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Phases and Stages

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Phases and Stages
Phases and Stages.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 1974
StudioMuscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama
LabelAtlantic Records
ProducerJerry Wexler
Willie Nelson chronology
Shotgun Willie
Phases and Stages
Red Headed Stranger

Phases and Stages is the seventeenth studio album by Willie Nelson, which followed the moderate success of his first Atlantic Records release, Shotgun Willie. Nelson met producer Jerry Wexler at a party where Nelson sang songs from an unreleased album he had recorded in 1972. The single "Phases and Stages" was originally recorded the same year. Nelson re-recorded the album at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in two days and Wexler produced it.

The album narrates the story of a divorce. Side one tells the woman's story and side two the man's. Released on March 1974, the album peaked at number 34 on Billboard's Top Country Albums and the single "Bloody Mary Morning" reached number 17 on Billboard's Country singles. Despite the chart positions attained by the album, and its singles, Atlantic Records closed their Country music division in September 1974.


In 1972, Nelson signed a recording contract with the Country Music division of Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler, who gave him greater creative control than he'd had during his tenure with RCA.[1][2] Nelson met Wexler at a party in Harlan Howard's house, where he sang the songs he wrote for an album. Howard later remembered, “He got on the stool late at night when the party had thinned out, and he sang like a total album with a gut string and a stool. He just went from one song to another and then Jerry Wexler from New York...flipped out.[3] Nelson was excited at the prospect of using his own band, something RCA had not allowed him to do previously. By this time the core of Nelson’s band – Paul English on drums, Bee Spears on bass, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, and Bobbie Nelson on piano – was in place and cultivating a new sound that would be soon widely known as Outlaw country, a progressive take on traditional country music with a rock and roll attitude. Nelson recorded his first album for Atlantic Records, Shotgun Willie, in 1972.[4] Shotgun Willie, produced by Arif Mardin and Wexler, marked a change of style in Nelson's music. Nelson stated that recording the album had "...cleared his throat".[5]

Recording and composition[edit]

The single "Phases and Stages" was first released in 1972. Nelson had previously recorded the album Phases and Stages in Nashville, Tennessee.[6] In 1973, Nelson re-recorded the songs in two days at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio for Atlantic Records with musicians Fred Carter, Jr., David Hood, Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, Pete Carr and Roger Hawkins. Atlantic Records' executives criticized Wexler's decision to record in Muscle Shoals instead of Nashville.[7] Wexler later stated: "They said Muscle Shoals was too R&B for Willie. I said Willie was too R&B for Nashville."[8] Although initially skeptical of recording at Muscle Shoals, Nelson later admitted, "Playing with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, I was able to sharpen the edges. Wexler was right. That studio brought out the blues in me, big time.”[9]

The album became one of the first concept albums in country music.[10] The theme of the songs centers on divorce, narrated from both viewpoints. The one of the woman is narrated on side one; while the man's is on side two. The recurrent song "Phases and Stages" is repeated throughout the album, introducing several other songs.[11] The album begins with "Phases and Stages/Washing the Dishes", with the woman tired of caring for her unfaithful husband, emphasizing her domestic chores. This is followed by "Phases and Stages/Walkin'" where, after consideration, she leaves her husband at night, saying "Walkin' is better than runnin' away, and crawlin' ain't no good at all". In "Pretend I Never Happened", she advises him to forget her and continue with his life. In "Sister's Coming Home/Down at the Corner Beer Joint", her younger sister describes the woman moving back home and sleeping late. Eventually, she overcomes her grief and begins a social life at the corner beer joint, representing her liberation with the lyrics "(she's) dancin' on a hardwood floor, her jeans fit a little bit tighter than they did before". The final song of side one depicts the woman falling in love again but reluctant to admit it because she fears that her story will be repeated.[6] The second side of the album begins with "Bloody Mary Morning", with the male narrator ordering drinks on a flight from Los Angeles, California to Houston, Texas after his wife unexpectedly left him, with "the smog and haze reminding me of how I feel". In "Phases and Stages/No Love Around" he recalls dragging in at sunrise after another night of carousing: "I come home last Saturday morning, I come home and found you gone." In the sad "I Still Can't Believe You're Gone", the man realizes the vast impact on his life of her leaving. "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way" reflects his inability to accept the situation and his grief, but still in a self-centered way. In "Heaven and Hell", the man expresses his ambivalence about living without his wife, with the lyric: "Sometimes it's heaven, sometimes it's hell, and sometimes I don't even know." The final track is "Phases and Stages/Pick Up the Tempo/Phases and Stages", in which the man reveals his inability to change his character, and accepts his nature and its consequences.[12]

Although Nelson admitted the subject of many of the songs was “grief, grief, and more grief”, he also clarified, “The overall theme was not a reflection of my own life...I was simply making up a story. Sure, I’d gone through breakups and heartaches of my own. What human soul hasn’t? But Phases and Stages was a fictional account of the sorrow that comes with the ruins of romance.”[13] Nelson revealed that “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way” was written for his daughter Susie, "a father talking to his daughter, saying to her what I was now saying to Susie. Instead of trying to give people advice, I am better at putting my feelings into a song.”[14][full citation needed] “I Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone” was written about Paul English’s wife Carlene, who committed suicide, but, Nelson later suggested, “it has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people who have no idea why I wrote it.”[15][full citation needed] “Bloody Mary Morning” previously appeared on Nelson's 1970 LP Both Sides Now but “the sentiment fit the story”[9] so he recut it at Muscle Shoals. Three songs – "Pick Up the Tempo," "Heaven and Hell," and "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way" – also appeared on Waylon Jennings' album This Time, released in July 1974, which was not coincidentally co-produced by Nelson, a cross-promotion that built the Waylon and Willie brand.[16]

Release and reception[edit]

The album was released in March 1974. Nelson later admitted, “Considering the puzzlement with which Nashville had received Yesterday’s Wine, I didn’t know how this new concept album would go over.[17][full citation needed] It peaked at number 34 in Billboard's Top Country Albums and number 187 in Billboard's Top LPs & Tapes.[18] The single "Bloody Mary Morning" peaked at number 17, and its follow-up, "I Still Can't Believe You're Gone", peaked at number 51 in Billboard's Country singles.[19] Despite the moderate success of Nelson's singles, Atlantic Records' executives were unhappy with Nelson's style, and closed their Country Music division in September 1974. Wexler protested to Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, arguing that Atlantic had Willie Nelson. The Ertegun brothers replied "Willie Who? Go ahead and close it." Following the division's closure, Wexler resigned.[20] The album sold 400,000 copies, and Nelson was released from his Atlantic contract, prompting Columbia Records' executives to offer Nelson a contract giving him complete creative control of his works.[2][21] Wexler later described Phases and Stages and Shotgun Willie as "...generally viewed as having set Willie on a new path ... it was the coalescing of his audience, where the rednecks and the hippies came together. And to this day, that's Willie's audience."[22]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Rolling StoneFavorable[12]
Christgau's Record GuideA–[25]
Allmusic5/5 stars[26]
Texas MonthlyFavorable[23]

Rolling Stone wrote: "(Nelson) seems to understand an unloved woman better than any dozen articles from Ms. (magazine). The fact that Nelson can fashion a believable scenario with such sparseness is a tribute to his ability to turn experience into good music. Phases And Stages, his best work to date, now seems to call out for the filmmaker who can turn good music into good cinema".[12] Texas Monthly described the album as: "...a compassionate account of dissolution of marriage, which gave extremely sensitive male and female viewpoints".[23]

Billboard wrote: "Nelson's unfettered voice honestly portrays his songs of love and lament".[27] Critic Robert Christgau wrote: "Nelson's combination of soft-spoken off-key and battered honky-tonk matches the bare, responsive country music Jerry Wexler has gotten out of the Muscle Shoals regulars."[25] Newsweek wrote: "In Phases and stages (Nelson) looked far beyond country music's traditional shore of self pity toward a clear vision of real life country divorce".[21]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote for Allmusic: "...the deceptively relaxed arrangements, including the occasional strings, not only highlight Nelson's clever eclecticism, but they also heighten the emotional impact of the album. [...] As a result, this is not just one of Willie Nelson's best records, but one of the great concept albums overall".[26]

LP track listing[edit]

All songs written by Willie Nelson.

Side one
1."Phases and Stages (Theme)" / "Washing the Dishes"2:06
2."Phases and Stages (Theme)" / "Walkin'"3:58
3."Pretend I Never Happened"3:00
4."Sister's Coming Home" / "Down at the Corner Beer Joint"3:46
5."(How Will I Know) I'm Falling in Love Again"3:27
Side two
1."Bloody Mary Morning"2:48
2."Phases and Stages (Theme)" / "No Love Around"2:24
3."I Still Can't Believe You're Gone"4:15
4."It's Not Supposed to Be That Way"3:27
5."Heaven and Hell"1:52
6."Phases and Stages (Theme)" / "Pick Up the Tempo" / "Phases and Stages (Theme)"3:26


The musicians and recording personnel included:[7][28]

Chart positions[edit]


Year Chart Peak position[18]
1974 Billboard Top Country Albums 34
1976 Billboard 200 187


Song Chart Peak[19]
"Bloody Mary Morning" Billboard Hot 100 17
"I Still Can't Believe You're Gone" Billboard Hot 100 51


  1. ^ Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 251.
  2. ^ a b Cusic, Don 2008, p. 120.
  3. ^ Streissguth, Michael 2013, p. 41.
  4. ^ Kienzle, Richard 2003, pp. 250, 251.
  5. ^ Tichi, Cecilia 1998, p. 341.
  6. ^ a b Reid, Jan 2004, pp. 227, 228.
  7. ^ a b Wexler, Jerry (2006). Complete Atlantic Sessions (CD). Willie Nelson. Atlantic/Rhino.
  8. ^ Kahn, Ashley (August 15, 2008). "Wex on Wax: Twenty Essential Jerry Wexler Productions". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  9. ^ a b Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 231.
  10. ^ Stimeling, T.D. (2011). "‘Phases and stages, circles and cycles’: Willie Nelson and the concept album". Journal of Popular Music, 30(3),389–408.
  11. ^ Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 230.
  12. ^ a b c Flippo, Chet (March 14, 1974). "Phases and Stages – Willie Nelson". Rolling Stone. Wenner Global Media LLC. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  13. ^ Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 231-232.
  14. ^ nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake 1988, p. 309.
  15. ^ nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake 1988, p. 174.
  16. ^ Patoski, Joe Nick 2008, p. 277.
  17. ^ nelson, Willie; Bud Shrake 1988, p. 201.
  18. ^ a b "Phases and Stages – Charts and Awards:Billboard Albums". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  19. ^ a b "Phases and Stages – Charts and Awards:Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  20. ^ Reid, Jan; Sahm, Shawn 2010, p. 127.
  21. ^ a b c McNamee, Walls (1978). "Newsweek On the road: Tequila sunrise". Newsweek. Newsweek, inc. 98: 32, 33. ISSN 0028-9604.
  22. ^ Harmon, Rod (July 30, 2006). "Soul Man". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The New York Times Company. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  23. ^ a b Texas Monthly, September 1975; p.30
  24. ^ Billboard, March 9, 1974; p.60
  25. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: N". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 8, 2019 – via
  26. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Phases and Stages – Willie Nelson". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  27. ^ Billboard 1974, p. 60.
  28. ^ "Phases and Stages". Willie Archived from the original on November 3, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.


  • Cusic, Don (2008). Discovering country music. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-35245-4.
  • Flippo, Chet (September 1975). "Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie". Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications. 3 (9). ISSN 0148-7736.
  • Kienzle, Richard (2003). Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-94103-7.
  • Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David (2015). It's A Long Story: My Life. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-33931-5.
  • Reid, Jan (2004). The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70197-7.
  • Reid, Jan; Sahm, Shawn (2010). Texas Tornado: The Times & Music of Doug Sahm. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-72196-8.
  • Tichi, Cecilia (1998). Reading Country Music: Steel guitars, Opry stars, and Honky-Tonk Bars. Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2168-2.
  • "Billboard's Recommended LP's". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. 86 (10). March 9, 1974. ISSN 0006-2510.

See also[edit]