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Classic Album Review-Willie Nelson “Yesterday’s Wine”

Greetings from Asheville, where good music can always be found on the turntable, or in the CD and MP3 players. After a day of wrangling with computer viruses and the extended process it often takes to cure them, it’s good to be back to writing.

It tanked when it was released, but today, it’s considered a Country music classic. The album I speak of, and of which today’s Classic Album Review covers, is Willie Nelson’s 1971 RCA release, Yesterday’s Wine. Released in September, it was already his fourteenth album (excluding budget reissues on RCA’s Camden line or Liberty’s Sunset line). I would not call it the first “concept” album in Country music (I can think of at least two earlier Johnny Cash discs that I would consider concept), but I believe that this certainly broke new ground in that style, whereas most previous ones dealt with a sole subject, this one has a group of songs that, listened to in order, tell a story, in this case, the life of a man from birth to death.

Recorded in less than a week, the album was a sales disappointment, not even charting. Numerous articles and publications all give the same basic explanation, in that RCA didn’t really know how to promote it and felt like it’s commercial potential was very limited, so little promotion was done. I think (and this is merely my opinion) that when you see the results of later works such as Phases And Stages and especially Red Headed Stranger, had this album been released about eight or nine years later, it would have been a monster.

We are given an intro that gives an explanation of the album, and it’s subject, to start things, before Willie jumps into a medley of “Where’s The Show” and “Let Me Be A Man”, which covers the birth of the subject, and his desire to be man and do what the Lord desires.

“In God’s Eyes” contains a message of what we all should ideally be as. I love the message, here, and I think this is a great song that sadly, unless you are familiar with the album, you’ve not likely heard.

“Family Bible” is a song that Willie wrote, then sold the rights of, early in his career. It became a top ten hit for Claude Gray in 1960. A fine song of remembrance, along the lines of “Daddy Sang Bass” and “Mama Sang A Song”. In fact, I dare say, it’s as strong of a song as those two, just not quite as famous, though still well known.

In life, we all come upon instances or situations, in which, from our earthly existence, doesn’t seem to make any sense to us, and in some cases, never will, yet those of us whose belief lay in God, know that there is a greater purpose that serves his big picture. Or, as noted in the reissue’s liner notes; why do bad things happen to good people. That’s the gist of “It’s Not For Me To Understand”. I think Willie did an excellent piece of writing, here, depicting how we all feel in these situations.

The medley of “These Are Difficult Times” and “Remember The Good Times” is a mix that acknowledges the hard times of life, but a reminder to remember the good times. A message that reminds me of times when loved ones pass; it’s a hard, and often tragic or devastating time of life, yet a time when we often remember the good times. It’s what gets many of us through those times. I have to admit to getting chills listening to this track.

The reissue’s liner notes calls “Summer Of Love” one of Willie’s most underrated love songs. It’s certainly deserving of more acclaim; a wonderful look at the blooming of a new love. This is the first track of side two, on the vinyl version.

Sometimes when love begins, it also ends, as we hear about in “December Day”. I think this is one of the stellar cuts of the album, a remake of a song that also had appeared on Willie’s “Good Times” album. Like many of the cuts, here, the craftsmanship of the words is fantastic, plus the chord arrangements, in and of themselves, are quite interesting.

Most of us remember “Yesterday’s Wine” from the 1982 hit version by Merle Haggard and George Jones. Willie’s version is quicker, and of course, his vocal phrasings are completely different than Haggard and Jones. I’ve always been a fan of their version, but I find Willie’s quite fascinating to listen to. It grabs your attention and won’t let go until after the final note has ended.

Another track that many will remember, due to a later version is “Me And Paul”. In 1985, a remake of this by Willie, was hit. It is autobiographical, and “Me And Paul”, along with “Yesterday’s Wine”, both cover the angle of life where one, often as the years have advanced, tends to look back on their life and all it has entailed. As for “Me And Paul”, this is the better version, in my book. “Me And Paul” and “Yesterday’s Wine” were released, together, as a single in the Fall of 1971, but could only muster a peak in the sixties.

Of course, the album’s final cut deals with our subject’s death. Covering what we have to wonder the departed must think if they can see the gathering that takes place at their passing. Kind of haunting, but definitely thought-provoking.

$10 to $25 is the range I’ve seen for used vinyl copies of this album. As for it’s current availability as new product, you can find it, both as a CD and MP3 download.

There are no weak tracks, here, but as far as a Standout Track, I have to go with “Yesterday’s Wine”, while my Hidden Gem (amongst many contenders) would be “December Day”.

Overall, an album that has been lauded in many circles as a “classic”, “masterpiece”, or “true work of art”, and I would not dare disagree. The recording tape was the canvas, and Willie was the artist, and his result was equal to what Monet or Rembrandt did in their field. This is an album that has been a pleasure to listen to, from beginning to end, and will be played many more times. I’ve always thought that Red Headed Stranger was great, and I still do, but this one is even better. A 5 out of 5, here.



“Before His Time”

“Me And Paul”

“Red Headed Stranger”

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