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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"Whiskey River" (1973)

This iconic Nelson tune, which has doubled as his concert-opening song since time immemorial, was actually written by Johnny Bush. Nelson cut it for his 1973 album Shotgun Willie, empowering it with a grooving bass line and giant vocal harmonies over which he languidly laments a high-proof river he hopes never runs dry. But the more faster flowing "Whiskey River" wasn't released as a single until 1978, when Nelson included it on that year's live album Willie and Family Live, where it seamlessly segued into "Stay a Little Longer." Since then, it's been synonymous with Nelson, who once even hawked his own Old Whiskey River bourbon.

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