Saturday, February 21, 2009

Being Broken-Hearted Never Sounded So Good

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Fingerprints
Patsy Cline
Don Hecht, W.O. Fleener, and W.S. Stevenson
ALBUM: Encores
YEAR/LABEL: 1959; Everest (originally Four Star)

I sing just like I hurt inside.
(Patsy Cline)

I've earful of Patsy Cline, there is just no one who can touch her.
(Jimmy Buffett, "Miss You So Badly")

It's hard to believe, but Patsy Cline's status as a legend has only come about since the movies Coal Miner's Daughter and Sweet Dreams. Indeed, Buffett was one of the earliest people to acknowledge the power of a good Patsy Cline tune in his 1977 song from Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes. It took Cline ten years after her tragic death in a 1963 plane crash to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame; and the other two star victims of the crash (Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins) were also considered greats and not, as they are sadly dismissed today, "the people who died in the plane crash with Patsy Cline."

One of the drawbacks to Cline's elevation to icon status is that most of her music didn't come with her. When asked their favorite songs of hers, most people name the "obvious" songs ("Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," or "Sweet Dreams [of You]"). While most artists have one or two songs they are "best-known" for, the material that is overlooked at the expense of those three songs is mind-boggling.

Exhibit "A" in that argument is "Fingerprints," a song Cline recorded in her days on Four Star Records before her days on Decca where her successful hits were recorded. While most Four Star artists were cheated out of their money (Hank Locklin once told me he never saw a penny for his #1 hit "Let Me Be the One," and Rose Maddox's biography contains tales of the mistreatment of the Maddox Brothers and Rose from Four Star that borders on criminal), the music that was produced in many cases outshined the major label recordings.

In the days before the heavily orchestrated, overproduced "Nashville sound" days that muddied recordings of Cline and others (especially Jim Reeves), the simpler, sparse accompaniment allowed for the song and the star of the recordings -- Cline's singularly unique voice -- to shine.

One of the most amazing things about Patsy Cline was her ability to put a vice grip on every syllable in a song and squeeze all the emotion out. The simple instrumental backing on "Fingerprints" allow Cline to stamp those "fingerprints of sorrow" all over the listener. When she sang, "Now I am all alone and as the teardrops start," you know tears were streaming down her cheek -- even if she was laughing during the session.

In short, this is the perfect marriage of a broken-hearted song and a singer who knew exactly what to do with those lyrics. If you want "an earful of Patsy Cline," skip the obvious songs and head straight for this gem.


"That Wonderful Someone" (from Encores) -- Patsy had a reputation of being able to cuss a sailor under the table, so it might sound peculiar (at the very least) to hear her do a gospel song. She delivered this great tune with the conviction of a church choir member, indicating that when it came to her music she never went halfway.
"Tra Le La Triangle" (available on The Patsy Cline Story) -- a lighthearted song about a woman with two boyfriends highlighted by her delivery of the line "My life's in such a tangle."

Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine

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