Other people’s songs No 77: Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground


By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is a song by Willie Nelson and released in 1980 on the Honeysuckle Rose soundtrack, and later as the soundtrack’s second single in January 1981. The single was Nelson’s seventh number one on the country chart as a solo artist and stayed at number one for one week and spent a total of fourteen weeks on the country chart.

Tony: As you’ll probably know by now after all the writing Aaron and I have done together, he’s in the USA and I’m in England, and sometimes we have a problem in that a video he selects which works in America, doesn’t work in the UK.   So if the first one here doesn’t work for you (as it doesn’t for me), there is a second video beneath.

Tony: So I don’t know if this is the same version as you have been listening to Aaron, but I’m hoping it is close enough.

Here are the lyrics

If you had not a-fallen, then I would not have found you
Angel flying too close to the ground
And I patched up your broken wing
And hung around a while
Trying to keep your spirits up
And your fever down

I knew someday that you would fly away
For love's the greatest healer to be found

So leave me if you need to, I will still remember
Angel flying too close to the ground

It is completely emotional – helping someone repair their life and letting them go even though it leaves a vast gap in one’s own life.   A song of self-sacrifice indeed.

Aaron: Bob Dylan covered the song during the recording sessions for his 1983 album Infidels. The song appeared as the B-side to four different international single releases in support of the album and later The Bootleg Series Vol. 16: Springtime in New York 1980–1985.


Tony: Bob plays it dead straight – as indeed is the only way to approach this song, along with the harmonies behind – until we get to the harmonica solo.  But Bob’s harmonica playing (covered so well and in so much detail in the Master Harpist series on this site) carries on its own so many implications and feelings that I was somewhat taken aback by the first introduction of the instrumental verse.

However by the second section of harmonica playing the emotions had risen so far that I guess it fits in better.  And indeed it seems that the whole point of Bob’s version is the coda in which the chorus is repeated several times.   In fact this almost seems to make the main body of the song irrelevant – which of course in the original it wasn’t.

I am really uncertain about this… I love Bob’s work for the musical and lyrical invention but here we have one line repeated over and over both lyrically and musically, and I just wonder why.   It seems very un-Bob-like to me, almost as if he was told to make the track, and did so, without much musical thought.

Of course Bob can do anything he likes, but I just wonder why he chose to do this song.  It is also (to me, and as ever it is just me) as if someone persuaded him to, and he agreed.   But of course, as always, these are just my thoughts, and could be completely out of place.

Aaron: Alison Krauss included it on the Target exclusive version of her 2017 release Windy City.

Tony: Now we are back to the original style and approach of the song, and I do think the piano accompaniment is emotionally appropriate and at the same time inventive.   Yes, I’ll go with this completely as the instrumental verse also fits in with the whole essence of the piece.    It’s not a track I would want to play over and again, but for me it has a coherence of music and lyrics which Bob’s approach loses.   (The track stops suddenly, but I am sure that must be a fault of the video, it can’t have been how the recording was made).

Aaron: Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson recorded a version with Neil Young for the Paradox album and movie

Tony: What an amazing cover illustration on the record – but I am not at all sure of the point of the first 20 seconds of the music, nor indeed the first moments of the song… but it is delicate and sincere.  Although there are elements therein that do disturb me a bit at the start with the repeated notes and moments of the guitarist repeating notes and trying out virtuoso inserts.   Somehow the guitarist is, to me, occasinally showing off when in fact the recording should, in my view, be about the song, not about the technical ability of the instrumentalists.

Overall it is a strange interpretation – just as the cover illustration is strange.   But the vocals are beautiful – a perfect interpretation in my view.   So if we could have these vocals, and a backing in which the musicians just kept it dead simple, that would work for me.

Goodness, I think I am getting very curmudgeonly in my old age.

Meanwhile here are the previous editions…

  1. Other people’s songs. How Dylan covers the work of other composers
  2. Other People’s songs: Bob and others perform “Froggie went a courtin”
  3. Other people’s songs: They killed him
  4. Other people’s songs: Frankie & Albert
  5. Other people’s songs: Tomorrow Night where the music is always everything
  6. Other people’s songs: from Stack a Lee to Stagger Lee and Hugh Laurie
  7. Other people’s songs: Love Henry
  8. Other people’s songs: Rank Stranger To Me
  9. Other people’s songs: Man of Constant Sorrow
  10. Other people’s songs: Satisfied Mind
  11. Other people’s songs: See that my grave is kept clean
  12. Other people’s songs: Precious moments and some extras
  13. Other people’s songs: You go to my head
  14. Other people’s songs: What’ll I do?
  15. Other people’s songs: Copper Kettle
  16. Other people’s songs: Belle Isle
  17. Other people’s songs: Fixing to Die
  18. Other people’s songs: When did you leave heaven?
  19. Other people’s songs: Sally Sue Brown
  20. Other people’s songs: Ninety miles an hour down a dead end street
  21. Other people’s songs: Step it up and Go
  22. Other people’s songs: Canadee-I-O
  23. Other people’s songs: Arthur McBride
  24. Other people’s songs: Little Sadie
  25. Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever
  26. Other people’s songs: Hard times come again no more
  27. Other people’s songs: You’re no good
  28. Other people’s songs: Lone Pilgrim (and more Crooked Still)
  29. Other people’s songs: Blood in my eyes
  30. Other people’s songs: I forgot more than you’ll ever know
  31.  Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  32. Other people’s songs: Highway 51
  33. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  34. Other people’s songs: Let’s stick (or maybe work) together.
  35. Other people’s songs: Jim Jones
  36. Other people’s songs: Highway 51 Blues
  37. Other people’s songs: Freight Train Blues
  38. Other People’s Songs: The Little Drummer Boy
  39. Other People’s Songs: Must be Santa
  40. Other People’s songs: The Christmas Song
  41. Other People’s songs: Corina Corina
  42. Other People’s Songs: Mr Bojangles
  43. Other People’s Songs: It hurts me too
  44. Other people’s songs: Take a message to Mary
  45. Other people’s songs: House of the Rising Sun
  46. Other people’s songs: “Days of 49”
  47. Other people’s songs: In my time of dying
  48. Other people’s songs: Pretty Peggy O
  49. Other people’s songs: Baby Let me Follow You Down
  50. Other people’s songs: Gospel Plow
  51. Other People’s Songs: Melancholy Mood
  52. Other people’s songs: The Boxer and Big Yellow Taxi
  53. Other people’s songs: Early morning rain
  54. Other people’s Songs: Gotta Travel On
  55. Other people’s songs: “Can’t help falling in love”
  56. Other people’s songs: Lily of the West
  57. Other people’s songs: Alberta
  58. Other people’s songs: Little Maggie
  59. Other people’s songs: Sitting on top of the world
  60. Dylan’s take on “Let it be me”
  61. Other people’s songs: From “Take me as I am” all the way to “Baker Street”
  62. Other people’s songs: A fool such as I
  63. Other people’s songs: Sarah Jane and the rhythmic changes
  64. Other people’s songs: Spanish is the loving tongue. Author drawn to tears
  65. Other people’s songs: The ballad of Ira Hayes
  66. Other people’s songs: The usual
  67. Other people’s songs: Blackjack Davey
  68. Other people’s songs: You’re gonna quit me
  69. Other people’s songs: You belong to me
  70. Other people’s songs: Stardust
  71. Other people’s songs: Diamond Joe
  72. Other people’s songs: The Cuckoo
  73. Other people’s songs: Come Rain or Come Shine
  74. Other people’s songs: Two soldiers and an amazing discovery
  75. Other people’s songs: Pretty Boy Floyd
  76. Other people’s songs: My Blue Eyed Jane
  77. That Old Black Magic (and a lot of laughs)


  1. This is not the version that is on Springtime ,Tony will probably like that one better.
    What is so nice about this version is that he sings with Clyde King ,and I guess that is why the coda keeps going (they love to sing together)

  2. I listened to all the versions. Willie’s original is far and away the “winner”. He has a unique vocal and guitar playing style that packs an emotional wallop the others can’t match, not even Bob Dylan. Sorry Bob, Alison , Neil, Lukas … the old man just has that certain something no one else has.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *