“Patsy is and perhaps will always be the standard bearer for all female country singers” – Tammy Wynette
Crazy – Patsy Cline
Decca 31317 (USA) / Brunswick 05861 (UK 1961)
Recorded at Bradley’s Barn, Nashville, Tennessee, August 1961
Released September 1961
Writer Willie Nelson
Producer Owen Bradley
USA #9 11/61 UK #14 17/90
Had she not died in a plane crash at the young age of 30, just 8 years into her recording career, Patsy Cline might well have become the greatest country singer of all time – we can but speculate. During her relatively brief career, she had managed to cross over from the country charts to the national pop charts in her home country, while enjoying a couple of small hits in Britain. In fact, as is often the case with artists who died before their time, her record sales have been far greater since her death, and particularly since the film of her lifetime, Sweet Dreams, starring Jessica Lange as Cline, premiered in 1985. Collections of her biggest hits, ‘I Fall To Pieces’, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’, ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘She’s Got You’ and ‘Crazy’ continue to sell several hundred thousand copies per year as new fans discover Patsy Cline’s distinctive voice. Indeed, Colin Larkin confidently states in The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Sixties Music that Patsy’s interpretation of these songs “represent five of the greatest recordings ever made in country music”. And there’s no doubt that many contemporary female vocalists, Linda Ronstadt and k.d.lang among them, learnt a good deal from listening to Patsy’s recordings.
Born Virginia Patterson in 1932, Patsy Cline grew up about 100 miles from the home of country music, Nashville, Tennessee, where she made her debut on the famous Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1955. Signed to Four Star Records, distributed by Decca in the USA, her first major hit was ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ in 1956, recorded on 8th November and supervised by legendary Nashville producer Owen Bradley, who in fact produced Cline’s entire catalogue. (Her first recording session for Bradley had been on 1st June 1955) Though ‘Walkin’ was a major pop hit, reaching #12 in early 1957, it was to be some years before Patsy Cline returned from the country charts, where she had become a major star. It was a switch to lushly produced ballads in 1961 that saw her return to pop chart-land and the beginnings of international success. ‘I Fall To Pieces’ reached #12, while ‘Crazy’, the song for which Patsy Cline is best remembered, became her biggest hit, reaching #9 towards the end of the year.
Featuring Nashville session legend Floyd Cramer on piano and the Jordanaires (most famous for their work with Elvis) on backing vocals, ‘Crazy’ was recorded in August 1961 under somewhat unusual circumstances. Two months before the recording, Patsy had been involved in a near-fatal automobile accident (she’d been thrown through the windscreen), and consequently she recorded the song while still on crutches. Due to the accident she had problems sustaining notes because her ribs hurt her too badly to hold her breath. She also had some difficulty getting the hang of the song, which she didn’t particularly like to begin with, and in an unusual move for the time, producer Bradley suggested that the backing track should be recorded first, and Patsy could return at a later date to record her vocal. This is of course the way records are usually made these days, but back in the early 1960s it was still common practise (often in fact subject to union regulations) for singers to record several versions of a song “live” in the studio with band or orchestra, and release the best “take”.
‘Crazy’ was written by up-and-coming songwriter, and now country superstar, Willie Nelson and was originally entitled ‘Stupid’ until Mr Nelson decided that ‘Crazy’ sounded somewhat better! Patsy had, in fact, been presented with two Willie Nelson song demos by fellow country artist Billy Walker, the other song being ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’, which was the one she actually wanted to record. Apparently Nelson, somewhat short of cash, had been offering to sell the two songs around Nashville for ten bucks a piece! However, fate stepped in when Walker refused to let her have it, wanting to save it for himself, so Patsy settled for ‘Crazy’ instead, and a classic recording was born. According to producer Owen Bradley, when Patsy Cline returned to the studio a few days later to record her vocal, she nailed it on the first take. It’s also been reported that on the night Patsy debuted ‘Crazy’ at the Grand Ole Opry – still on crutches – she received 3 standing ovations.
Though not a hit in Britain at the time, ‘Crazy’ was always a popular easy-listening radio favourite and made a somewhat belated but welcome appearance on the UK charts almost 30 years after it was recorded, in December 1990. Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits album was for many years the biggest selling country album of all time (10 million sold by 2005) until a certain Miss Twain arrived on the scene. ‘Crazy’ was a worldwide hit again in 1994 for Julio Iglesias. There have been numerous other songs over the years with the title ‘Crazy’ that have also been hits in one country or another – the best known are probably Seal’s ‘Crazy’ from 1991 and Gnarls Barkley’s, a hit in 2006, though among other major acts with hit songs called ‘Crazy’ are Mud, Aerosmith, Kenny Rogers, Icehouse and Bob Geldof. Meanwhile, it appears that Patsy Cline’s recording of ‘Crazy’ holds the record as the most played ever disc on US jukeboxes.
Over 50 years on, Willie Nelson is now of course one of the most popular and respected performers in the field of country music. Still on the road in 2015 – he was 82 on April 30th – in a recent development his well-known liking for marijuana became the subject of international press coverage after a small quantity was found on his tour bus at the Texas border in late 2010. In March 2011, a county prosecutor stated that charges would be dropped if the singer agreed to, “sing ‘Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain’ with his guitar right here in the courtroom”. It later transpired that this was actually supposed to be a joke (though Willie would probably have happily complied) and the singer was instead fined around $400. Many Americans (particularly Texans) are apparently of the opinion that it should be against the law for the Texas born musical icon to be busted for anything, much less a small bag of his favourite ‘weed’!
Copyright © 2000/2015 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.