Willie Nelson’s, ‘Crazy’

The Stories Behind Country Music’s All-Time Greatests 100 Songs
by Ace Collins
1996

When Faron young topped the charts with “Hello Walls,” and even crossed the recording over to the rock n’ roll playlists, songwriter Willie Nelson, the man everyone in Nashville had once thought a bit crazy, suddenly found his career extremely hot.  It seemed that everyone in town wanted to cut one of Willie’s songs, and his demos were being ordered by scores of different studios, managers, and stars.  When Nelson walked into Tootsie’s, all of the patrons gathered around him to see what Nashville’s newest genius had written lately.

Patsy Cline was no exception.  She too grabbed Nelson whenever she got a chance and begged him to share some of his latest ideas.  The very first time she heard Nelson’s “Funny How Tme Slips Away,” Cline fell in love with it.  She had a recording session in coming up and Patsy just knew that the Willie song had to be a part of it.  She called the writer to arrange a meeting.  Things didn’t turn out the way the singer had planned.

Billy Walker had known Willie since their days in Texas.  The singer had even put Nelson up at his house when Willie had first come to town.  When Willie had needed someone to cut demos, Walker had stepped in.  Billy had even sung the vocal on “Funny How Time Slips Away.”  When his label, Columbia, heard Walker’s version of the Nelson composition they opted to recut it and release it.  It had been eight years since Billy had managed a top-ten record, and the label thought “Funny” might give the man’s career a big shot in the arm.

Cline was infuriated when she discovered that Billy Walker and Columbia had beaten her to “Funny How Time Slips Away.”  She needed a follow-up to her classic “I Fall to Pieces,” and she wanted it to have the ability to cross over on the pop charts.  She urged Willie to allow her to cut “Funny” too.  The songwriter owed far too much to Billy to let that happen, so he declined.  Then the very polite Nelson, addressing the hot female vocalist as “Miss Patsy,” told her that he had a bunch of other songs that were hits back at the office.  If she wanted to record one of his numbers, Nelson assured her that he would save one for her.

At about that same time Billy Walker had entered the room, and he reminded Willie about another song that Walker had cut a demo on.  The two men agreed that Cline’s voice was perfectly suited for the piece, so they raced off to retrive it.  Patsy practically went crazy as she waited for the men to return with their song.

Willie had written “Crazy” very soon after coming to Nashville.  When he had first pitched it, the song had failed to generate any interest.  So Willie had pretty much set the song aside to collect dust.  Occassionally he would try to sell “Crazy,” but finding a home for the number was not his passion.  Yet at the moment when Patsy and her producer Owen Bradley were hot for a hit, this was what the young Texan had to offer.

“Crazy” didn’t have any special story behind it.  The song had falled together in a writing session.  Yet even though the number’s words were apparently tied to no special event in Nelson’s life, they did seem to reflect a great deal of what he was having to deal with upon his entry into the world of Music City songwriting.  Poor, alone (his family had stayed in Texas until Willie could make enough money to bring them to Tennessee), talented, but unappreciated, Willie had to be aware just how crazy he was for sticking it out in the music business.  In almost a decade of work he had very little to show for his troubles.  He loved entertainment, but it didn’t seem to express any affection for him.  In a very real sense, even if it was unintended, “Crazy” reflected Willie’s relationship with his profession.

When Nelson and Walker played the song for Cline, she couldn’t believe it.  She thought it was one of the worst things she had ever heard.  This wasn’t a ballad, this was a song where the singer spent most of the time talking to the audience.  She flatly rejected “Crazy,” and then asked Nelson what else he had.

What Patsy hadn’t realized was that she had heard “Crazy” just a few weeks before.  Her husband Charlie Dick had gotten a copy from Willie when the two of them had stopped in Tootsie’s for drinks.  Charlie had practically worn the record player out playing the demo over and over again.  His wife had gotten so tired or the “stupid damn song” that she had threatened to break it into pieces.  It was only when Charlie played it again that night that she realized that she had rejected “Crazy” not once, but twice.

Nelson’s song would have probably gone back into storage and collected more dust if not for Owen Bradley.  The Decca producer liked “Crazy” and he was convinced that it was perfect for Patsy.  He informed her that she would be recording the Nelson effort.  She told him that she wouldn’t. Much as the had with “I Fall to Pieces,” the producer and singer went back and forth with their arguing.  Finally, Bradley pulled rank.  Because of a car wreck, Cline hadn’t been able to record for months.  Owen pointed out that she needed to have a solid session filled with good records and he wasn’t going to let her act like a spoiled brat and miss recording what he thought was a great song.  Left with no choice, Patsy listened to the dmeo and began to pick up the lyrics.

In the studio Owen allowed Cline to tinker with the song.  She tossed out Willie’s unique phrasing and sang it in her own style.  She also tried to smooth the song’s meter.  Yet because of the pain created by her broken ribs, she was unable to really soar the way she was used to when recording her lead vocals.  After several hours of work, she quit without putting together a satisfactory cut.  When the star went home, Bradley laid down all the other tracks figuring he would catch Patsy’s vocal when she felt better.  Within a week Cline had come back in and overwhelmed the producer with a brilliant version of “Crazy.”

When Willie heard the final product, he was blown away. He would tell those at Tootsies, “It was magic!”  Even three decades later Nelson would still proclaim that recording of that song as “the favorite of anything I ever wrote.”

In one take Patsy had made “Crazy” hers.  Released in mid-fall, the song steadily climbed the playlists.  It landed on the pop charts on November 6.  A week later it would arrive on the country side.  Her biggest rock cut, “Crazy” would peak at #9.  In the country listings Cline would manage to spend two weeks at #2.  “Crazy” marked the fourth time Patsy had charted, and with the record’s strong showing at both both major playlists, she had become a major star beyond the borders of Music City and country music.

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