Epic Album of the Week: Red Headed Stranger
Written by Ian Gerber
For The Soda Shop
Ok, I warned you…I’m covering all sorts of music, not just bearded stoners laying down righteous riffs. Yes, we are talking country music today. It doesn’t get ANY better, for any music, so pick up your bong and give your ears a break from stacks of Oranges cranked to 11 with the perfect album to end your Sunday night on. Besides, I’m from Indiana and that is in the Midwest (for our European friends 🙂 ) and we get a bunch of country music by osmosis, might as well find the good stuff.
We could talk about the album track by track, but that would be boring. Like all of the albums for this feature, you should already have it in your collection and have committed it to memory. Instead, I would like to discuss why you should care about this album, even if you are one of those close minded S.o.B’s who can’t get past Ride the Lightning. Bare minimum, this is a blog dedicated to “Stoner Rock” and we are talking about Willie Nelson…duh.
Well first off, Willie had to fight like the bad mamma jamma that he is to get this record released. After some success with writing songs for the Nashville establishment, including Crazy which Patsy Cline made a monolithic recording of, he had all but faded from the scene. You think that the music industry sucks these days? Try making it on Nashville’s Music Row during the early 70’s. Nashvilles country music monopoly was a fierce dictatorship ran by the labels with the only idea of making money and screwing the little guy…and still is. As far as the establishment was concerned, he was washed up with nothing but a bad attitude to give. Willie was tired of being screwed and had plenty more attitude to dish out.
Willie ended up getting his way, as a true outlaw will. He signed a deal with Atlantic Records, which was monumental for two reasons: It gave him complete control of his creative output and it was also the first time that Atlantic had signed a country artist. When Willie brought the record to the execs at Atlantic, they thought he was bringing them the demoes due to its minimalist approach to the recording, ignoring the popular sound of overproduction that was the norm for country music those days.
So why should you care about this record?
1.) It is beautiful and masterfully recorded. If “Hands on the Wheel” or “Can I Sleep In Your Arms” doesn’t bring a slight moistness to your eyes, you are either 14 years old or not listening correctly. Besides…this album is about the blues, damnit, just like all good rock and roll…even “Stoner Rock”. The Red Headed Preacher shot his old lady for doing him wrong…what a badass!!! The ‘Outlaw Country’ tag be damned, this is just pure human emotions on display, pressed into vinyl.
2.) Willie proved that an artist probably knows a little more about his art than those cake-eatin, suit wearing, cheesin’ motherfuckers called executives at the big record labels. Eat shit dickwads, we have Willie on our team.
3.) This is not only a landmark album across the pop and country spectrum due to its success, but it is also a CONCEPT record; one of the first to really resonate with a large audience, especially outside of rock and roll.
4.) Most importantly, it a cohesive album stacked with incredibly crafted songs that tells a familiar story. It compels you to keep listening, even if you see how its going to end, just because the music is that damn good, everytime. EPIC!!!
Willie Nelson is the ultimate road warrior, a first rate songwriter, a great guitarist, and a national treasure. The Great American Songbook would not be nearly as deep without Willie’s contributions and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for fighting the good fight, whether its against the corporate music machine, preserving our national musical heritage or the prohibition against our favorite way to log hours on the couch. While I’m at it…Toby Keith is a modern country singing bitch (that’s an insult, folks) for complaining about smoking weed with Willie. What a lightweight! I’d do it again if I got the first and second chance.
So, listen to this record. While the songs translate on every format, because they are good and that is what good songs do, I highly suggest spinning it on vinyl. It was specifically recorded for the format and that is where it sounds the best.
If you are a band that thinks you have an EPIC album on your hands or just have a suggestion, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Hands on the Wheel – Willie Nelson