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Dec. 1: Willie Nelson is a universe-class songwriter, his portfolio containing many classics in the Great Country Songbook. So it’s ironic that his breakout record as an artist was an old chestnut that had come from the pen of another. Of course, that other was no slouch: Fred Rose, the former Tin Pan Alley composer who found a home in country music as a writer, a businessman and a key postwar figure. The first cut on his song was Roy Acuff’s in 1945. But it was Nelson’s version 30 years later that the world would remember.

“Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” was part of Nelson’s concept album Red Headed Stranger, his first for new label Columbia Records. Nelson, who wrote such enduring songs as “Crazy,” “Hello, Walls” and “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away,” had struggled to find an equally winning formula as a performer. By the mid-’70s, he was washing the Nashville off of him as hard as he could, both geographically and stylistically. And this record, cut in Garland, Texas, sounded like nothing coming out of Music Row.

But it obviously struck a chord, reaching the top spot on Billboard‘s country chart — the first for Nelson, and his first Top 10 in 13 years (by way of the self-penned “Touch Me” back in 1962). In his NEXT 13 years, he’d place 25 records in the Top 10. (Check out his complete — and prolific — discography.)

Here’s an overly analytical review of Red Headed Stranger from Rolling Stone, written when the album was new, followed by excerpts of reviews through the years. It’s interesting to see how time affects perspective.

As for Rose — who died of a heart attack on Dec. 1, 1954 — we’ve talked before about his place in country music, supported by his position in the inaugural class of Country Music Hall of Fame inductees in 1961. Nelson would join him in the unbroken circle 32 years later.

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