Pretty Paper (song)

"Pretty Paper"
Single by Roy Orbison
B-side "Almost"
Released 1963
Format 7" single
Genre Christmas, country
Length 2:41
Label Monument
Songwriter(s) Willie Nelson
Producer(s) Fred Foster
Roy Orbison singles chronology
"Mean Woman Blues"
"Pretty Paper"
"Beautiful Dreamer"

"Mean Woman Blues"
"Pretty Paper"
"Beautiful Dreamer"

"Pretty Paper" is a song written by country music singer-songwriter Willie Nelson in 1963. After being signed to Monument Records, Nelson played the song for producer Fred Foster. Foster pitched the song to Roy Orbison, who turned it into a hit. Nelson recorded his own version of the song in November 1964.


The song tells the story of a street vendor who, during the holiday season, sells pencils and paper on the streets.[1] In October 1963, while walking in his farm in Ridgetop, Tennessee, Nelson was inspired to write the song after he remembered a man he often saw while he lived in Fort Worth, Texas.[2] The man had his legs amputated and moved with rollers, selling paper and pencils in front of Leonard's Department Store.[3] To attract the attention of the people, the man announced, "Pretty paper! Pretty paper!"[2]

In 2013, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram identified the man as Frankie Brierton, of Santo, Texas. Brierton refused to use a wheelchair, choosing instead to crawl, as he learned to move while growing up after his legs were affected by a spinal disorder. Brierton sold pencils in Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston.[4]

Background and recording

Early in 1963, Nelson was signed by Fred Foster to the label Monument Records.[5] In October 1963, Nelson sang "Pretty Paper" for Foster, who impressed decided to forward the song to Roy Orbison in London. Bill Justis worked the arrangements and the demo tape was sent to Orbison in England.[6] At Pye Studios, Justis and Foster, along with music director Ivor Raymonde, made last minute arrangements with the orchestra that was hired for the session. Each musician was provided with microphones newly designed by Decca Records' engineers. The microphones were worn around the neck to amplify the strings. Orbison attended the session with a 102-degree fever.[3] He recorded the song in one take, along with the B-side, "Almost".[6]


The record by Orbison was released in November 1963. The song peaked at number ten on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart, fifteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and twenty-seven on the Christmas Singles Chart.[1] The song was included on More of Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits in 1964, and has appeared on numerous compilations through the years.

Other recordings

After moving to RCA Records in November 1964, Willie Nelson recorded his own version, produced by Chet Atkins. The musicians for the session were Hargus "Pig" Robbins (piano), Pete Drake (pedal steel), Henry Strzelecki (bass), Kenneth Buttrey (drums), Jerry Reed (guitar) and Velma Smith (guitar). Nelson recorded for the B-side "What a Merry Christmas This Could Be". Nelson returned to the studio in December and recorded with the melody of the song in phonetic German the song "Little Darling".[7] Nelson re-recorded the song for his 1979 album Pretty Paper, and once more with his sister Bobbie Nelson for their 1997 album Hill Country Christmas.

There have been numerous cover versions of the song, by artists including Glen Campbell (1968), Mickey Gilley (1976), Randy Travis (1986), Asleep at the Wheel (1997), Kenny Chesney (2003), Chris Isaak (2004), Reverend Horton Heat (2005), Emmy Rossum (2013), and dozens of others.



  • Crump, William (2001). The Christmas Encyclopedia (3 ed.). McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-60573-9. 
  • Kruth, John (2013). Rhapsody in Black: The Life and Music of Roy Orbison. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-480-35492-0. 
  • Lankford Jr., Ronnie (2008). "Roy Orbison - Pretty Paper (Composed by Willie Nelson)". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. 
  • Nelson, Willie; Ritz, David (2015). It's A Long Story: My Life. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0-316-33931-5. 
  • Patoski, Joe Nick (2008). Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. Hachette Digital. ISBN 978-0-316-01778-7. 
  • Scobey, Lola (1982). Willie Nelson: Country Outlaw. Kensington Pub Corp. ISBN 978-0-89083-936-2. 
  • Star-Telegram staff (December 16, 2013). "The Mystery of "Pretty Paper" Is Unwrapped". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Willie Retrieved December 19, 2014. 
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