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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"Night Life" (1965)

It's no coincidence that guitar heroes like B.B. King and Thin Lizzy have taken their own stabs at "Night Life." A salute to the wee small hours, the song fires twin barrels of sad-eyed storytelling and six-string riffage, creating a call-and-response between Nelson's late-night observations ("Listen to the blues they're playing!") and the guitar parts that follow. Credit for those mid-song riffs goes to Paul Buskirk, who bought the song from a perpetually cash-strapped Nelson for $150 and joined him on the original recording in 1960. Even so, Nelson was the song's main architect, and he'd rarely built such a sturdy bridge between his vocal and instrumental chops before.

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