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Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton Pick Favorite Willie Nelson Songs

Choices range from popular classics “On the Road Again” to obscure gems like “Back to Earth”

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson turns 82 today. In honor of his birthday, we polled artists for their favorite songs by the Red Headed Stranger.

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If country music had a Mt. Rushmore, Willie Nelson would be one of the first faces carved into its granite walls. Few musicians are as revered by their peers as Nelson for his songwriting, guitar playing, weathered voice and ongoing artistry. 

Today, Nelson turns 82, and the icon shows no signs of slowing down. Last week, he announced his own line of marijuana, Willie's Reserve. In June, he'll release Django and Jimmie, another duets album with Merle Haggard. (The duo famously first paired up in 1983 for Pancho & Lefty.)  One month later, Nelson's annual Fourth of July Picnic, a tradition he started in 1973, will bring artists like Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Leon Russell and many more to the Austin360 Amphitheater in Dripping Springs, Texas. 

In honor of his birthday, Rolling Stone Country asked a number of artists to name their favorite Nelson song. Picking one was a nearly impossible task for most of his disciples, whose selections ranged from the familiar to the obscure.

Willie Nelson

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

Karen Fairchild, Little Big Town: "I heard Chris Stapleton do it in the dressing room on our tour a few weeks ago and it leveled me. Willie's [version] is obviously the Mack Daddy, but to also hear other singers interpret that song so beautifully [is special]. And, wow, what a lyric, what a melody."

Chris Stapleton: "Growing up, Willie was a formative artist for me to listen to, and 'Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground' is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. It's a gorgeous song. His performance of it, I'm drawn to it. I will listen to it top to bottom when it's on." 

Willie Nelson, Ray Charles

“Seven Spanish Angels”

Will Hoge: "The duet he does with Ray Charles is one of my favorite songs of all time. I've probably only done three cover songs in my set in 15 years, and that's one of them, just because the song is that powerful. He's a hero as a writer, as a performer and as an activist. The high water mark doesn't get any higher."

Willie Nelson

“Always on My Mind”

Phillip Sweet, Little Big Town: "There's something about that melody and sentiment that's always resonated. I love that idea that when you're away from the one that you love, that you still long for them. That melody is just perfect."

Kimberly Schlapman, Little Big Town: "I used to have the accompaniment track to 'Always On My Mind' and I used to sing it at all the county fairs and the Mountain Laurel Festival in North Georgia."

Willie Nelson

“On the Road Again”

Kristian Bush: "I remember it as a kid. I was young and I kept hearing it and going, 'That sounds to me exactly what the Muppets are thinking in their heads, and I want that in my life. . .Kermit with his banjo and all his buddies on the bus.'"

Willie Nelson

“Back to Earth”

John Osborne, Brothers Osborne: "Country songwriting would not be the same if 'Crazy' was never written, but there's an obscure song called 'Back to Earth.' The first time I heard it as a grown man, I just lost it. He just ripped my heart out and that shows the power of that one man. He can tear any big man down with just a lyric. You're working so hard to make a love happen, and then you settle back to earth."

Willie Nelson

“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning”

Mo Pitney: "I do sing that song [in my show]. It's one of my favorite songs because I really think that it is the perfect country song. It was the perfect idea and he's the perfect person to sing it. Sometimes I'm intimidated to sing it." 

Willie Nelson

“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”

Jimi Westbrook, Little Big Town: "The melody is beautiful." (Westbook was on vocal rest, but felt so strongly about contributing that he typed his answer into his smart phone).