Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Stardust" by Willie Nelson (1978)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl

Filed Between: Ricky Nelson and New Edition

My Favorite Tracks:
At this point, pretty much every song on this LP has been covered numerous times.  That being said, Willie's renditions of these particular songs are my favorites of anybody's:

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
REQUIRED LISTENING (4/4).  Seriously, if you haven't heard every song on this record, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

I have mentioned before that Willie Nelson is the country music equivalent of The Beatles.  Today's entry bares that out again.  Like The Beatles, Nelson never seemed content to retread the same ground.  And, like The Beatles, he was in a rather unique position to basically try anything he wanted.

Turns out, he decided he wanted to try standards.  Nowadays, this is a common thing.  Rod Stewart has revitalized his career for the umpteenth tim by doing so; country megastars like George Strait and Garth Brooks seemed contractually obligated to record one every now and then.  But in 1978, this was a radical and risky idea.

And not just in the world of country.  Aside from Ray Charles and torch singers, names like Hoagy Carmichael had been irrelevant to the landscape of popular music for almost fifty years.  Standards were left to the jazz guys.  Country, rock and even R&B had instead latched onto and canonized the bluesmen from that era; Robert Johnson was king of the twenties in 1978.

But then Willie Nelson brought standards back in a big way, and the effect was immediate.  Turns out, people wanted to hear these kinds of songs, especially when they were interepreted by one of the best translators out there.  Much like "Red Headed Stranger," "Stardust" shouldn't have worked - a country superstar going quiet and jazzy on tunes that were big with the flapper generation.  But that's why he's Willie Nelson.

Each time you hear that masterfully understated delivery, you can't help but think that this is the perfect song for Willie Nelson and, of course he HAD to pick it.  That happens over and over again on "Stardust."

Even if (for some strange reason) you don't like the songs on "Stardust," you should appreciate it for it's innovation because the odds are very strong that there's something out there you do like that might not have existed if it hadn't been for this record.  (By the way, I say the same thing to people about The Beatles all the time.)

So, is it an album?  Yes.  I think a fair argument could even be made that this is actually a theme album - it's very single-minded in the best possible way.

Up next, we stay in jazzland with "Dregs of the Earth" by Dixie Dregs.

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