Every No. 1 Country Single of the Eighties: Willie Nelson, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

Willie Nelson

Written by Willie Nelson

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

February 27, 1981


#1 (1 week)

March 21, 1981

Willie Nelson follows “On the Road Again,” which could’ve been a No. 1 hit by anybody, with “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” a No. 1 hit that nobody else in country music history could’ve taken to the top.

This song has a barely there musical track, deeply philosophical lyrics, and a vocal performance that is as idiosyncratic as Willie Nelson gets.  “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is the kind of record that is supposed to be a deep cut shared among the most knowledgeable music fans as they scoff at the radio fare that casual listeners embrace.

Its success is a reminder that the country music audience will readily embrace smart and sophisticated material when given the chance, which makes the shallow content usually in heavy rotation all the more frustrating.

Nelson followed Honeysuckle Rose with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a collection of standards in the same vein as his landmark Stardust album.  It produced the top fifteen hit “Mona Lisa” and the top thirty hit “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

We’ll see Nelson again in 1982 with the biggest hit of his career.

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Like Hank Thompson and very few others, everything Willie sings is at least pleasant listening and usually much more than that. This is by no means my favorite Willie Nelson recording (his recording with Ray Price and Crystal Gayle on “Faded Love” takes that honor) but it is a recording I very much like.

  2. This is my favorite Willie Nelson recording too, and I have a deep love for Willie’s vast catalog.

    Off topic, but Patsy Cline’s version of “Faded Love” is my favorite take on that song.

  3. The beautiful thing about Faded Love is that there are so many different takes on the song and so many of them are great. I believe the two greatest vocalists in country music history are Ray Price and Patsy Cline so I love both of those versions mentioned above. As for Willie, only he could take a song like this one and score a hit from it, and what a great song it is.

  4. For a period that is often monolithically referred to as the “Urban Cowboy” era, the sound and style of songs that have rung the bell at the top of the charts has been unexpectedly diverse.

    Look at the range of music coming from artists recording in the early eighties so far: the Oak Ridge Boys gospel influenced four-part harmonies, Crystal Gayle’s sophisticated country-pop, Merle Haggard’s California country, TG Sheppard’s misogynistic moof, John Conlee’s brilliant vocal phrasing and power, Don William’s quiet but deep grooves, Dolly Parton’s ground-breaking explorations beyond country, Mickey Gilley and Ronnie Milsap elegantly keeping countrypolitan traditions alive, Eddie Rabbitt emerging as a pop-country star, Alabama changing the game for self contained bands in country music.

    Interestingly, the one true urban cowboy artist – Johnny Lee -has been the most milquetoast and least noteworthy of the chart-toppers.

    Legends like Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, Dottie West, and Charley Pride were still charting.

    Add this stunning poetic and philosophical gem by Willie Nelson to the mix, and the breadth of artistry is astounding. Creatively, it’s increasingly difficult for me not consider the early eighties a classic era of country music.

    I hadn’t before this feature brought this diversity of style and sound into focus for me.

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