Seven Spanish Angels
by Ray Charles (featuring Willie Nelson)

Album: Friendship (1984)
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  • Ray Charles' sole #1 hit on the Country chart is a Spanish-flavored duet with Willie Nelson about a pair of outlaw lovers who are gunned down by Texas lawmen. Nashville songwriters Troy Seals and Eddie Setser had the late Marty Robbins' classic Tejano tunes in mind when they wrote the tragic song.

    "We started writing, hoping we could emulate Marty Robbins and 'El Paso,'" Seals explained in The Billboard Book Of Number One Country Hits. "We didn't think we had a song like that, but that whole flavor of the Southwest and cowboys. Of course, the chorus is kind of an old wives' tale, and old story that's been handed down."

    Seals and Setser sent out copies of the finished demo to both Nelson and Billy Sherrill, who was producing Charles' Friendship album. Sherrill originally wanted Charles to sing it with Ronnie Milsap, but Milsap declined the offer, so he reached out to Nelson to consider doing it as a duet instead of a solo track. Nelson recorded his vocals in Texas, and Sherrill combined them with Charles tracks and added strings and backing voices.
  • Sherrill also wiped out an expository section of the lyrics, a strategic move that gave the story some ambiguity. "The song was like in two movements," he recalled. "One of 'em was the 'Seven Spanish Angels' thing, and the boy and the girl and the soldiers comin' and shootin'. Then, it went into some sort of a refrain and another melody that explained it all - why the angels, why there were seven, and all that.

    I called Troy and said, 'Hey, man, this is like a book, not a song. It's like you gotta sit down and take notes.' We just wiped out the whole other end of it, and ended up leavin' you in the dark about what it meant - which I think contributed to the beauty of the song."
  • In 1982, Charles signed a record deal with Columbia Records in Nashville and released a series of four country albums, including Friendship, which was a collection of duets with 10 different performers. Thanks to "Seven Spanish Angels," the album was the most successful of the venture, peaking at #1 on the Country Albums chart.
  • Nelson had several more chart-topping Country duets in the '80s, including "Just To Satisfy You" with Waylon Jennings, "To All The Girls I've Loved Before" with Julio Iglesias, and "Pancho and Lefty" with Merle Haggard.
  • When Nelson was awarded with the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2015, Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson performed this at the ceremony.


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