Nothing more typifies the Outlaw Movement in country music than the multi-artist compilation Wanted! The Outlaws in 1975. One of the singles from that album was a live version of ‘Good Hearted Woman’, written and sung by Willie with his good friend Waylon Jennings (who had already had a solo hit with the song). That #1 hit was followed a few years later by a full length duet album by the pair in 1978. In many ways it is quite an experimental modern sounding record, with the artists given full creative control. They produced the record together, and generally swap lead lines on most of the songs, with a handful of solos.
‘The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You)’ is one of those exceptions, with a solo vocal from Waylon. If it seems curious that this served as the album’s first single, it may be explained by the fact that the record was released on RCA, to which Waylon was still signed as a solo artist. It was written by soul songwriter/producer Chips Moman (who also wrote Waylon’s iconic ‘Luckenbach, Texas’). It’s not really a favourite of mine, more for the rather tinny sound of the eponymous instrument then for the song itself, which has quite a nice melancholic feel. It perched at the top of the Billboard country singles chart for two weeks.
The next single and another #1 hit was a genuine duet, and is much more to my taste. ‘Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, written by Ed Bruce and his wife Patsy, became a favourite live tune for the duo. The singalong chorus may sound celebratory, but the verses make this rather a wistful song about the complex characters of men drawn to the cowboy life, with an ironic undertone not dispelling the sense of a wearied honesty which imbues the song.
‘I Can Get Off On You’ is a quirky love song co-written by Waylon and Willie saying the woman in question is better than various drugs or alcohol. The cheerful laundry list of illegal substances the protagonist has clearly experienced in volume in the past might make this hard to get past radio gatekeepers nowadays, but things were more relaxed in some respects in the late 70s, and it was another chart-topper for the duo.
Willie’s solo version of the intense ‘If You Can Touch Her At All’ peaked at #5. The song, penned by Lee Clayton, is about a relationship with a woman by turns passionate and prudish. George Jones later covered it as a duet with Lynn Anderson, but it works better seen solely from the man’s standpoint.
A couple of the songs from Phases And Stages make an appearance here in duet versions. The travelling musician’s theme song ‘Pick Up The Tempo’ works well on this project, while ‘It’s Not Supposed To Be That Way’ is lovely. Also great, ‘A Couple More Years’ is an excellent serious song about maturity, written by Dennis Locorriere and Shel Silverstein. Both Willie and Waylon are at their best vocally here.
Waylon takes the lead on ‘Lookin’ For A Feeling’ which is a bit dull. Even more boring is ‘Gold Dust Woman’, a Fleetwood Mac cover sung by Waylon solo, without much melody. It was omitted from the first CD reissue of the album in 2002, along with two Kris Kristofferson songs. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ is no loss, and ‘The Year 2003 Minus 25’ with its apparently prescient depiction of a war with the Arabs over gas (presumably inspired by the repeated gas crises of the 70s) makes for uncomfortable listening.
However, the other Kristofferson song, ‘Don’t Cuss The Fiddle’, is much better – and also has a current day resonance with its message of tolerance towards fellow artists
I scandalized my brother
While admitting that he sang some pretty songs
I’d heard that he’d been scandalizing me
And, Lord, I knew that that was wrong
Now I’m lookin’ at it over something cool
and feelin’ fool enough to see
What I had called my brother on
Now he had every right to call on me
Don’t ever cuss that fiddle, boy
Unless you want that fiddle out of tune
That picker there in trouble, boy
Ain’t nothing but another side of you
If we ever get to heaven, boys
It ain’t because we ain’t done nothin’ wrong
We’re in this gig together
So let’s settle down and steal each other’s songs
I found a wounded brother
Drinkin’ bitterly away the afternoon
And soon enough he turned on me
Like he’d done every face in that saloon
Well, we cussed him to the ground
And said he couldn’t even steal a decent song
But soon as it was spoken
We was sad enough to wish that we were wrong
make sure you get the full length album including this song.
Amusingly they then throw in a few lines from Waylon and Willie’s hit duet ‘Good Hearted Woman’ as the track comes to an end.
The album was incredibly successful for the period, and has now been certified double platinum. Two less successful sequels, WWII and Take It To The Limit, emerged in 1982 and 1983 respectively, the former with Waylon at the fore, the latter focussing on Willie. But the first of their three duet records is by far the best.