The iconic song “Crazy” tells two different tales. It reminds us that Patsy Cline was the right powerhouse vocalist to ring in a new decade of prosperity for the country music business. Also, it tells the story of how the songwriters needed to bolster the Nashville Sound hid in plain sight, ready to make a lasting mark on the Billboard pop and country charts.
The Voice of the Nashville Sound
Cline needs no introduction. Her work with producer Owen Bradley, including the 1961 pop crossover hit “Crazy,” helps define the Nashville Sound. While many of her country music predecessors could be dismissed by non-fans as rural entertainers, Cline was a jazz-pop singer with an incredible vocal range. Songs like “Walkin After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces” and others sounded like high-brow music with hillbilly undertones. Her music appealed equally to the established country audience and the Rat Pack crooners’ big city crowd.
Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ Luck
Writing credit for “Crazy”–originally titled “Stupid”–goes to none other than Willie Nelson. Back then, Nelson, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and other future stars hustled around Middle Tennessee to get their compositions heard on Music Row. Nelson wrote “Crazy” with Billy Walker in mind, but the singer felt that the song better suited a woman. Roy Drusky balked at proclaiming “I’m crazy” for the same reason. Fortunately, Cline’s husband Charlie Dick loved Nelson’s song enough to pitch it to his wife–the only country singer at the time capable of doing the song’s complex melody justice. It became one of Cline’s biggest hits, with her execution of each high note making her claims of “feeling so lonely” as believable as any heart-breaking line ever cut to wax.
A Enduring Classic
In the years since the 1963 plane crash that claimed Cline’s life, a wide array of artists covered one of her best-known hits. The range of cross-genre talents includes Linda Ronstadt, The Kills, Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, LeAnn Rimes, Wanda Jackson, Neil Young, Kidneythieves, Shirley Bassey and Hayden Panettiere of the TV show Nashville. Nelson recorded multiple versions, including a live trio accompaniment with Elvis Costello and Diana Krall. As long as Cline’s legend permeates country music lore, there’s no reason to think that “Crazy” won’t stay as relevant as the hits of Johnny Cash and Nelson’s other legendary compositions.