Do you still remember the story behind the conception of this song? Willie Nelson got the inspiration from a legless salesman who persevered to make a living by selling colorful papers. Nelson might have gotten used to hearing him cry, “Pretty Paper! Pretty Paper!” whenever he passed by the department store. The phrase, stuck in his gargantuan memory, won’t let him off that by the time he entered Nashville, he made a song out of it.
Roy Orbison, one of the leading vocalists back then made a hit with “Pretty Paper.” It peaked at #15 on the day of Christmas in 1963. The next year, Nelson decided to record “Pretty Paper” under RCA and again in 1979 for his album, “Hill Country Christmas” with sister, Bobbie Nelson under Columbia Records.
Watch the young and almost unrecognizable Willie Nelson performing “Pretty Paper”
Fast forward to 2016, here’s an older Willie Nelson with his trusty guitar Trigger, singing the same song. Little has changed in his delivery. It’s the same ole Willie voice, but deeper.
The Song as a Metaphor
Consistent to his “out-of-this-world” thinking, Nelson penned “Pretty Paper” as a metaphor for our escapism mentality and apathetic attitude. We see the needs of those around us, but we allow cynism to creep in our hearts. We have enough trouble on our plate, and we don’t want to be inconvenienced further.
Back to “Pretty Paper,” the sight of the legless man selling papers for Christmas left him dumbfounded. Feeling sympathetic, yet not knowing what to do, he decided to just carry on with his business.
Other cover versions by country artists include Glen Campbell (1968), Mickey Gilley (1976), Randy Travis (1986), Freddy Fender, and Kenny Chesney (2003).
Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson