In September 1980, I was 13 years old, and I had been getting into (mainly) Pop music for about a year and a half or so, faithfully listening to Casey Kasem’s AMERICAN TOP 40 every week. At the end of September 1980, a song debuted on the chart called “On The Road Again,” by a Country singer/songwriter I had never heard of (yes, it’s true) named Willie Nelson.
As I mentioned in my debut blog post back in January 2016, my mom listened to Country music, and with the exception of her favorite Country singer, Charley Pride, I was still learning about the genre through the crossover hits on AT40 and the occasional listen to Bob Kingsley’s AMERICAN COUNTRY COUNTDOWN (or, the Country equivalent to AMERICAN TOP 40; both used BILLBOARD charts).
“On The Road Again” was one of those crossover hits. It was a short, simple, light-hearted song from a movie he starred in, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, earned him a Grammy award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It’s safe to say I liked it right away.
I would later learn that Willie Nelson was 47 at that point (he turns 83 this year!), and though this was just his second BILLBOARD Top 40 solo Pop hit, he had been writing and recording songs for decades. His song, “Crazy,” was popularized in 1962 by the late, great Patsy Cline. It was a No. 2 Country hit and a No. 9 Pop hit.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Willie. Not only has he been a champion for the farmers and for the working men and women, but he also never forgot who he was and never forgot his friends, or his fans. And even when trouble found him (the I.R.S. comes to mind), he always prevailed.
His ninth No. 1 BILLBOARD Country hit, “On The Road Again” spent a couple of weeks at No. 20 on the Hot 100 in November 1980, but he’d be back on the chart again soon enough with a huge, amazing cover of the song co-written by Brenda Lee and was an 1972 Elvis Presley classic (which Willie in 1982, and later the Pet Shop Boys in 1988, would turn into classics as well), “Always On My Mind.”
Willie Nelson is releasing a new album this month (February 26, 2016), SUMMERTIME: WILLIE NELSON SINGS GERSHWIN, which features guest appearances by Sheryl Crow and my girl, Cyndi Lauper, who has her first Country album coming out this year, titled DETOUR.
There’s just an elite number of recording artists (in my humble opinion) that can take on any genre and run away with it. Cyndi’s on that list, along with Sting, Elvis Costello and Willie Nelson, to name a few. I’ve heard Willie cover songs like “The Rainbow Connection,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “Time After Time” with grace and style, and he’ll continue as such on gems like “Embraceable You,” “But Not For Me” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Of that, I have no doubt.
It’s funny to think that I had no idea Willie Nelson was already a legend in 1980. I have a bit of a better idea now, all thanks to a two-and-a-half minute song about him not being able to wait to get on the road again… Thanks Willie…