Monday, February 18, 2019

Crazy for Trying

Greatest Songs of the 20th Century
"Crazy" (Willie Nelson, 1961)

On June 14, 1961, just as her single “I Fall to Pieces” was slowly climbing the charts, Patsy Cline and her brother Sam were in a car accident in Nashville. The impact threw Cline into the windshield, nearly killing her. When help arrived, Patsy insisted that the other car's driver be treated first, but ended up instead watching the other driver die. Cline spent a month in the hospital, with a broken wrist and dislocated hip, as well as a somewhat disfiguring cut across her forehead that required stitches.

But she had to go back to work.  On August 17, Cline stood on crutches and tried to negotiate a new song, “Crazy,” by Willie Nelson. Nelson had just moved to Nashville in 1960, but had already landed “Hello Walls” with Faron Young and “Night Life” with Ray Price. He had written those songs, as well as “Crazy,” in one two-week writing binge while he was still living in Houston.

Nelson had offered “Crazy” to a country singer named Billy Walker, who turned it down as too much of a “girl’s song.” Patsy’s husband, Charlie Dick, heard some of Willie’s songs on a jukebox, then requested a batch of Nelson's demos from his publishing company. He was excited enough about "Crazy" to get it to Patsy.

She hadn’t even head the song before the recording session, and hated it at first. “I had problems immediately with my song ‘Crazy’ because it had four or five chords in it,” Nelson later said. “Not that ‘Crazy’ is real complicated; it just wasn’t your basic three-chord country hillbilly song.”

Patsy also had a hard time reaching the high notes with her injured ribs. She spent four hours on “Crazy” that evening, and still wasn’t satisfied with it, although producer Owen Bradley saved the instrumental track they recorded that night. Patsy came back when her ribs were feeling better and nailed the vocal in one take.

“Crazy” became Patsy Cline’s biggest-ever pop hit, her only Top Ten there, although it stalled at Number Two on the country charts towards the end of 1961. “All my recent hits have come true in my life,” Cline said. “I had a hit out called 'Tra-La-La Triangle,' and people thought about me and Gerald and Charlie. I had another hit out called 'I Fall to Pieces,' and I was in a car wreck. Now I'm really worried because I have a new hit single out, and it's called 'Crazy'.”

Well, she didn’t go crazy, but she did die in a plane crash less than two years after the song’s release. Patsy Cline was 30 years old.

Nelson released his own version on his 1962 debut album, …And Then I Wrote, which really should have had the ellipsis on the other end. Linda Ronstadt’s version went to the Top Ten on the country charts in 1977, although it never made the pop charts. LeAnn Rimes cut it in 1999, and Julio Iglesias, Dottie West, and even Chaka Khan have put out their own versions. Chaka turns it into a jazz tune, and kills it, as you would expect.

The weirdest turn in the “Crazy” saga came when Ross Perot adopted it as his presidential campaign theme song in 1992. ''There are millions of 'crazy' people in this country,'' he said the day before the election. ''And I bet tomorrow will be a crazy day at the polls.'' It wasn’t, really. For most people, using “Crazy” as an election theme song would have been political suicide, but for Perot, it just reinforced his brand.

Willie says that Patsy Cline's version of "Crazy" is his favorite rendition of any of his songs. Here's Patsy: