On This Day: Willie Nelson’s ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’ Goes No. 1 in 1981

by Clayton Edwards
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Forty years ago today Willie Nelson’s bittersweet “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” hit the top of the country chart. The song is all about deep love, healing, and loss. All of which the country music icon knows more than enough about. So, to celebrate the song’s fortieth anniversary as a number-one hit, let’s dig a little deeper into it.

There’s no denying that Willie Nelson is an incredible songwriter. He has penned some of the greatest classic country songs ever recorded. Remember, he’s the man behind Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” as well as Faron Young’s classic “Hello Walls,” and many, many more. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is just one more example of Willie’s prowess with a pen.

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” – One of Willie Nelson’s Favorite Songs

Before we go too much deeper on this one, let’s stop and give “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” a listen.

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” was the second single from the Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack. It is also one of two tracks from that film to become big hits for Willie Nelson. The first was “On the Road Again,” which many see as Willie’s signature tune. It was his sixth chart-topper. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” was his seventh number one.

These songs weren’t just big hits for Willie Nelson. He counts them both among his favorite songs. This is probably because they are so personal. For instance, Willie has spoken several times about how much he loves being on the road. His passion is playing live in front of fans. Where most songs about being in a touring band have a hint of sadness to them, “On the Road Again,” is a happy tune from start to finish. This reflects The Red Headed Stranger’s love for the road. On the other hand, “Angel” reflects some true-life heartache.

Willie wrote the song while he and his third wife Connie Koepke were going through some tough times and it shows. The lyrics talk about finding someone who is down and out and building them up out of love. Then, that person slowly becomes less and less happy with the relationship. So, it’s that same love that led Willie Nelson to say “Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound / I’d rather see you up than see you down / So leave me if you need to, I will still remember / My angel flying too close to the ground.”

However, what makes the song a hit is how vague and relatable it is. These lyrics could be applied to any number of situations and would fit like a glove. That is the magic of truly great songwriting. Willie Nelson wrote from his personal life but the song might hit home for a hundred different reasons. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is an example of why we all love country music so much. The best songs come from the heart of the songwriter and deeply touch the listeners.

Since the release of this song, Willie Nelson has landed eighteen more number one hits.

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