It has been a mere nine months since Willie Nelson’s last album My Way. That means it’s time for some new music from the Red Headed Stranger. The country stalwart released his latest record Ride Me Back Home on June 21. As with many of Nelson’s albums, it includes a mix of covers and original material. Among the covers is Nelson’s take on Billy Joel’s wedding-band staple “Just the Way You Are.”
Written for his first wife Elizabeth Weber, Joel originally released the track on his 1977 album The Stranger. Joel is not exactly enamored with his Grammy-winning song. According to a 2014 profile in The New Yorker, he had dropped the track from his live shows for many years until his creative director urged him to play it again. During a subsequent rehearsal, Joel intentionally botched the lyrics, replacing the words of love with raunchier sentiments. After he finally performed it live, he told the crowd: “And then we got divorced.”
For his cover, Nelson speeds up the tempo, making it more of a finger-snapping quick-stepper than a slow dancer. He ditches the saxophone for a country-harmonica, accordion and a heavy dose of jazz guitar. Nelson sings the lyrics with his familiar delivery, sentimental without being overly canned. “Just the Way You Are” might be one of Joel’s signature hits, but in Nelson’s hands it comes across like classic Willie.
Click here to listen to more covers by Willie Nelson.