In 1976, some of Music City’s most eccentric, outside-the-box artists turned the town upside down, staging a commercial revolution against the Nashville establishment that resulted in a paradigm shift in country music. Ironically, they didn’t even mean to do it.
Wanted! The Outlaws wasn’t an album project that any of its participants thought to undertake. Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser had all built their own brand of success, each of them largely isolated from the lush, string-laden sounds of much of Nashville’s slick product: Nelson had relocated to Austin and used that base to release Red Headed Stranger, one of the most acclaimed country albums of all time — and one that his label hadn’t wanted to release. Jennings had released Dreaming My Dreams, which he and Glaser recorded at Glaser’s legendary studio, Hillbilly Central. And Glaser had experienced huge success, both in a group with his brothers and as a songwriter and producer; he had also scored a solo hit.
It’s ironic, given the three’s anti-establishment stance, that it was a company that put together the album that put them all over the top. RCA proposed the project to capitalize on the success that each of the performers was having; Jennings’ wife, Jessi Colter, was also in on the record, fresh from her smash hit “I’m Not Lisa.” Wanted! The Outlaws consisted of a selection of tracks that each artist had already released elsewhere, brought together in one collection and with a cover that played upon the outlaw images that the performers had cultivated.
And it worked: Released in January of 1976, the album rocketed to No. 1 on the country charts, and also reached No. 10 in the pop charts. Driven by the success of two hit singles — Jennings and Colter’s “Suspicious Minds,” and Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman” — the album sold a million copies, becoming the first country album to be certified platinum.
The success of Wanted! The Outlaws helped catapult Nelson and Jennings to their spots as two of the most iconic country music figures of their generation. In 1996, RCA re-released Wanted! The Outlaws on CD, with 10 bonus tracks.
Wanted! The Outlaws is available for download and streaming on Amazon.
This story was originally written by Sterling Whitaker, and revised by Angela Stefano.
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