Willie Nelson Noel Coppage - Essay

Joe Nick Patoski

Noel Coppage

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Willie] has, in "Red Headed Stranger" …, combined old, new, borrowed, and blue elements to make himself a horse opera about love and death in the late-early Western United States. It's an adult western, set in 1901, and although it purports to make no large statement about the passing of the frontier for our still westering society, it does suggest how one wild-spirited, trigger-happy fellow accommodated himself to civilized ways. The story line, though, isn't terribly strong or important, and it's really a story, not an "opera," the whole thing related by the narrator, Willie…. Nelson has taken old, familiar songs such as Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and Remember Me and used them as set pieces in his story, and they do an interesting job of helping authenticate the dating of the yarn.

The new music is well written…. Nelson has, as Bob Wills did, that kind of Texas-country ear that has a lot of pop in it … and when he combines that trait with the kind of discipline he uses here in the interests of simplicity and a narrative line … well, the result is a sense of much energy under meticulous control.

Noel Coppage, "Willie Nelson Presents an Adult Love-and-Death Western in Song," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1975 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 36, No. 6, December, 1975, p. 83.