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Country Classics Revisited: ‘I Fall to Pieces’ by Patsy Cline

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As soon as the first four notes ring out and Patsy Cline‘s voice chimes in, country music fans know they’re in for an emotional 3 minutes. Crooned at many karaoke nights, “I Fall to Pieces”s heartbreaking relatability keeps the 1961 track fresh in music lovers’ minds.

Cline provides the perfect vocal performance on “I Fall to Pieces,” featured on her 1961 studio album, Showcase. Musically, the song is simple, and at first glance, the lyrics are rather straightforward, as well. But the repetition of the song’s title sung by Cline’s soulful voice mimics the descent and shatter of a delicate heart.

The Song’s Origin

“I Fall to Pieces” was written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard, and before it reached Cline’s hands, it was offered to Brenda Lee, who found it to be too country sounding, and Roy Drusky who decided the lyrics were uncomfortably feminine for him to sing.

But many reports say that Cline wasn’t too keen on the song, herself. Howard’s wife apparently said Cline didn’t even want to record it at first. Also, she was concerned that background vocalists the Jordanaires would overpower her voice (though later she became good friends with the group).

Despite this story, Rolling Stone quotes Drusky as saying that Cline knew the song would be a hit. “Drusky, that’s a hit song you just let go,” he said that she remarked, “and I’m gonna get Owen [Bradley, Decca producer] to let me have it.” Perhaps the truth of Cline’s initial feelings toward the song lies somewhere in between the two tales.

Into the Recording Studio

Recording the song didn’t go smoothly at first, either. “On the night of the session, we absolutely did NOT want to do the standard 4:4 shuffle that had by then been done to death,” Howard says on his website.

“We were trying all kinds of other (basic rhythm) combinations, but they all just laid there and bled all over the floor. So, it had to be the shuffle then, like it or not,” Howard admitted. “But the amazing thing was, once Patsy got into the groove, she just caressed those lyrics and that melody so tenderly that it was just like satin. We knew we had magic in the can when, on the fourth take, every grown man in that studio was bawling like a baby and Bradley said `That’s the one.'”

Seeing Years of Success

When the song was finally released on Jan. 1, 1961, it didn’t skyrocket up the charts. In fact, it didn’t even make it onto a list until April. The track slowly crept up to No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart in August (and in the top 20 of the pop charts) after a special promotional push.

While the gradual response to the song was growing, Cline was involved in a terrifying head-on car collision. This could have ended her career had she not had such a strong disposition. But her perseverance and the success of the song was well worth the effort, though, as it culminated into Cline being asked to become part of the Grand Ole Opry cast as a country star in Nashville.

As time passes, “I Fall to Pieces” continues to highly regarded. Rolling Stone placed it at #238 in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, while CMT ranked it #7 on their 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music (Clines “Crazy” made it to #3). The track was also named as one of RIAA’s Songs of the Century.

Additionally, many talented artists have covered the song with a high reverence for the original. LeeAnn Rimes and Linda Ronstadt both recorded stunning live versions of the song, while Trisha Yearwood and Aaron Neville created a wonderfully emotive duet out of the song that ended up winning the Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals in 1994.

With such strong bones, “I Fall to Pieces” will continue to entice any country singer to attempt a cover.

Lyrics to “I Fall to Pieces”:

I fall to pieces
Each time I see you again
I fall to pieces
How can I be just your friend?

You want me to act like we’ve never kissed
You want me to forget (to forget)
Pretend we’ve never met (never met)And I’ve tried and I’ve tried
But I haven’t yet
You walk by and I fall to pieces

I fall to pieces
Each time someone speaks your name (speaks your name)
I fall to pieces
Time only adds to the flame

You tell me to find someone else to love
Someone who love me too (love me too)
The way you used to do (used to do)
But each time I go out with someone new
You walk by and I fall to pieces
You walk by and I fall to pieces

Songwriters: Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard

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Country Classics Revisited: ‘I Fall to Pieces’ by Patsy Cline