August 21: Patsy Cline recorded Willie Nelson’s Crazy in 1961
Patsy Cline, who was already a country music superstar and working to extend a string of hits, picked it as a follow up to her previous big hit “I Fall to Pieces”. “Crazy”, its complex melody suiting Cline’s vocal talent perfectly, was released in late 1961 and immediately became another huge hit for Cline and widened the crossover audience she had established with her prior hits. It spent 21 weeks on the chart and eventually became one of her signature tunes. Cline’s version is #85 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
According to the Ellis Nassour biography Patsy Cline, Nelson, who at that time was known as a struggling songwriter by the name of Hugh Nelson, was a regular at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Nashville’s Music Row, where he frequented with friends Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller, both unknown songwriters at that time. Nelson met Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick, at the bar one evening and pitched the song to him. Dick took the track home and played it for Cline, who absolutely hated it at first because Nelson’s demo “spoke” the lyrics ahead of and behind the beat, about which an annoyed Cline remarked that she “couldn’t sing like that”.
Crazy (studio version):
However, Cline’s producer, Owen Bradley, loved the song and arranged it in the ballad form in which it was later recorded. On Loretta Lynn’s album I Remember Patsy Bradley reported that as Patsy was still recovering from a recent automobile accident that nearly took her life, she’d had difficulty reaching the high notes of the song on the original production night due to her broken ribs. So after about four hours of trying, in the days of four songs being recorded in three hours – they called it a night. A week later she came back and recorded the lead vocal we all know in one take.
On the same interview, Loretta remembers the first time Cline performed it at the Grand Ole Opry on crutches, and received three standing ovations. Barbara Mandrell remembers Cline introducing the song to her audiences live in concert saying:
All my recent hits have come true in my life. 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’.
Willie Nelson stated on the 1993 documentary Remembering Patsy that Cline’s version of “Crazy” was his favorite song of his that anybody had ever recorded because it “was a lot of magic.”
Patsy Cline sings Crazy on Tv in 1962: