A Record Executive Told Willie Nelson That ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ Was His “F*ckin’ Worst Album” And It Was Too “Far-Out”

Willie Nelson country music
Tom Hill/WireImage

“We’re yesterday’s wine, ageing with time, like yesterday’s wine…”

I’ve always loved Willie Nelson’s single “Yesterday’s Wine,” and on this date in 1982, two of his fellow country icons in Merle Haggard and George Jones released what would eventually become a #1 duet of the hit single.

“Yesterday’s Wine” was the title track of Willie’s 1971 album of the same name, and was a solo write by the red headed stranger.

The Yesterday’s Wine record itself was the first of four concept albums he made, and he wrote nine out of the ten the songs on the tracklist at the Happy Valley Dude Ranch in Bandera, Texas, where he was living after his house in Nashville burned down.

This album was much more stripped-back than his previous work, which put his vocals at the forefront and included very basic instrumentation and production, allowing his masterful songwriting to shine.

Unfortunately, though, his label at the time RCA Records didn’t particularly like or understand the album, and certainly didn’t know how to promote something that was so different from everything else coming out of Nashville at the time.

Wille recalled in his 2015 book, It’s A Long Story: My Life, his label heads telling him:

“It’s your f*ckin’ worst album to date.”

Another executive added that it was:

“Some far-out shit that maybe the hippies high on dope can understand, but the average music lover is gonna think you’ve lost your cotton-pickin’ mind.”

But once again, Willie stuck to his guns, and they released the record anyways, though they felt they couldn’t properly promote a bare-bones, existentialist country album.

Willie says he wanted to defend himself, but he was coming to realize that the whole Nashville thing maybe just wasn’t meant to be:

“I was tempted to say something, to show how the songs fit together in one cohesive story, but I stuck to my guns and stayed silent… Nashville and I had been trying damn hard but we hadn’t really seen eye to eye for most of the sixties.

I felt like I had shown goodwill and patience. I’d given the Music City establishment a fair chance.

After ‘Yesterday’s Wine,’ I cut other albums for RCA, but the story was always the same. The sales were slow and the producers lukewarm about my output. My career had stalled.”

In his 1988 autobiography, Willie: An Autobiography, he later reflected on the record, which is considered one of the very first concept albums, saying he feels looking back that it’s one of his best:

“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.”

Not long after the release of this record, RCA parted ways with Nelson, who went back home to Texas, signed with Atlantic Records, and quickly became one of the best-selling artists on the label.

His first release with Atlantic was Shotgun Willie in May of 1973, and though was critically-acclaimed within the industry, did not sell very well at all.

The next year, in 1974, he put another concept record in Phases and Stages that included the hit single “Bloody Mary Morning.”

After a few years with Atlantic and seeing more success than he ever really had commercially, Willie moved to Columbia Records, where he signed a contract that gave him complete creative control, which he earned due to the previous success with the aforementioned couple albums.

As a result, he put out his iconic Red Headed Stranger record in 1975, which ironically, Columbia didn’t want to release either, because they felt it was once again too stripped-back and simple, and that it sounded more like a demo than a polished, professional album.

His outlaw friend Mr. Waylon Jennings actually helped get that record released, which is a great story you can read more about HERE.

Willie also released the title track “Yesterday’s Wine” as a single himself, and it peaked at just #62 on the country charts, though the success of Merle and George’s aforementioned duet certainly helped it become a country standard, and helped inspire their first duets album A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine.

The whole story behind Yesterday’s Wine once again exemplifies Willie’s grit and determination in himself and pure and honest country music.

Even though Waylon jokes the most “outlaw thing” Willie ever did was “double-park on Music Row,” I think stories like these prove it was quite the opposite…

Here’s the timeless Willie Nelson version:

And the chart-topping classic Merle and George Jones duet:

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock