Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Song A Day: Patsy Cline, "Walkin' After Midnight"

JUNE 18, 2017




Patsy Cline is a legendary artist who sits in the pantheon of great singers. She could do it all—country, honky-tonk, rockabilly, pop, standards, jazz and blues—in her own inimitable style. Her 1963 death in a plane crash ended a career that would likely have produced further hits and an interesting period of growth as music changed later in the decade.

She is remembered mostly for the hits she cut in the early 1960s, in which producer Owen Bradley set her plaintive vocals of pop-country songs with middle-of-the-road string arrangements in an effort to make her music more palatable to the masses.

This it did, but Bradley’s “countrypolitan” style also rendered her work far less immediate, in my opinion. While later hits like “She’s Got You,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Crazy,” and “Faded Love” are superb songs and among Cline’s great vocal performances, they’re also formulaic and pretty much sound alike.

I’d like to revisit her first hit record, 1957’s “Walking After Midnight.” This version, which reached #12 on Billboard‘s pop chart and #2 on its country chart, is not remembered as it should be. This is largely because a far less interesting 1961 re-cut of the song is the version available for the last 50 years on the Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits album.

Patsy Cline was just 14 years old when she dropped out of high school. In 1947 she began singing, working her way up to daily radio programs then signing with the small Four Star record label. She always believed herself to be a country singer, although early tracks like “Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray” make it clear that she was equally adept at nightclub jazz.

By 1956, she had even reached the stage of the Grand Ole Opry—but enjoyed no hits. This changed, however, when she sang a new recording, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” in early 1957 on Arthur Godfrey’s television show. Cline, dressed in a fancy gown rather than her traditional cowgirl outfit, received rapturous applause.

Decca Records, which had an arrangement with Four Star, rush-released “Walkin’ After Midnight” and promoted it heavily. The song broke out immediately in the east and the south. At age 25, Patsy Cline was a star, her first hit a fusion of full-throated vocals, a pop-styled torch song, and an appealing, homespun country track.

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