Willie Nelson Loves Releasing Cover Songs, Even If Labels Say "Nobody Wants To Hear 'Em"
Released February 26, That's Life is impressively Willie Nelson's 71st solo studio album. The tribute to Frank Sinatra is the second volume of Nelson's Sinatra tribute collection, following 2018's My Way. Cover songs have played an incredible role in elevating Nelson from being a country superstar to a global icon with an instantly recognizable voice. However, when it came to Stardust -- his Grammy-winning album of American Songbook covers released in 1978 -- Columbia Records almost derailed his career evolution towards creating unique interpretations of classic songs.
When the 13-time Grammy winner approached Columbia Records with the idea of recording covers of beloved ballads, executives noted, "This is not a good idea. It costs too much money first of all, and these old songs, nobody wants to hear 'em anymore," Nelson tells Radio.com.
Living in Malibu, California at the time, Nelson turned to legendary Stax Records bandleader -- and his Malibu neighbor -- Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. & the M.G.'s fame as the album's producer. After a whirlwind, ten-day recording cycle from December 3-12, 1977, the album was ready for release in April 1978.
Stardust peaked at number one on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart and crossed over at number 30 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart. In 1979, Stardust's single "Georgia On My Mind" -- a Hoagy Carmichael cover also popularized by Ray Charles -- won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Moreover, Stardust remained, weekly, on Billboard's Country Album charts for a decade, until 1988.
Regarding what he still thinks regarding Columbia Records' initial decision four-plus decades later? Simply put, he notes, "They were wrong."