Feb 262021

Go back to the beginning

20. Bob Dylan – Sad Songs and Waltzes

Not only has Bob Dylan toured with Willie, recorded with Willie, been covered by Willie, and generally seemed to be bros with Willie to the extent Bob is bros with anyone, but he’s covered Willie. A lot. In the ’80s he recorded “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” in the sessions for Infidels. In the ’70s…well we’ll get to that one in the next entry. And most recently, during his phase performing American-songbook standards, he performed a Nelson composition that has become a standard in its own right: “Sad Songs and Waltzes.” He only performed it one night, at a concert in 2015. Given that Willie’s now doing the Sinatra covers thing himself, maybe it’s time for Bob to do a Willie tribute album. – Ray Padgett

19. Doug Sahm – Me and Paul

The Paul in “Me and Paul” is Paul English, Nelson’s longtime touring drummer and good buddy to boot. With beautifully crafted lyrics, it is a wry and self-deprecating ode to the road, always a returning feature of Nelson’s songwriting. ’60s popster and kindred spirit Doug Sahm gives it a lovely ramshackle vibe, finding an outlaw country groove just as memorable, if maybe more Mex than Tex. From his 1972 eponymous debut Doug Sahm and Band, the song features Bob Dylan on guitar, he surely also providing the harmonica. – Seuras Og

18. Julie Andrews – Crazy

I know Julie Andrews is so much more than Mary Poppins, but I can’t help but picture Miss Poppins on her day off feeling a little blue and crooning to this tune alone in her nanny’s quarters. Like on Nelson’s version, a piano accompanies Andrews, but she swaps the background vocalists for an orchestra. Although she is now the lone voice, the accompaniment is more prominent than Nelson’s. She’s alone but surrounded by sound. – Sara Stoudt

17. The Gun Club – Not Supposed To Be That Way

Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s The Gun Club might seem to be the last band to cover an old maudlin weepie like this, but there was way more to Pierce than his abrasive rock, with a deep love of both the blues and of country. It’s true that he sounds perhaps a little tired, shall we say, in this rendition, but I think it adds to the charm. The playing is certainly sound enough, and, within that wayward vocal, it is one to file alongside Gram Parsons’ vision of Cosmic American Music. – Seuras Og

16. Bettye Lavette – Somebody Pick Up My Pieces

Willie Nelson’s 1998 album Teatro saw him teaming up with Emmylou Harris and producer Daniel Lanois to great effect. The three of them turn “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” into a moving country blues. But that’s nothing compared to what Bettye Lavette does with it on her 2007 album The Scene of the Crime. She gives the song its definitive reading. With the sympathetic backing of the Drive-By Truckers, Lavette turns the song to barbed wire, ripping herself apart as she forces herself to declaim to an audience that’s too terrified to turn away. AllMusic called her performance “the sound of every heart in the world breaking.” They’re right. – Patrick Robbins

15. Elvis Presley – Funny How Time Slips Away

In June 1970, Elvis Presley headed to RCA’s Studio B in Nashville to record with the “Nashville Cats” and guitarist James Burton. In what is almost always referred to as “marathon sessions,” they recorded material that spawned three albums: That’s the Way It Is, Elvis Country (I’m 10,000 Years Old), and Love Letters From Elvis, all of which, in the style of the time, were polished and sweetened with strings and horns. Elvis’ cover of “Funny How Time Slips Away” from these sessions was released on Elvis Country, and it is really good. But last year RCA/Legacy music released a box set of the full sessions, From Elvis in Nashville, including previously unreleased material, remixed by Matt Ross-Spang, who has recently worked with, among others, The Mountain Goats, Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell, and Margo Price, to strip down the tracks to their original sound. And the unadorned version sounds even better. – Jordan Becker

14. Bing Crosby – Hello Walls

“Hello Walls” was originally recorded by Faron Young, but it was actually written by Nelson. Nelson then re-recorded it for his first album. Where Nelson is more speaking than singing in his address to the walls, Crosby brings his deep and resonant singing voice throughout. Background vocals make it sound like the walls and windows are talking back. – Sara Stoudt

13. Lyle Lovett & Ray Benson – Shotgun Willie

Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson and Lyle Lovett teamed up to bring “Shotgun Willie” to life as part of the Willie Nelson American Outlaw concert celebrating his 85th birthday held in Nashville in 2020. They take the song, speed it up just a tad from the waltz feel of the original, and immerse themselves in the world of Shotgun Willie. It’s as if they were sitting around in their underwear in Willie’s living room, performing the song for The Red-Headed stranger himself. – Walt Falconer

12. First Aid Kit – On the Road Again

First Aid Kit’s recent cover of this song makes us aware that its lyrics take on a new tinge of loss and nostalgia during the pandemic that has ground musician touring to a halt. It is a faithful cover with no big surprises. Its true value lies in the uniting hope it passes along to its listeners. – Sara Stoudt

11. B.B. King – Night Life

Willie wrote “Night Life” and “Crazy” within days of each other. Publishers at first rejected “Night Life” because they felt it was “not country.” That much they got right. The song isn’t a blues, either, but B.B. King was never a blues purist. He added “Night Life” into his sets almost immediately; he probably knew Ray Price’s version from 1963. The song appears on King’s second live album recorded in 1966, where King wails on “Night Life” in a small Chicago club. Even decades later King was still wailing on “Night Life:” see his first appearance on Austin City Limits in 1983, and Live at the Apollo from 1993. The song works both as a vehicle for his guitar mastery and as a showcase for his urbane, affable persona. – Tom McDonald

The list continues on Page 4.

Cover Me is now on Patreon! If you love cover songs, we hope you will consider supporting us there with a small monthly subscription. There are a bunch of exclusive perks only for patrons: playlists, newsletters, downloads, discussions, polls - hell, tell us what song you would like to hear covered and we will make it happen. Learn more at Patreon.

  9 Responses to “The 30 Best Willie Nelson Covers Ever”

Comments (9)
  1. Don’t know how you missed Patsy Cline’s version of “Crazy”. I would also like to include Patty Griffin doing “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”.

    • As we said at the start of the post, “The first recording of a Willie song doesn’t count as the cover – even if that first recording wasn’t by Willie himself. Remember that before you get mad that Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is not on this list.”

  2. My version of ” gravy” is sadly missing

  3. Loved Elvis’ “nude” rendition of “Ain’t It Funny” which I’d never heard before and the Rev’s version has long been a favorite, but my favorite version is the Al and Lyle duet from the Rhythm, Country and Blues recording, Here it is live from Letterman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TSf2zxRqkw

  4. has anyone ever tried to match (cover) the perfection of Pancho and Lefty w Merle?

  5. No “Always On My Mind” by the Pet Shop Boys? One of the best cover songs ever!

    • As we said at the start of the post, “We only included covers of songs Willie himself wrote, rather than songs he just popularized. That knocks out a few of his big hits: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Always on My Mind” among them.”

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>