A surprise hit in 1975 on both the country and pop charts (hitting number one on the former and almost reaching the Top 20 on the latter), Willie Nelson's smash version of the 1945 Fred Rose composition "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" sent shock waves through the Nashville establishment, as did the massive success of its accompanying album, The Red Headed Stranger. At a time when pop-oriented countrypolitan records with lush, heavy arrangements were the norm, the spare, stark instrumentation of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" was startlingly effective in its hushed, restrained intimacy. Even when the arrangement is embellished with accordion, electric bass, and harmony vocals, the song still feels like it's just Nelson and a battered acoustic guitar, singing purely and nakedly from the heart. Nelson's performance uncovers the song's depth through his subtlety, his refusal to overplay its mournful melancholy. Matched with the lyrics, his understated vocal conveys a sense of inevitability about the fleeting nature of love and life, as well as highlighting Rose's simple, evocative imagery. While the song's last verse holds out hope for a lovers' reunion in the afterlife, it's clear from the quiet acceptance permeating the rest of the song that the memories of love are what truly resonate with Nelson -- even the painful ones. Which means that it's ultimately irrelevant whether the lovers in the song ever do meet again, since the singer already has what he truly wants: an intensely personal memory of an intensely personal experience, one of the very few things he can take with him even to the grave. It's a thoroughly convincing illustration of the old cliché about having loved and lost and being better for it. On the purely musical side, Nelson's fluid guitar solo matches his vocals in his willingness to play around with the locked-in beat; this was no news to the steadily growing fan base he'd built through hard work and constant touring, but for the country mainstream, it was a radical new approach once it was finally brought out into the open (and made more than a few executives uneasy about releasing the record in the first place). "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" had previously been recorded by artists like Hank Locklin, Kitty Wells, and the Sons of the Pioneers, but it was Nelson's definitive version that made the song a standard, covered many times by both country and traditional pop artists in the years since. It was his first number one country single, helped make him a superstar after over a decade in the music business, and served notice that the outlaw movement's dogged insistence on making records outside of established formulas could result in major commercial and creative success.