyl copy if you can. Especially if you’re going through a breakup.

Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer

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