Wednesday, September 8, 2010

September 8: Patsy Cline, "Crazy"

Artist: Patsy Cline
Song: "Crazy"
Album: Showcase
Year: 1961

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While in most cases, the artists that cannot be classified by a single genre end up defining a style all their own, there remain a few solitary instances where there is simply no way at all to accurately define the sound of a performer.  Though this is often due to the fac that the artist in question works in so many different styles that no single term can encompass their career, there is at least one case where a performer worked in a few styles, but never really "fit" into any of them.  Unquestionably one of the most important influential singers to ever record, few artists fit this idea as perfectly as the late, great Patsy Cline.  While many simply write her off as a country performer, when compared to nearly any other singer of this style, she clearly does not fit the mold, and the same can be said for the rockabilly, jazz, or even the so-called "Nashville pop" sounds.  Perhaps this difficulty of identity is due to the fact that she died in a plane crash just as she was reaching the prime of her career, therefore never fully establishing her sound.  Regardless, the handful of albums and many singles she left behind remain today some of the most moving and truly beautiful songs ever recorded, and her efforts as a performer helped open many doors for female singers that followed.  Though she had her biggest commercial success with "I Fall To Pieces," one simply cannot discuss Patsy Cline without giving ample time to her standard-setting, heart-wrenching 1961 cover of Willie Nelson's classic ballad, "Crazy."

Though Willie Nelson's own version of the song would make the Patsy Cline cover seem fully orchestrated in comparison, on Cline's version, the musical arrangement is extremely soft and sparse, helping to heighten the overall mood of the song.  Looking at the entire history of recorded music, few songs have been able to present as minimalist a musical arrangement in as perfect a manner as one finds here, and the delicate piano work captures the mood of late-night longing in a way that has never been matched.  It is also in this aspect of the song that one can as easily hear it being performed in an empty bar, or a car in the middle of nowhere, and it is largely due to this universal nature in even the smallest aspect of the music that "Crazy" has remained so prominent over the decades.  The bass playing is almost awkwardly far forward in the mix of the song, but it is this move that gives "Crazy" its depth, and further enforces the somber, dusky feeling that prevails throughout the entire track.  The drums are almost completely absent, and one can easily make the case that they are unnecessary, yet it is within their quiet rhythm that "Crazy" gains its unique sense of movement, and one is left to wonder if all of this was planned or simply a brilliant case of chance.  Though it is phenomenal, the music does not help to categorize "Crazy," as it is somewhat jazzy, somewhat country, and there is even a bit of soul within the music, making it sound like nothing else ever recorded.

In many different ways, Patsy Cline's vocal performance on "Crazy" remains truly unparalleled almost fifty years after her tragic passing.  In reality, the vocal track that was released as the single was done in a single take, as she had recorded it the previous night, but was unhappy with that performance.  Adding to the stunning nature of the vocal, Cline was said to have great difficulty hitting some of the higher notes, as she was still recovering from a car accident that nearly took her life and left her with several broken ribs.  Even if she had been perfectly healthy and taken many days to record the vocals on "Crazy," it would have in no way detracted from the absolutely awe-inspiring results, as the power and emotion that she brings to the track remain in a class all their own.  From the soaring points within the verses to the way in which she brings out the most subtle nuances of the words, Cline's performance on "Crazy" grabs the listener from the start and never lets go.  The fact that her vocals have just as much impact after years and years of listening is a testament to how perfectly she sang and how well she understood the words and emotions that Willie Nelson had written.  It goes without saying that Cline's ability to adapt Nelson's words and make them her own is a feat rarely accomplished to the extent that she did on "Crazy," and it is much the reason that her version remains the standard by which all others are judged after decades of countless cover versions of the song.

Strangely enough, those who were present during the recording of "Crazy" all agree that when she was first presented with the song, Patsy Cline did not like the arrangement.  Feeling it was far too high-tempo for her style, her producer, Owen Bradley, re-worked the song into a more ballad-esque format, and it clearly fir perfectly with Cline's style.  Though it did not reach the same commercial success as "I Fall To Pieces," "Crazy" instantly became Cline's signature song, and legend says that the first time she performed the song live at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, she received three standing ovations from the crowd.  This is not all that surprising, as Patsy Cline's performance on the studio version of the song remains one of the most moving and truly beautiful recordings ever made, and she perfectly emotes the universal feeling of longing that Willie Nelson had crafted with his words.  Coming off as a strangely laid-back, late night lament, regardless of age or musical preference, anyone can relate to the simple, yet powerful words which Cline sings, and one can picture the song being performed in a number of different venues, making it even more ubiquitous in nature.  While countless artists from nearly every genre have taken their turn at Willie Nelson's classic, "Crazy," none even come close to the truly uncategorizeable and unquestionably unmatched 1961 rendition from the late, great Patsy Cline.

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