Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson
When Willie Nelson left Atlantic Records for CBS in 1972, he got a good deal, complete control of what he put out. When he pitched up at their offices in 1974 with the tapes of his new album, "Red Headed Stranger", CBS thought they were demos and urged Nelson to return to the studios to make a proper recording for release. They just couldn't understand the simple, bare-bones approach that he'd adopted for this record.
Scriptwriter Troy Kennedy Martin, may be best know as the co-creator of long running tv cop show "Z Cars", or even as the screenwriter of the original "Italian Job" and "Kelly's Heroes", but those in the know agree that his masterpiece was the terrific UK eighties thriller serial "Edge of Darkness". The story was of government cover-ups around the disposal of nuclear waste and the dangers of competitive tendering and the desire to maximise profit when dealing with such high-risk material. Aside from a ghost, played by the wonderful Joanne Whalley, the two main characters are a Yorkshire policeman and a CIA agent played by Bob Peck and Joe Don Baker respectively. Although you might expect these two to eventually toe the government line about the dangerous and illegal nuclear goings-on, they both independently smell a rat and help one another expose what is happening.
The point where they realise they can trust each other is the moment when they discover that they both are aficionados of the "Red Headed Stranger". And those of us who are like-minded, completely understood. Yes he could turn you over to MI5 in the blink of an eye. But you know he won't. Not because he likes Willie Nelson, but because he knows all the words to this LP. Because he gets it, the point about the album IS the simplicity, the piano, harmonica, guitar, base, snare drum, that's it, simple as a man with nothing else but a horse, his sorrow and the day ahead. And that's what the CBS executives didn't get: the sparseness was essential to the meaning of the album.
In my bedsit in Manchester I was listening to a Radio One album review show late one night in 1975 when I heard this track. I knew nothing about country and western music and had never heard of Willie Nelson, but I went out and ordered the LP and it's still is one of my most played albums.
And its a "concept album", although what with the Beatles, Beach Boys, Who, Kinks, Pink Floyd et al all producing themed or story-driven discs in the preceding decade, it's interesting that no-one made similar claims for "Red Headed Stranger". Perhaps because it was country. Or perhaps because it's so simple. Or maybe because Willie always looks like the nice but slightly dodgy old bloke that your Mum's just turned up in the cafe with.
Willie's vocal is a perfect blend of roughness and tenderness, like a rare Scotch, and Jody Payne's exquisite guitar is beautifully backed by Micky Raphael's shimmering harmonica, a personification of loneliness brought into sharp focus in the sudden moment of the two-part harmony:
"....we'll stroll hand in hand again...."