March 21, 2018

1976 Hit Album: Wanted! The Outlaws

About the Album

Released by RCA Records in 1976, Wanted! The Outlaws is a compilation album by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. The album consists entirely of previously released material. Released to capitalize on the new outlaw country movement, Wanted! The Outlaws earned its place in music history by becoming the first country album to be platinum-certified, reaching sales of one million.

The album quickly reached #1 on the country charts and peaked at #10 on the pop charts, with two hit singles released, “Suspicious Minds” and “Good Hearted Woman.” The two peaked at #2 and #1, respectively, both featuring Jennings.

Behind the Album

By 1973, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had asserted creative control over their music. They both felt it had been hampered for years by the conservative approach taken to their recordings at RCA in Nashville.

In 1972, Nelson left the label for Atlantic Records. He recorded a pair of critically acclaimed albums, Shotgun Willie (1973) and the concept album Phases and Stages (1974). With Nelson becoming more popular, RCA did not want to lose Jennings as well. They granted him the authority to produce his records how he wanted. On the other hand, Jennings released the seminal Honky Tonk Heroes album in 1973. It was widely considered the first “outlaw” album, and This Time in 1974, It was recorded at Tompall Glaser’s independent studio in Nashville.

By 1975, after the explosive success of Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger album, a whole new subgenre of country music had emerged called outlaw country. This new movement featured a more “progressive” sound and a drug culture attuned attitude. It was typified by the music of Waylon and Willie. Also inspired by songwriters like Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Mickey Newbury, Lee Clayton, David Allan Coe and Townes Van Zandt.

The Outlaws

In the wake of Red Headed Stranger’ and the general media attention, the outlaw country movement was generating. RCA boss Jerry Bradley was determined to capitalize on the wealth of Jennings and Nelson recordings that he had at his disposal:

“Waylon was selling, if we were lucky, two hundred and fifty thousand albums. Willie comes out with Red Headed Stranger and that took off and sold a million records. Jessi Colter put out “I’m Not Lisa” on Capitol. That damn thing sold half a million, or a million, set our butt on fire. We’re sitting over there, trying to sell two hundred and fifty thousand records, and we’re still struggling. Tompall had a damn record. I never went to one of their concerts. But I can imagine what it looked like, them running up and down the highway doing that.”

On the other hand, Wanted! The Outlaws received a 20th-anniversary CD reissue in 1996 featuring 10 bonus tracks, but it’s those original 11 songs that helped make country music history.

This article is dedicated to Hazel Smith, the Mother of Outlaw Music, who passed away March 18. May this inspire those who feel and want to pursue the outlaw career.

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Willie Nelson

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