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Revisiting the Legacy of Willie Nelson and Ray Charles’ ‘Seven Spanish Angels’

Some of Willie Nelson’s best recordings from the post-outlaw ’80s were duets. Examples range from his and Merle Haggard’s famous version of Townes Van Zant’s Pancho and Lefty to a rehash of “To All the Girls I Loved Before” with Julio Iglesias. Despite those songs’ impact on popular culture, it’s “Seven Spanish Angels” featuring longtime friend Ray Charles that best defines Nelson’s era of timeless collaborations.

An Homage to Marty Robbins

Famous songwriter Troy Seals (“Who’s Going to Fill Their Shoes,” “Lost in the Fifties Tonight”) co-wrote the song with Eddie Sester as a tribute to Robbins’ “El Paso” and other past nods to country music’s Tex-Mex influences. The duo wrote a masterpiece in its time, packed with the Latin flavor and tales of faith, love and murder that sometimes drive great country songs.

A Hit In Need of a Country Singer

Without Robbins alive to sing what could’ve been another career touchstone, the song got successfully pitched to Nelson. Around the same time, producer Billy Sherill heard a demo and wanted the song to be held for Ray Charles. Fortunately, everyone got their way, with Charles revisiting his classic crossover moment, 1962’s Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album, alongside one of the genre’s top stars.

The song went on to top the country charts and appeared on both singers’ duet albums. First came Charles’ Friendship in 1984. Nelson’s Full Nelson followed a year later.

A Singer’s Song

Charles and Nelson introduced their varied audiences to a well-written song, enhanced by their iconic voices.

Had there been an American Idol-type show in the mid-’80s, numerous singers would’ve tried to prove their range with their own rendition. Like Tennessee Whiskey,” it’s a singer’s song, adaptable beyond the bounds of country or soul.

Read More: Willie Nelson Teases New Song ‘She Made My Day’

The way Charles and Nelson took turns singing verses still makes it ideal material when two talented, distinct voices join forces on stage or in the studio. Recent examples include Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss’ gorgeous rendition at the 2015 Gershwin Awards, an event honoring Nelson. And let’s not forget Dwight Yoakam and Chris Stapleton’s team-up at the 2016 CMA Awards.

“Seven Spanish Angels” Lyrics:

He looked down into her brown eyes

And said, “Say a prayer for me.”

She threw her arms around him

Whispered, “God will keep us free.”

They could hear the riders comin’

He said, “This is my last fight. If they take me back to Texas

They won’t take me back alive.”

 

There were seven Spanish Angels

At the altar of the Sun

They were prayin’ for the lovers

In the valley of the gun

When the battle stopped

And the smoke cleared

There was thunder from the throne

And seven Spanish angels

Took another angel home

 

She reached down and picked the gun up

That lay smokin’ in his hand

She said, “Father please forgive me

I can’t make it without my man.”

And she knew the gun was empty

And she knew she couldn’t win

Her final prayer was answered

When the rifles fired again

 

There were seven Spanish Angels

At the altar of the Sun

They were prayin’ for the lovers

In the valley of the gun

When the battle stopped

And the smoke cleared

There was thunder from the throne

And seven Spanish angels

Took another angel home

 

There were seven Spanish Angels

At the altar of the Sun

They were prayin’ for the lovers

In the valley of the gun

When the battle stopped

And the smoke cleared

There was thunder from the throne

And seven Spanish angels

Took another angel home

 

There were seven Spanish Angels

At the altar of the Sun

They were prayin’ for the lovers

In the valley of the gun

When the battle stopped

And the smoke cleared

There was thunder from the throne, ooh

And seven Spanish angels

Took another angel home

Now Watch: Willie Nelson Collaborations

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Revisiting the Legacy of Willie Nelson and Ray Charles’ ‘Seven Spanish Angels’