On April 29, Willie Nelson will turn 89 years old. The rare artist for whom "legend" isn't just mere hyperbole, Nelson's extraordinary career has spanned eight decades, over 70 studio albums, dozens of singles, film soundtracks, live releases, and more. The Vinyl Me, Please record club has just announced VMP Anthology: The Story of Willie Nelson to mark 60 years since his first studio LP, 1962's ...And Then I Wrote. Its title reflected the fact that the album would feature a number of hits written by Willie for other artists, including "Hello, Walls," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Crazy." All these years later, those songs are still cornerstones of country music.
The limited edition VMP: The Story of Willie Nelson is told over seven albums on nine vinyl LPs covering six decades of the artist's career. These albums, all of which were originally released on RCA, Columbia, and Legacy Recordings, include:
- Country Willie (His Own Songs) (1965, RCA Victor)
- Yesterday's Wine (1971, RCA Victor)
- Red-Headed Stranger (1975, Columbia)
- Stardust (1978, Columbia)
- Always on My Mind (1982, Columbia)
- Across the Borderline (1993, Columbia, 2 LPs, vinyl premiere)
- Heroes (2012, Legacy, 2 LPs)
This Anthology follows other recent volumes dedicated to Philadelphia International Records and Quincy Jones, among others. These seven albums each represent a different period of Nelson's discography. Country Willie was his RCA debut, teaming him with producer and legendary guitarist Chet Atkins for a foray into Atkins' lush Nashville Sound. Yesterday's Wine found Willie, aided by producer Felton Jarvis, in boldly conceptual territory as the album chronicled the "Imperfect Man" from birth to death. Red Headed Stranger, Willie's first LP for Columbia after a brief sojourn at Atlantic Records, was another powerful concept album - this time, about a man on the run who's killed his wife and her lover. Its spare, haunting, and almost demo-like qualities further set it apart from much of the era's typical Music City fare. Ever pushing the envelope, Nelson turned to classic American pop standards to craft Stardust. Recorded with producer Booker T. Jones, Stardust was a striking move for an outlaw country progenitor, but the gamble paid off: it peaked at No. 1 Country and No. 30 Pop, earning the singer a Grammy Award, yielding two top five Country singles, and remaining on the Country Albums chart for a decade. It's since been certified 5x Platinum.
With Stardust, Willie Nelson proved that he could be authentic and moving in any musical setting. His mainstream success would only grow. 1983's landmark Always on My Mind, named for Mark James' title ballad which Willie took to No. 1 Country/No. 5 Pop and resulted in three Grammy wins, applied the Stardust aesthetic to pop, rock, and R&B standards ("Let It Be Me," "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," "A Whiter Shade of Pale," "Bridge Over Troubled Water") as guided by producer Chips Moman. The VMP Anthology then jumps a decade ahead for the vinyl premiere of 1993's Across the Borderline featuring collaborations with Paul Simon ("Graceland," a duet on "American Tune"), Bob Dylan (the duet on the co-written "Heartland"), Bonnie Raitt ("Getting Over You"), and Sinead O'Connor ("Don't Give Up"). As usual for Nelson, the album blurred all genre lines with contributions from blues-jazz pianist Mose Allison, David Crosby, and Kris Kristofferson, among others. The box set concludes with 2012's Heroes, Nelson's first album for Legacy Recordings. The prolific artist's fourteenth album for the label, A Beautiful Time, arrives on his birthday of April 29.
Each record in the Anthology comes on 180-gram colored vinyl and is housed in a sturdy commemorative box designed by VMP's Art Director Clay Conder and inspired by the Outlaw Country album covers, tour posters, and wanted posters of the early-to-mid 1970s. The albums have been remastered from original audio sources with lacquers cut at GZ, and mastered by Bernie Grundman. A Listening Notes booklet offers lyrics and photography, while an accompanying podcast series will dive even deeper into each LP.
VMP's Director of Classics and Country, Andrew Winistorfer, has penned the Listening Notes booklet. He writes, "Across close to 100 LPs, Willie Nelson has written about life, love, death, and the American experience. VMP Anthology: The Story of Willie Nelson aims to honor his indelible legacy through his most influential, important albums from the beginning of his career to today."
VMP Anthology: The Story of Willie Nelson is available for pre-order now. It's limited to 1,500 copies and is expected to ship in mid-July (date subject to change based on any potential manufacturing delays). As always, VMP members get a discount on the release, but it is available to all. You'll find the pre-order link here.