Willie Nelson: 20 Essential Songs

From the signature ballad he wrote for Patsy Cline to his love letter to life on the road

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"Georgia on My Mind" (1978)

Few songs, standards or otherwise, get touched by Nelson without forever bearing his likeness. Well, except possibly songs that had already been done by Ray Charles. So it's a testament to both men's skills as master interpreters that they could take "Georgia on My Mind" – already the official song of the Peach State – and make it their own. Nelson took his cue from fellow Atlantic Records man Charles (who was himself a Georgia native), giving his version a decidedly soulful reading on 1978's Stardust, itself a sign of how far outside country he was willing to reach at the height of his outlaw notoriety. He wound up winning a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for it, which was only deserved; his brittle, plaintive performance is one the finest Nelson ever put to tape, a masterstroke of emotional understatement. 

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