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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"Pancho and Lefty" (1983)

Townes Van Zandt's tale of Mexican banditry, brotherhood and betrayal was more than a decade old when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cut their own version in 1983, turning the song into a duet. Their timing couldn't have been better. Outlaw country still ruled the roost, and "Pancho and Lefty" was the ultimate outlaw tale, positioning its two characters as sympathetic anti-heroes who were loved by mothers and hated by federales. Nelson sent a staggering 16 albums into the Top 10 during the 1980s, but none left as deep an impression as Pancho & Lefty, whose title track proved that the 50 year-old singer could shoot as straight as the younger guns.  

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