Songs #40 & 41 of 9999
Artists: Patsy Cline/Willie Nelson
Year: 1961/1962Album: Showcase With the Jordonaires/And Then I Wrote
I've been making a list of themes to use for the future so I can make this blog a little more interesting and not lose the momentum I have to sustain for the next (gasp) 25 years. One of the themes I have is "Cover Songs That Are Better Than the Originals." In tonight's post, we look at two recordings of the same song, but which is the original and which is the cover? (Which is better is pretty obvious in my opinion, but I think they're both pretty great.)
Willie Nelson wrote "Crazy" in 1961 while he was trying to establish himself as a musician and composer. He had a deal with a publishing company and, like a lot of songwriters of the time, he wrote songs that were never intended to be recorded by the composer. Instead, they were shopped around to singers in the same way people now write songs for Britney Spears or Justin Bieber. It really wasn't until The Beatles came along that we began to see recording artists writing their own material as a rule.
"Crazy" was written for Patsy Kline and it is perfect for her. The soaring melody with leaps of a sixth or seventh and frequent arpeggios requires vocal strength across an octave and a half. Cline makes it sound easy, varying the dynamic level of her voice, letting it break for effect and belting when the lyrics call for it. It is a perfectly controlled performance and deserving of the accolades it brought her.
Nelson's performance came later when his songwriting fame afforded him the opportunity to make records of his own. His understated performance with occasional lapses in pitch and pseudo-spoken word has rough edges we would probably not accept from our crooners, but seems perfectly fine coming from the mouth of the composer.
The song itself is a masterpiece--equal parts country and jazz--and Nelson's performance allows us to notice this more than Cline's, which has a tendency to mesmerize us to the point of forgetting the song could ever have belonged to anyone else. It is as much her song as "Respect" belongs to Aretha Franklin or "My Way" belongs to Sinatra.