Willie Nelson Teams Up with Cody Johnson to Remake Classic Hit ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’

by Clayton Edwards

Cody Johnson and Willie Nelson are making sure that sad songs and waltzes sell this year. Johnson recently teamed up with the Outlaw country legend for the first single from his upcoming album.

Johnson and his fellow Texan covered “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” from Willie Nelson’s 1973 album Shotgun Willie.

Willie Nelson is an expert songwriter. That was as true in the early seventies as it is today. For example, give “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” a listen. Willie packed the song with emotion. At the same time, he gave the song layers and nuance. On the surface, it is a breakup song. He talks about all of the things that his ex did before leaving. Just under the surface, though, it’s a commentary on the music business.

In the song, Willie Nelson says that he’s writing a song about his ex. He says that he’ll tell the whole world how she did him wrong. However, she doesn’t have to worry about anyone hearing it, “Because sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year.”

Even in a genre like country music where authenticity is treasured, some songs just don’t make it. Record executives and radio programmers have the final say in what songs get pushed. If you’re not doing your own digging and finding what you want to hear, you’re just getting what the suits think you should listen to. That extra layer makes the Willie Nelson track that much more sad.

It was this duality of meaning that drew Cody Johnson to the song the first time he heard it. Furthermore, it is what made him want to cover it for the double album he plans to release this fall.

Why Cody Johnson Covered the Willie Nelson Classic

Johnson first heard, “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” late one night after a show, according to CMT. He was watching an early episode of Austin City Limits featuring Willie Nelson. The song really resonated with him. Johnson told CMT, “The way I am, the music I create, the way that I look, and the cowboy that I am hasn’t been a trend in Nashville for a long time.”

So, instead of just covering the song for his album, Johnson reached out to Willie Nelson and they did a duet. Their collaboration stays true to the spirit of the song while giving it a modern facelift. The production style is different. The instruments are higher in the mix. So, you get the full effect of that lonesome steel guitar. At the same time you can hear the age in Willie’s voice.

This is one of the few Willie Nelson covers that lives up to the original. Listen to it in the video above. Then, go to YouTube and check out the original version for comparison.