For a time in 2006, Gnarles Barkley’s song “Crazy” was the biggest in the world.
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You practically couldn’t go anywhere in the world without hearing it on the radio, over speakers in a store, or on your friend’s playlist. The song—with its relatable-yet-surreal lyrics, vocal and production performances—and the new duo of CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse, were everywhere.
Gnarles Barkley is the brainchild of singer CeeLo Green and producer Danger Mouse. The duo released their debut album, St. Elsewhere, in 2006 and the lead single was “Crazy.” The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 200.
The track, which won a Grammy in 2007, was inspired by Spaghetti Western film scores—specifically, the song “Last Men Standing” by Gian Piero Reverberi and Gian Franco Reverberi. “Crazy” samples that track and the original songwriters for the tune are credited by Gnarles Barkley.
Lyrically, the song was born from a conversation. “I somehow got off on this tangent about how people won’t take an artist seriously unless they’re insane… So we started jokingly discussing ways in which we could make people think we were crazy… CeeLo took that conversation and made it into ‘Crazy’, which we recorded in one take,” said Danger Mouse.
“Crazy” has been covered by a number of artists, including the Violent Femmes, Nelly Furtado, Ray LaMontagne, and more. Even Kacey Musgraves did a rendition of the tune (with Green) during a show in Nashville in 2019.
I remember when / I remember, I remember when I lost my mind / There was something so pleasant about that place / Even your emotions have an echo in so much space / And when you’re out there without care / Yeah, I was out of touch / But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough / I just knew too much / Does that make me crazy / Does that make me crazy / Does that make me crazy
Possibly, Barkley sings.
In a 2020 interview with Under the Radar magazine, Green talked about the song—it’s origins and impact.
In that interview, Green was asked, “What was it like for you to have created something that maybe also caused you to need humility, but nevertheless, hit so massively worldwide? What is that like because, obviously, not everybody has done that?”
“It’s true. Well, and then when I talk about myself, I am not as poetic because I wasn’t so in control, you know? All I can say about myself is that I am very fortunate that I have done some diligence—in one capacity or another—to deserve something so grand as far as a motion, a vibration, a synergy to pass through me,” said Green. “The song, ‘Crazy,’ does truly equate to a life’s work because everything that I am is invested in that song. Especially the backstory behind it and how there’s always—there was a time in the industry where the individual adult was celebrated. You had Elton John and Alice Cooper. You had these people who you could celebrate being an idiosyncratic, caricature. It could all be embellished.
“But there’s also an underbelly that is in opposition against the individual. So, I’m saying that to say this: the song, ‘Crazy,’ is more or less about the idea, ‘Am I just spinning my wheels trying to be an individual?’ Like, ‘Why don’t I just sit in? I could just do something simple. I could just get so-and-so, the writer of the time or whatever, to write me a song and if it’s a hit, it’s a hit. Why do we insist? Why do we persist at the pace of a win, lose, or draw?’ Because it’s either one of those three. So, ‘Crazy’ is about that. To say, ‘My heroes had the heart to live the lives I wanna live.’ Or when I say, ‘When I lost my mind,’ that’s almost like when I stopped caring about what people think. And that was early. ‘I remember when I lost my mind. There was something so pleasant about that place, even your emotions have an echo in so much space.’
“That was a great line. But I didn’t realize it was great, you know? But it just gave me chills to say it. Now I can repeat it, you know, and it gets echoed by millions. It’s not just a singular notion anymore. It’s not even mine. It’s ours, you know what I mean? So, it’s like, wow! I can’t believe I was that, you know, that honest. But I didn’t even think twice—that’s how honest it was. And I only sang it once. What people hear—and I’m not trying to say that as if this is something amazing—I mean, all of the music of the ’50s and ’60s, they had to nail that stuff. That’s why the music is much better. They had to nail it, you know what I mean? It’s dope. You’re in there with Phil Spector or somebody and you better nail it! You don’t have four or five takes to do it. So, it’s basically like that. That’s where songs like ‘Crazy’ come from, man. It’s just me saying, ‘You know what, dude?’ And I’m talking to Danger Mouse. I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s just go for it, man! What do we got to lose? Besides our minds.’ [Laughs].