Although she would die in a plane crash in March 1963, aged just 30, Virginia Patterson Hensley – professionally known as Patsy Cline – is still widely regarded as one of the greatest female country singers of all time. She achieved considerable success in her brief lifetime, hitting the charts with trademark songs Walkin’ After Midnight, the elegiac I Fall to Pieces, She’s Got You, Willie Nelson’s now standard Crazy and Don Gibson’s Sweet Dreams.
But it’s really since her demise that Patsy discs have sold in vast numbers, leading to the cult of Cline that has seen her life documented in various books, movies, stage plays and documentaries. To that extent her death has given her genuine iconic status on a par with that of Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. As more people discover her rich contralto Patsy has become a firm favourite for other aspiring female country singers. Alongside Kitty Wells she helped pioneer the role of strong women in a usually male dominated market and to hear proof of her enduring talent we’re pleased to be able you towards a selection of her work that ought to give you a fully rounded introduction to this remarkable country lady.
Born in Winchester, Virginia in 1932, daughter of a seamstress and a blacksmith, Cline was a singer in her local church and soon discovered a love for vocalists like Kay Starr, Jo Stafford, hillbilly sensation Hank Williams and Judy Garland. Blessed with perfect pitch (though she didn’t sight read music) Cline got her first break when the artist Jimmy Dean invited her to appear on his radio show Town and Country Jamboree, broadcasting out of Arlington. Following one unsuccessful marriage to George Cline - obviously she kept her married name – Patsy wed Charlie Dick who would mentor and manage her career. Initial experiments with hillbilly, honky-tonk and rockabilly didn’t quite suit her image but once she formed a working relationship with innovative producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records it was soon apparent that country pop would be her metier. Various Grand Ole Opry and CBS talent show appearances gave the world notice of an extraordinary talent. Her first major hit, Walkin’ After Midnight (penned by Donn Hecht and Alan Block) propelled her into both the country and pop charts, making her an early crossover star. Bradley now guided her to a deal with Decca-Nashville and fixed arrangements that while not entirely to her own taste became synonymous with the rich local sound that made her name. I Fall To Pieces was an even bigger hit than Walkin’ After Midnight, a number one country single and a pop and adult contemporary fixture throughout 1961. Patsy was now on the road to major stardom.
She became one of the Opry’s biggest attractions and used her influence to help up and coming budding females like Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, Jan Howard and Dottie West. Meanwhile her no-nonsense charisma won her male admirers and friends and she was a drinking buddy with the likes of Roger Miller, Faron Young and Carl Perkins. She was particularly pleased to befriend Elvis Presley. She called him Big Hoss and he knew her as The Cline. She had a tough exterior alright. Her performing motto was ‘No dough, No show’ and she demanded professional and respectful treatment from promoters who were used to exploiting their artists. Following a near fatal car crash Patsy returned to the studio to cut Willie Nelson’s oddly timed Crazy, a track she didn’t warm to at first. In fact she recorded her vocal as an overdub and wrung such emotion out of her efforts that her version is often considered to be the definitive statement on this much loved song – rumoured to be the biggest juke box play of all time.
Patsy’s rise was meteoric thereafter. She headlined the Hollywood Bowl with Johnny Cash and took a selection of Opry stars to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Her single She’s Got You brought UK fame (it was immediately covered by British singer Alma Cogan) and the attendant album, Sentimentally Yours, became her biggest seller. Featuring the stellar A team of Nashville players in 1962 Patsy was surrounded by such musical greats as Charlie McCoy, The Jordanaires, guitarist Grady Martin, Hargus ‘Pig’ Robins and Floyd Cramer with Owen Bradley offering his usual immaculate production job.
Given her technique and her style it was no surprise to see Patsy raising the bar for country vocalists of any persuasion. She had copyists in her own lifetime, that’s how good she was.
Before she could complete a fourth album, provisionally titled faded Love after the Bob Wills tune, Cline began to suffer premonitions of her own doom and even started to give away personal possessions while constantly rewriting her will on Delta Air Lines stationery. As macabre as that may seem on March 5 1963 her privately chartered Piper Comanche crashed in shocking weather in woods outside Camden, Tennessee where she and all the other occupants perished.
Thereafter the legend of Patsy simply snowballed. She had numerous posthumous hits like Sweet Dreams, Faded Love and Leavin’ On Your Mind and became the subject or co-protagonist in such acclaimed films as Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sweet Dreams: The Life and Times of Patsy Cline (starring Jessica Lange) and the play A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline.
Our superb selection begins with Cline’s second studio album, Showcase (1961). Featuring The Jordanaires backing vocals, Ben Keith’s pedal steel and such luminaries as bassist Bob Moore, guitarists Hank Garland and Martin and Cramer on piano this set includes Crazy, San Antonio Rose, I Fall to Pieces and a re-recorded Walkin’ After Midnight. More surprisingly perhaps there’s a lush version of Cole Porter’s True Love and smart reinterpretation of her 1957 local hit A Poor Man’s Roses (Or a Rich Man’s Gold). Our disc mirrors the posthumous 1963 reissue known as Patsy Cline Showcase with the Jordanaires, featuring the famous red Capri pants and gold booties cover.
Remembering Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves compiles hits from both these popular artists with I Fall to Pieces featuring the then revolutionary Cline duet overdub. Other highlights are her take on Mel Tillis/Carl Perkins tune So Wrong, a gorgeous reading of Baby’s Arms and the Webb Pierce/Wayne Walker item Leavin’ On Your Mind.
Patsy Cline: 12 Greatest Hits is certainly an essential primer for any would be listener. Despite never charting significantly this set holds the record for selling the most copies without featuring on the Billboard 200! Ten million copies have sold in the States alone and it was the highest selling album by any female country artist until Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me.
The Best of Patsy Cline revisits an album that did extremely well in the UK on release in 1994 and such was its appeal that The Very Best of … followed soon after.
The Universal Masters Collection is highly co9mmended. Concentrating on 18 of her best loved Decca period releases this gives you the chance to hear her album versions of Your Cheatin' Heart and Half As Much and the rare 1962 ballad, You’re Stronger Than Me, arranged for strings. With liner notes and some choice photographic memorabilia this set provides guaranteed pleasure and great listening at leisure.
Even more lavish is Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Studio Masters 1960-1963. This double-disc set gathers all 51 of the sides Patsy recorded with Bradley after she left 4 Star Records for Decca in 1960. A remarkable in-one-place document this – it’s hard to fathom now that in a period of just 28 months Cline invented the role of the modern female country singer. Remember her this way.
As well as our playlist of essential Patsy Cline we have created another where you can dig a little deeper into her wonderful back catalogue and discover some of her wonderful less well known songs. Just click here.
Words: Max Bell
Patsy Cline began recording for the Four Star company in 1955 but didn't really achieve any notoriety until she performed "Walkin' After Midnight" on the Arthur Godfrey show early in 1957. The song had been recorded only a handful of weeks before and still wasn't pressed up when requests for it began pouring in. Cline remained under contract to Four Star until 1960, when she signed to Decca and began turning out a string of solid pop hits, beginning with "I Fall to Pieces."
When she died in a tragic plane crash in 1963, she left behind a stack of unreleased material that Decca continued to issue into the next year. Offering 14 of the Four Star tunes, WALKIN' AFTER MIDNIGHT highlights the experimentation Cline undertook with producer Owen Bradley in the '50s. "That's How Much I Love You," "Crazy Dreams," and the title cut are pure country, "Love, Love, Love Me, Honey Do" is in a rockabilly vein while dreamy pop ballads like "If I Could Only Stay Asleep" and "Cry Not For Me" contrast with the R&B shuffle of "There He Goes."
One of only three albums released in her lifetime, Showcase was the first set of sessions after her near-death in a car crash in 1961. The recordings teamed her up with the Jordanaires and produced the hits "Crazy" and "I Fall to Pieces" as well as new, more stylized versions of "Walkin' After Midnight" and that single's original flip, "A Poor Man's Roses (Or a Rich Man's Gold)." This release features the second cover photo that was issued after her death, replacing the original cover art.
Words: Cub Koda
Sweet Dreams: The Complete Decca Masters (1960-1963) gathers all of the 51 master takes Patsy Cline recorded with Owen Bradley after she left 4 Star Records for Decca in 1960, running right until her tragic death in 1963. This is the first time all these master takes have been issued in a complete set, which is hard to believe because they form the core of Cline’s legacy. Patsy had been recording frequently since 1954 when she first signed a deal with 4 Star, but the label’s president, Bill McCall, insisted that she only recorded songs for which he owned the publishing rights, a restrictive deal that resulted in only one hit, the classic career-making “Walkin’ After Midnight.” This was a fluke not due to Cline’s talent, but to the dross she had at 4-Star, material that couldn’t be saved even with her increasing partnership with producer Owen Bradley. Once at Decca, Cline continued to work with Bradley and the pair soon hit upon what became Cline’s signature sound: a lush, gorgeous, string-laden setting, equally indebted to Nashville and classic big-band pop, one that pushed her supple vocals to the forefront. It was a sound that wasn’t classically country, at least in the honky tonk sense, but it pushed country closer to pop, providing the blueprint for generations of crossover country singers. This lasting legacy gives the impression that Cline was more popular -- and recorded more music -- during her prime than she actually was, when she really had about two years of popularity, highlighted by the singles “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “She’s Got You,” and “Sweet Dreams (Of You).” All these are here, along with a 1961 remake of “Walkin’ After Midnight,” sitting alongside a bunch of big band (“The Wayward Wind,” “You Belong to Me,” “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way,” “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home”) and country standards (“San Antonio Rose,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Faded Love,” “Crazy Arms”), with the former slightly outweighing the latter, sometimes overshadowing the newer country originals by Harlan Howard, Mel Tillis, and Don Gibson, among others. As a whole, these master takes surprisingly favor the big band over country, paying enough of a debt to her influences (particularly Jo Stafford) to suggest a talent in ascendance, not full-fight, but in away that only makes Cline’s legacy resonate more deeply. Given time, she would surely have achieved more, but what she did in the 28 months documented here is create the sound and style of the modern country-pop singer, an achievement that resonates strongly throughout the big-band echoes here.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Four years after her tragic death in a place crash at the age of 30, Patsy Cline was still one of the best-loved female vocalists in country music, and in 1967 Decca Records, the label that released the bulk of her hits, responded with this album, a collection of 12 of her most popular songs. There isn't anything particularly artful about the way this album was compiled or designed, but Patsy Cline's Greatest Hits certainly delivers what its title promises: these were most certainly the most popular tunes Cline cut during her tenure with Decca, and every one is a stunner, with Cline's rich, powerful voice gliding over the polished and evocative production by Owen Bradley. Cline and Bradley didn't invent "countrypolitan," but precious few artists managed to meld the sophistication of pop and the emotional honesty of country as brilliantly as this music accomplishes with seemingly effortless grace, and these songs still sound fresh and brilliantly crafted decades after the fact.
Words: Mark Deming
Recorded at a Tulsa, OK, show on July 29, 1961, this newly released concert performance captures Patsy Cline at what was then a new peak in her professional career, enjoying her first number one country hit at the time with "I Fall to Pieces." The set she does on this disc includes that song, along with "Walking After Midnight," "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," "Stupid Cupid," "Shake, Rattle & Roll," "Lovesick Blues," "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," and "A Poor Man's Roses." She's in good form, although, alas, hardly at the peak of her powers -- the singer had barely survived an automobile accident 15 days earlier, and was on crutches and still bore scars on her face. She talks rather freely about the accident at one point and seems to be in good spirits, and this is, in many ways, a typical show of hers (although many numbers she did haven't survived on the tape), but probably not the one that she would have wanted to represent her concert work to posterity. Her raspy enthusiasm on "Shake, Rattle & Roll" is effective, and everything here works, especially the eight-piece band backing her up, although they're somewhat under-recorded. Still, any newly discovered Patsy Cline performances are worth hearing, and this one especially, as the closest thing to an official live album that we'll ever see.
Words: Bruce Eder
Patsy Cline's last sessions took place over four nights in February of 1963. Like the rest of her recordings, these were produced by Owen Bradley in Nashville with some A-list pickers of the time. Bradley himself played bass on the majority of the cuts, with Floyd Cramer on piano, Grady Martin on guitar, and the Jordanaires on vocals throughout. After eight years with Bradley and three with Decca, a label that allowed her and Bradley more freedom over song selection than her earlier Four Star contract, Cline was going at the pop market full-tilt.
Gone are the crying steel guitars, the raw fiddles, the clanging rockabilly sound that often surfaced on her '50s work. While her voice sails effortlessly through "Blue Moon of Kentucky," for example, the band sounds like they've been cleaned up and put in sober blue suits for the occasion. But by 1963, that wasn't the point anyway; the point was the kind of delicious agony Cline could fill her voice with on tunes like the shivery "Sweet Dreams (Of You)." Two of the 12 tunes from these four final sessions are not included here: "Faded Love" and "I'll Sail My Ship Alone."
Live at the Opry is a generally rewarding, if imperfect and brief, document of Cline's performances at Nashville's most prestigious venue. The sound quality isn't always first-rate; at times, the sound is a bit scratchy for late-'50s and early-'60s recordings. But the sound is never bad -- only imperfect -- and Cline is in fine form on inspired performances of hits like "Crazy," "I Fall to Pieces," "She's Got You," and "Walkin' After Midnight." Cline was never a country purist, but to people who appreciate a broader, more expansive view of country, she was an impressive example of someone who truly pushed the genre's boundaries. A wide variety of influences assert themselves on Live at the Opry, including rock & roll, jazz, torch singing, traditional pop, and Tin Pan Alley. Country was Cline's foundation, but that didn't prevent her from being affected (either directly or indirectly) by the contributions of Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, and Ella Fitzgerald. Those with a casual interest in Cline's legacy would be better off with a collection of her best-known studio recordings, but for the seasoned Cline enthusiast, Live at the Opry has a lot to offer -- imperfections and all.
Words: Alex Henderson
There is an exact blend of country and pop that went into the classic albums by this enchanting country songstress. Anyone capable of reproducing this formula would be followed everywhere by country artists and pop stars. Unfortunately, what actually happened in the era of this music's first wave of popularity was that everyone cooked up an individual recipe. And many of these productions had as much good taste as spaghetti sauce does after someone stirs in the burned bits from the bottom of the pan. Producer Owen Bradley's approach to Patsy Cline does have its moments of bad taste as well, and even the biggest fans of these albums will have moments when they will wish the male vocal chorus had gotten caught in traffic somewhere in the pretzel of Nashville's freeway system. Air and forget these complaints, because what is here is a rare type of country music that maintains its identity without marching forward with the usual troops of pedal steel and twangy guitars. The combo sound that is created has an incredibly light swing -- the drummer is often using brushes -- and there is an effortless sense of propulsion through rhythm arrangements both catchy and intelligent. What she and the musicians do with the numbers by Hank Williams is nothing short of a revelation, while the ballads such as "Lonely Street" are done with a moody flair that has never quite been matched.
Words: Eugene Chadbourne