1961 marked the dazzling highs and terrifying low of Patsy Cline’s career…and life, for that matter. January saw the release of her landmark recording of Hank Garland’s “I Fall to Pieces” (co-written by Harlan Howard). The track eventually landed at #1 on the country charts, a first for Cline. The Song also had crossover success, eventually peaking at #12 on the pop chart. Cline was country royalty by this point. She had joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry the year before and was rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in the business. Somehow, she also had time to welcome a son into the world, Randy.
Then on June 14 it all came crashing down as Cline and her brother were involved in a serious automobile accident in Nashville, Tennessee. The head-on collision threw Cline into the windshield, where she suffered a huge cut across her forehead, bruised ribs, a broken wrist and a dislocated hip. The driver of the other vehicle was killed. Cline spent a month in the hospital and left still on crutches and with a scar that would remain for the rest of her life (she wore wigs and makeup to cover it).
With no touring or other promotions while she was out of action, Cline’s career was in danger of slipping permanently off the rails. In stepped producer Owen Bradley, who had helped to make Cline a star (a feat he matched working with Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, among others), steering her toward pop material like “Walkin’ After Midnight” and the aforementioned “Pieces.”
Bradley wanted Cline to record a song by an up-and-coming writer named Willie Nelson. The song was called “Crazy,” and Bradley thought it had the potential to match “I Fall to Pieces” in terms of crossover appeal.
Cline didn’t like the song. Perhaps affected by the physical pain she was still feeling from the wreck, she was unable to sing the tune as recorded on Nelson’s demo. The high notes, in particular, troubled her bruised ribs. Exasperated, Cline refused to go any further with a tune that she didn’t really like in the first place. Cline and Bradley had a heated argument about the song and she left the studio without finishing the track.
The following week, Bradley convinced her to take another crack at the song with a version a bit more broad and straightforward. In a single take, Cline nailed what would be her most enduring hit. The track rose to #2 on the country and adult contemporary charts and #9 on the pop charts. Cline would forevermore be recognized as one of the biggest names of country, headlining everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. Sadly, she was only able to enjoy the fruits of her success for a short time. She died in an airplane crash in 1963.