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Yesterday's Wine

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Yesterday's Wine
Studio album by Willie Nelson
Released 1971
Recorded May 1971
Genre Country
Length 29:43
Label RCA Records
Producer Felton Jarvis
Willie Nelson chronology
Willie Nelson and Family
(1971)Willie Nelson and Family1971
Yesterday's Wine
The Words Don't Fit the Picture
(1972)The Words Don't Fit the Picture1972

Yesterday's Wine is the 13th studio album and a concept album by country singer Willie Nelson. In the early stages of his contract with RCA Victor, Nelson had no significant hits. By 1970, his recordings had reached mid-chart positions. Nelson lost the money from his song-writing royalties by financing unsuccessful tours that did not generate significant profits. In addition to the problems with his career, Nelson had problems in his personal life. He had divorced his wife, Shirley Collie, and his ranch in Tennessee burned down.

After moving to a new ranch in Bandera, Texas, Nelson was called by producer Felton Jarvis about the upcoming scheduled recording sessions. At the time, Nelson had not written any new material. He returned to Nashville, where he wrote new songs to use with others from his old repertoire. These new concept songs were recorded in two days.

The concept of the album is the story of the "Imperfect Man", from the moment he is born to the day of his death. RCA originally released the singles "Yesterday's Wine" and "Me and Paul". The former peaked at number 62 in Billboard's Hot Country Singles. The full release failed to reach the charts, and Nelson, frustrated by the failure, decided to retire from music without having been released from his contract with RCA. Later with his musical style revitalized, he returned to music in 1972.

Background and recording[edit]

By the fall of 1964, Nelson had moved from Monument Records to RCA Victor, under the leadership of Chet Atkins, signing a contract for US $10,000 per year.[1] During his first few years at RCA Victor, Nelson had no significant hits, but from November 1966 through March 1969 his singles reached the top 25 consistently: "One In a Row" (number 19, 1966), "The Party's Over" (number 24 during a 16-week chart run in 1967), and his cover of Morecambe & Wise's "Bring Me Sunshine" (number 13, March 1969).[2]

Up to 1970, Nelson had no major success. His royalties were invested in tours that did not produce significant profits. In addition to the problems in his career, Nelson divorced Shirley Collie in 1970. In December, his ranch in Ridgetop, Tennessee burned down. He interpreted the incident as a signal for a change. He moved to a ranch near Bandera, Texas and married Connie Koepke.[3]

In early 1971 his single "I'm a Memory" reached the top 30.[3] Felton Jarvis contacted Nelson for the recording of his next album.[4] Nelson had not written any material for the sessions by the time he arrived in Nashville in April 1971. While living in the new ranch, Nelson read the Bible, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, the works of Edgar Cayce and Episcopal priest A.A Taliaferro's work.[5] Inspired by his readings, Nelson decided to work in new material.[6] On May 1–2, he wrote nine songs, combining new ones with previous material from his repertoire, such as "Family Bible", to create the concept for the album. He recorded Yesterday's Wine in four sessions, backed by David Zettner and the studio session players, beginning with two sessions on May 3 and finishing with the last two on May 4.[7]


The album describes the life of a man, called "The Imperfect Man", from the beginning to the day of his death.[4][8]

The man always had an interest in men.

The story begins with a dialog between two characters. The first asks the other "You do know why you're here?", and the second replies: "Yes, there's great confusion on earth, and the power that is has concluded the following: Perfect man has visited earth already and His voice was heard; The voice of imperfect man must now be made manifest; and I have been selected as the most likely candidate." This statement is followed by "Where's the Show" and "Let Me Be a Man". In the medley, Nelson depicts the birth of the character, who implores God to become a man. The song is followed by "In God's Eyes", depicting the character learning to act as a good Samaritan. In "Family Bible", the character describes his memories of and nostalgia for his childhood, the times with his family and the reading of the family Bible. "It's Not for Me to Understand" depicts the character praying, after watching a blind child listening to other children playing and finding himself unable to understand why God allowed that to happen. God replies to the Imperfect Man, "It's not for you to reason why, you too are blind without my eyes, so question not what I command". In the last stanza, the character now expresses his fear of the Lord and his reluctance to question the unfairness of the world again. The medley "These Are Difficult Times / Remember the Good Times", describes the character's bad times and his recovery by remembering the good times.[9]

"Summer of Roses" depicts the character falling in love and in the prime of his life. It is followed by the anticipation of the beginning of the end in "December Day", as the character announces "This looks like a December day. It looks like we've come to the end of the way". "Yesterday's Wine" finds the character drinking in a bar, talking to the regulars about his life, and reflecting on aging. In "Me and Paul", the Imperfect Man remembers the circumstances in which he lived with a friend in past times. The album ends with "Goin' Home", as the character watches his own funeral.[10]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Robert Christgau B+[11]
Allmusic 5/5 stars[12]
The New York Times Favorable.[13]
Rolling Stone Favorable.[14]

RCA released the songs "Yesterday's Wine" and "Me and Paul" as singles. The song "Yesterday's Wine" peaked at number 62 in Billboard's Country Singles.[15] The promotion of the album was complicated for RCA's marketing department by the changes of Imperfect Man between spirituality and mundane behavior.[16] The album did not appear on any chart, failing to satisfy RCA's expectations.[4][7] Although his contract was not over, Nelson decided to retire because of the number of failures he had had. Nelson later wrote in his autobiography, "I think it's one of my best albums, but Yesterday's Wine was regarded by RCA as way too spooky and far out to waste promotion money on."[8] Nelson returned to music in the following year, as his style was influenced in the Armadillo World Headquarters.[17][clarification needed]

Music critic Robert Christgau wrote: "The great Nashville songsmith has never bowled anyone over with his singing, and here he finds the concept to match. Most of these songs—though not the two best, "Yesterday's Wine" and "Me and Paul" are on religious themes, which tends to limit their general relevance."[11]

Nathan Bush wrote for Allmusic: "'Summer of Roses', 'December Day', and the title track – songs that detail a sense of longing and loss with the changing seasons mirroring the narrator's own life ... many of the numbers stand on their own, outside the album context. 'Family Bible', 'Me and Paul', and the title track are all particularly fine examples of Nelson's songcraft. As a whole, Yesterday's Wine provides further insight into the development of his art during this prolific period."[12]

The New York Times later described Yesterday's Wine as "the last and best of [Nelson's] Nashville albums", saying that it was "Organized in the manner of an epic poem, each cut a metaphor in the journey through life ... it was Nashville's first fully conceived concept album, and nobody knew what to make of it. It soon disappeared quietly and utterly."[13] Rolling Stone wrote: "[Yesterdays Wine] is the first of his bold, conceptual departures from country's hits-plus-filler norm. Rather than tack rock guitar riffs onto modern honky-tonk sagas, Nelson absorbed the innovations of Bob Dylan and the singer-songwriters into his own distinct style. Even if the narrative concepts don't always hold together, Willie hangs his most ambitious albums on some of his catchiest tunes."[14]

Robert Oermann and Douglas B. Green, in their book The Listener's Guide to Country Music, compared the album with Nelson's later recordings for Columbia Records: "All of those are beautiful records. They're all on Columbia and are made just the way Willie wanted them. It was not always so at his previous record label, RCA. Nevertheless, he made a few landmark recordings while he was with that company ... Few of the songs on Yesterday's Wine are well-known Nelson compositions, but all are minor masterpieces".[18]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks were composed by Willie Nelson;[7] except where indicated

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Intro: Willie Nelson and Band" / "Medley: Where's the Show; Let Me Be a Man"   3:41
2. "In God's Eyes"   2:23
3. "Family Bible" Claude Gray, Paul Buskirk, Walter Breeland 3:12
4. "It's Not for Me to Understand"   3:06
5. "Medley: These Are Difficult Times" / "Remember the Good Times"   3:17
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "Summer of Roses" 2:05
2. "December Day" 2:19
3. "Yesterday's Wine" 3:15
4. "Me and Paul" 3:50
5. "Goin' Home" 3:06


Chart positions[edit]


Song Chart Peak
"Yesterday's Wine" Hot Country Songs 62[15]


  1. ^ Reid, Jan 2004, p. 224.
  2. ^ Dicaire, David 2007, p. 246.
  3. ^ a b Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 248.
  4. ^ a b c Kienzle, Richard 2003, p. 249.
  5. ^ Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 200-201.
  6. ^ Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David 2015, p. 202.
  7. ^ a b c Kienzle, Richard (1997). "Willie Nelson: Yesterday's Wine". Yesterday's Wine (CD). Nelson, Willie. BMG Heritage. 
  8. ^ a b Nelson, Willie; Shrake, Bud; Shrake, Edwin 2000, p. 167.
  9. ^ Scobey, Lola 1982, p. 196-197.
  10. ^ Duke University 1994, p. 263.
  11. ^ a b Robert Christgau. "Willie Nelson". Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  12. ^ a b "Yesterday's Wine – Overview". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b The New York Times 1979, p. 218.
  14. ^ a b DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly 1992, p. 500.
  15. ^ a b "Yesterday's Wine – Charts & Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 10, 2011. 
  16. ^ Doggett, Peter 2000, p. 354.
  17. ^ Reid, Jan; Sahm, Shawn 2010, p. 79.
  18. ^ Oermann, Robert; Green, Douglas 1983, p. 118.


  • Dicaire, David (2007). The First Generation of Country Music Stars. McFarland. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-7864-3021-5. 
  • DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (1992). The Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely New Reviews : Every Essential Album, Every Essential Artist. Random House. ISBN 978-0-679-73729-2. 
  • Doggett, Peter (2000). Are You Ready for the Country. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-88938-9. 
  • Kienzle, Richard (2003). Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-94103-7. 
  • Nelson, Willie; Shrake, Bud; Shrake, Edwin (2000). Willie: An Autobiography. Cooper Square Press. ISBN 978-0-8154-1080-5. 
  • Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David (2015). It's A Long Story: My Life. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-33931-5. 
  • Oermann, Robert; Green, Douglas (1983). The listener's guide to country music. Facts on File. ISBN 978-0-87196-750-3. 
  • 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. 
  • Scobey, Lola (1982). Willie Nelson: Country Outlaw. Kensington Pub Corp. ISBN 978-0-89083-936-2. 
  • The New York Times (1979). Update 1979. Ayer Company Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0-405-18422-2. 
  • Duke University (1994). Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology. 8. Duke University Press.