Red Headed Stranger is a 1975 album by American outlaw country singer Willie Nelson. After the wide success of his recordings with Atlantic Records, coupled with the negotiating skills of his manager, Neil Reshen, Nelson signed a contract with Columbia Records, a label that gave him total creative control over his works. The concept for the album was inspired by the "Tale of the Red Headed Stranger", a song that Nelson used to play as a disk jockey on his program in Fort Worth, Texas. After signing with Columbia he decided to record the song, and arranged the details during his return to Austin, Texas, from a trip to Colorado. It was recorded at low cost at Autumn Sound Studios in Garland, Texas. The songs featured sparse arrangements, largely limited to Nelson's guitar, piano and drums. Nelson presented the finished material to Columbia executives, who were dubious about releasing an album that they at first thought was a demo. However, Nelson had creative control, so no further production was added.
A concept album, Red Headed Stranger is about a fugitive on the run from the law after killing his wife and her lover. The content consists of songs with brief poetic lyrics and arrangements of older material such as Fred Rose's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", Wolfe Gilbert's "Down Yonder" and Juventino Rosas' "O'er the Waves". Despite Columbia's doubts and the limited instrumentation, Red Headed Stranger was a blockbuster among country music and mainstream audiences. It was certified multi-platinum, and made Nelson one of the most recognized artists in country music. The cover of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", released as a single previous to the album full release became Nelson's first number one hit. The title of the album would become a lasting nickname for Nelson. It was ranked #183 on Rolling Stones list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and number one on CMT's 40 Greatest Albums in Country Music. In 2010 it was inducted to the National Recording Registry.
In 1986 Nelson starred as the Red Headed Stranger in a movie of the same name, based on the story of the album. The album has had a strong cultural impact; the song "Time of the Preacher" has been used often in the series Edge of Darkness, and its lyrics were used as well in the first issue of the comic Preacher.