Music is the soundtrack to our lives. And on Christmas Day 2012, four days after the world was supposed to end, GuysNation columnist Bryan Lienesch was given the book ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’. As he flipped through it, an idea dawned on him right then and there: he would attempt to knock all 1,001 albums off his list. Not just before he dies, but as fast as life would allow.

This is the Bucket Beats List.

Photo courtesy Tumblr

Photo courtesy Tumblr

It’s been over a year since the last installment of the Bucket Beats List and, at that rate, I will finish in the year 2996, when I am 1,006 years old. Even with Ricky Bobby-esque ignorance, I know I can’t live that long. So I’m going to have to step it up. But first things first. Willie Nelson.

Pop culture knows him as the ganja grandfather of country, but that’s just not doing the man justice. Anyone who has followed his career knows painting Nelson into a corner of one specific genre is a terrible mistake. And 1978’s ‘Stardust’ is proof of just that.

‘Stardust’ is not country. Sure, it has elements that bring in that country feel like the song ‘Georgia On My Mind’, but what makes ‘Stardust’ so special is that it was Nelson’s first real deviation from his honky-tonk roots.

Willie Nelson StardustPerhaps most notable in the departure is his take on ‘Unchained Melody’. Here, Nelson decisively leaves the world of country and places himself in the company of The Righteous Brothers and Elvis Presley (who also released his version of the song in ’78) where the song produced for the prison drama ‘Unchained’ perhaps finally hits a tone that is just the right balance of solemn and hopeful.

It’s so good in fact, that it outshines many other songs on the record such as the titular track. It’s not that ‘Stardust’ the song is so bad, but it’s certainly not where ‘Stardust’ the album hits its stride.

Yes, the first side of the album, if you happen to be listening to it the old-fashioned way, is decidedly stronger. ‘Georgia On My Mind’, ‘Blue Skies’, and ‘Unchained Melody’ are the power trio of the record and can go toe-to-toe with the best of Nelson’s country hits.

The flip side, however, is regrettably a tad bit more forgettable. Call me nitpicky, but the slow jazz vibe of the record just doesn’t quite pair right with the themes of ‘September Song’. ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ and ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore’ barely make up five minutes of song combined, making them not much longer than their titles.

But the best way to view ‘Stardust’ is as a complete body of work. Nelson didn’t experiment for just a track or two. He experimented for an entire record. A record that, had the experiment gone horribly, easily could have undone all the momentum his career had gained off of ‘Red Headed Stranger’.

The best artists, however, are not afraid to fail. And, in not fearing failure, seldom ever encounter it. Such is the case of ‘Stardust’, where an iconic artist went outside his comfort zone, delivered, and perhaps shot his career to a level it could have never attained had it stayed in it.

Yes, you can make all the weed jokes about Willie that you want, but there’s no denying the man knows how to make a song.

Favorite Tracks?
1. Georgia On My Mind
2. Blue Skies
3. Unchained Melody

Least Favorite Tracks?
1. September Song
2. On The Sunny Side Of The Street
3. Someone To Watch Over Me

Do you really need to listen to this album before you die?
You’re telling me you can’t pencil in a half-hour for Willie?