By Mandi Bierly
Updated August 02, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT

I’ve been playing hard to get for Mr. Willie Nelson for years now. He first started wooing me with his 1998 VH1 Storytellers with Johnny Cash. (Remember when Willie broke a string or something and he had to borrow Johnny’s guitar, and Johnny cracked that it was the first time his six-string had actually ever been played? Good times.) So I bought some cheap compilations and got to know Willie a little better. I warmed to him when I realized his versions of “Always on My Mind” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” are the ones I actually believe. (Sorry, Elvis.)

Then, last weekend, I’m sitting in Starbucks killing time and they’re playing the Natural Renegade retrospective album that I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I could be seen buying there. (Why do I feel embarrassed to buy an album there when the artists they sell are well-respected?) It was Willie’s rendition of “Unchained Melody,” oddly enough, that sealed the deal. (Listen here, I could only find it on YouTube, as the soundtrack to a slideshow of a college theater production.) I’d venture to say it’s one of Willie’s finer vocal performances, and that if you, like me, didn’t think you’d ever need to hear that song again (let alone by someone other than the Righteous Brothers), you’ll soon change your mind.

So, which classic Willie albums do I need to invest in now? How do you feel about buying CDs at Starbucks? And what older artists have you only recently begun to fully appreciate?

addCredit(“Willie Nelson: Steve Granitz/”)