A Holiday Parcel c/o the Red-Headed Stranger

Staff Pick: Willie Nelson, Pretty Paper (1979), Columbia 36189


Even the most sentimental Christmas music afficionado (yours truly) tires of the same forty songs on the radio every December. My solution to Jose Feliciano overkill? Roll out the big guns, those Christmas albums that never get old. Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper (1979) is one of those standards.

In the early days of his career, Nelson wrote “Pretty Paper,” but Roy Orbison recorded it first,and made it a hit: “Pretty Paper” rose to #15 on the charts in 1963.

(Fun fact: Before Willie wore braids and bandanas, he was an awkward, anxious, often sweaty, suit-wearing, up-and-coming songwriter, trying to make it in Nashville. His original success was found in writing hits for others, most notably Patsy Cline’s classic “Crazy” and Faron Young’s “Hello Walls.”)

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, and we have Pretty Paper rounding out the tail end of a successful stretch of albums, from Shotgun Willie (1973)– the album that redefined him as an outlaw– to Stardust (1978), my personal favorite. Pretty Paper has all the standards of a successful artist’s requisite Christmas album (“Jingle Bells,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”), but for some reason the tracks sound sweeter when Willie’s laying them down. My personal favorites include his warbly versions of “Pretty Paper,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and the instrumental final track, “Christmas Blues.” But Willie’s bright spirit comes shining through in all twelve songs.

As an added bonus, the album cover is typically ridiculous, featuring a grinning Willie Nelson in a red beret on a postage stamp in the corner of a half-unwrapped package. Consider Pretty Paper Willie’s present to you: his gift of enduring sound.

[audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Pretty-Paper-Clip-1.mp3|titles=Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper”]

Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper is available in the Marr Sound Archives for your listening pleasure.