“Pancho and Lefty”
Written by Townes Van Zandt
Radio & Records
#1 (1 week)
July 15, 1983
#1 (1 week)
July 23, 1983
Which is a better story about Pancho & Lefty, the first collaborative album from all-time greats Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson?
Is it that “Always On My Mind” almost ended up on the album, until Haggard vetoed that kind of love song as being inappropriate for the pair to record together?
Or is it that Haggard is barely a featured vocalist on their signature duet because Nelson recorded most of the track while Haggard was sleeping off a bender on his tour bus?
Both stories end with a defining record of the eighties, so it’s a win-win all around. Nelson’s sardonic dressing down of the incompetent federales is one of his best moments on record, gently mocking them as he sings, “they could’ve had him any day. They only let him slip away….out of kindness, I suppose.”
Haggard blasting in for the final verse feels like a surprise with every listen, as the man with top billing cedes the spotlight for most of the song’s run time. The consummate professionalism of this pairing, anchored in such mutual respect, is evident on the recording and its label. Of course Haggard was deferential enough to Nelson to let him sing most of the song. Of course Nelson was deferential enough to Haggard to give him top billing anyway.
There’s something so magical about the camaraderie between the superstar artists of this era, and we got a lot of great music out of it.
“Pancho and Lefty” gets an A.
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