Don Williams passed away on Sept. 8 at 78 years old. Country music’s “gentle giant” recorded dozens of albums and countless country classics. His deep, soothing voice remained a constant throughout his internationally successful career.
Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young put it best in a statement after Williams’ passing. “His music will forever be a balm in troublesome times,” Young says. “Everyone who makes country music with grace, intelligence and ageless intent will do so while standing on the shoulders of this gentle giant.”
In honor of Don Williams’ timeless sound, here are six songs of his you need to listen to today.
“The Shelter Of Your Eyes”
Don Williams spent years in folk pop group The Pozo Seco singers before moving to Nashville to pursue a solo career. “The Shelter Of Your Eyes” is his first single as a solo artist. It reached No. 14 on the country charts, a modest success in the grand scheme of Williams’ career. But it will always represent the first time the country world got to know the gentle giant.
“Tulsa Time” was a multi-genre smash, eventually also recorded by Eric Clapton and Reba McEntire. But Williams took it to No. 1 on the chart first, in 1978. His smooth delivery of the Danny Flowers-penned song helped contrast the unusually rocking vibe of the song. His album Expressions featuring the song peaked at No. 2.
“You’re My Best Friend”
Williams melted plenty of hearts with his beautiful love song, “You’re My Best Friend.” The 1975 chart topper was a bit of a throwback to the “Nashville Sound” at the time, featuring sweeping symphony parts. It became something of a singalong staple at Williams’ concerts, with a wonderfully memorable melody line and words that will make anybody feel fuzzy inside.
“It Must Be Love”
Another single off his Expressions album, “It Must Be Love” is a classic and a song that married some of the folk rock trends of the 1970s with Williams’ country boy aesthetic. The song also featured a strong harmony section, which wasn’t super commonplace for Don Williams, since his voice is usually so pronounced in his songs. Alan Jackson also recorded a version of the song in 2000 which, like the original, reached No. 1.
“If I Needed You” (with Emmylou Harris)
Though it’s technically on an Emmylou Harris album, their duet of “If I Needed You” is as much a Don Williams staple as anybody’s. Townes Van Zandt wrote the song about his business partner’s wife in 1972. When Williams and Harris turned it into a duet on her 1981 album Cimarron, the song truly felt like it found its perfect match. Of course, plenty of other artists have recorded it since, including Joey + Rory in 2013. The song even has a Swedish rendition released in 2016.
“I Believe In You”
Not only was “I Believe In You” Williams’ 11th No. 1 hit overall, it was his most successful crossover song. It peaked at No. 24 on the Top 40 charts and had an impressive run in New Zealand as the 38th most popular song of the year. Pretty impressive for a smooth country folk song in 1980. It’s just a beautifully optimistic song makes you want to dance while also lifting your spirit. And it’s probably the best way to remember Williams’ wonderfully storied career.