I’ve really been enjoying the Ken Burns series Country Music that’s been airing on PBS the past few weeks, and it’s reminded me of several classic country songs that I love. So, over the next week or two, I’ll be writing about a few of my personal favorites, the first of which is “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. The beautiful but heartbreaking song was Cline’s highest-charting single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9 and reaching #2 on the Country Chart, and has endured as one of the most popular and beloved songs of all time in the 58 years since its release. It was stated in the Country Music series that it’s the most-played jukebox track of all time.
Born Virginia Patterson Hensley in 1932, Cline is considered one of the most important and influential female vocalists of the 20th Century, and one of the first country music artists to successfully crossover onto the pop charts. With her deep, resonant singing voice and ability to convey strong feelings of emotional pain and longing, she could bring even the biggest cynic to their knees. The Washington Star magazine beautifully described the essence of her vocal style: “She creates the moods through movement of her hands and body and by the lilt of her voice, reaching way down deep in her soul to bring forth the melody. Most female country music vocalists stand motionless, singing with a monotonous high-pitched nasal twang. Patsy’s come up with a throaty style loaded with motion and E-motion.”
After a slow start, with a series of singles she recorded for Four Star Records failing to become hits, Cline finally had her first break-out hit “Walkin’ After Midnight” on the Decca Records label in 1957. Then, surprisingly, she didn’t have another chart hit until 1961’s “I Fall to Pieces”. In June of that year, she and her brother were in a near-fatal head-on car crash in which she was thrown through the windshield, suffering a severe cut to her forehead that narrowly missed her eyes and left her with a huge scar. After recovering well enough from the accident, though still in pain, she recorded “Crazy”. And oh man, that pain seems to emanate from her very core when she delivers those poignant lyrics with such conviction that we believe every word.
Like with many classic songs, “Crazy” has an interesting back story. Cline’s husband Charlie Dick actually first heard the song one night on a jukebox while waiting for her in a bar. It was a recording by Paul Buskirk and His Little Men, featuring Hugh Nelson – now known as Willie Nelson – who wrote the song. Dick thought it would be a perfect song for her, and approached Nelson about them recording his song, to which he agreed. He then pitched it to Cline, who didn’t like it, and didn’t want to record it. She considered herself a country singer, and didn’t particularly like the vulnerable heartbroken sound of songs like “Crazy.” But her record producer Owen Bradley believed those songs were exactly right for her, and ultimately convinced her to record it.
Bradley wanted to produce a new and more sophisticated form of country music by adding more instrumentation and background vocals to create a fuller, richer sound. He brought in The Jordanaires, who also sang backup on a lot of Elvis Presley’s songs, and hired young piano player Floyd Cramer, as well as bass guitarist Bob Moore. Cline listened to Buskirk & Nelson’s version of “Crazy” and decided she would perform it differently, removing a spoken section that was featured on the original recording. When the song was set to be recorded on August 17, 1961, Cline first performed some other material, and by the time they got to “Crazy”, she was tired and had difficulty singing the song’s higher notes due to residual rib pain from the car accident. Bradley sent her home to rest while the musicians laid down the instrumentals without her. A week later she returned and recorded her vocal in a single take. As we can all attest, it was perfect, and the rest is history.
Her untimely death less than two years later was a terrible loss, and we can only imagine how many more wonderful songs she could have given the world.
I’m crazy for feeling so lonely
Crazy for feeling so blue