“It Was Just Like Satin”: The Story Behind “I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline

Songwriters Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard met in California and began collaborating. Cochran came up with a title, and the two set about writing the song. Howard’s wife Jan recorded a demo at Pamper Music just outside of Nashville, and the songwriters pitched the song to producer Owen Bradley. Brenda Lee turned down the song as she felt it was “too country.” Bradley then approached Roy Drusky, who thought it was not a man’s song. Patsy Cline overheard the conversation and asked if she could record the song. The rest is history. Let’s take a look at the story behind “I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline.

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I fall to pieces
Each time I see you again
I fall to pieces
How can I be just your friend

The Recording

In November 1960, Cline entered Bradley’s Quonset Hut studio in Nashville’s Music Row to record the song. A Nashville A-team was on hand to provide the backing. Bradley’s brother Harold, Hank Garland, and Randy Hughes played guitar, Floyd Cramer was on organ, Ben Keith on steel guitar, Doug Kirkham on drums, Bob Moore on bass, and Hargus “Pig” Robbins played piano. The Jordanaires provided the background vocals.

According to The Jordanaires’ Gordon Stoker, Cline was worried the quartet of male voices would drown out her sound, and she wasn’t very pleasant. Cline was also worried about the song being too pop. The musicians tried some different rhythm structures. Howard was in the studio for the session and later recalled, “On the night of the session, we absolutely did not want to do the standard 4:4 shuffle that had by then been done to death. We were trying all kinds of other combinations, but they all just laid there and bled all over the floor. So, it had to be the shuffle then, like it or not. But the amazing thing was, once Patsy got into the groove, she just caressed those lyrics and that melody so tenderly that it was just like satin. We knew we had magic in the can when, on the fourth take, every grown man in that studio was bawling like a baby, and Bradley said, ‘That’s the one.'”

You want me to act
Like we’ve never kissed
You want me to forget
Pretend we’ve never met

Embracing the Pop Approach

After hearing the completed song, Cline accepted Bradley’s pop approach and ended up liking the recording. Her worries about the background vocals also disappeared as she would go on to work often with The Jordanaires. Howard said love songs were sometimes the hardest ones to write. Journalist Bill DeMain quoted the songwriter in his obituary, “The toughest songs in the world to write are love songs. ‘I love you, and I will forever, and blah blah blah.’ I’d rather get into a song about a relationship that’s a little bit shaky or even tragic. That, in my mind, represents country music and the drama of the man/woman thing.”

And I try, and I try
But I haven’t yet
You walk by
And I fall to pieces

The Car Accident

On June 14, 1961, Cline was riding in a car with her brother Sam when a vehicle struck them head-on, sending her into the windshield. She suffered head injuries, a broken wrist, and a dislocated hip. Two of the three passengers in the other car died as a result of the accident. Cline underwent surgery and spent a month in the hospital.

I fall to pieces
Each time someone speaks your name
I fall to pieces
Time only adds to the blame

A Slow Start

“I Fall to Pieces” would go on to be an all-time classic, but it did not hit the charts right out of the gate. Disc jockeys were hesitant to embrace the Decca Records single. Pamper Music’s Hal Smith believed in the song and hired Pat Nelson to promote the single. He tried to impress upon country disc jockeys how Cline’s newest song was a departure from her previous singles, while also urging pop DJs to accept the singer in the same vein as a Rosemary Clooney or Patti Page. They got some traction in Columbus, Ohio, when a pop station started playing it.

Over the next four months, the song gained momentum in pop and country markets. The song slowly rose up the Billboard Country chart and hit No. 1 in August 1961. It also reached No. 12 on the pop chart. Cline would go on to have several crossover hits in her career and become one of the nation’s premier recording artists. She gave Harlan Howard a bracelet and Hank Cochran a money clip to show her appreciation for the song. Both were engraved with the words, “Thanks for the Hit – Patsy.”

You tell me to find someone else to love
Someone who loves me, too
The way you used to do
But each time I go out with someone new
You walk by, and I fall to pieces
You walk by, and I fall to pieces

The Legacy

On March 3, 1963, Cline died in a plane crash in Camden, Tennessee. The accident also claimed the lives of singers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, and manager Randy Hughes, who also played guitar on “I Fall to Pieces.” The song would be remembered as one of the most successful of her many hits.

In 1980, Cline’s vocals were lifted from the original master tape and given a new backing track with female background vocals. The song charted again, reaching No. 61. In 1982, a duet with Jim Reeves was created from master tape elements, and it reached No. 54. In 1994, Aaron Neville and Trisha Yearwood recorded a duet, returning the song to the charts yet again. They also won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.

Through the years, “I Fall to Pieces” has routinely been included on many ‘best of” lists and television shows. Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard certainly created a classic.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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