No one would argue that the Patsy Cline song “I Fall To Pieces” is anything but a country classic. But an instant hit? It certainly wasn’t one of those. On August 7, 1961, the song written by the prolific writers Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard climbed to the top of the Billboard country chart — six months after it was released, and nine after it was recorded on November 16 the year before.
In the 2020s, it’s not uncommon for a song to take a year to reach the country summit, but in those days, songs usually climbed to prominence much more quickly. But then “I Fall To Pieces” is a song with an unusual history all around. The demo had been recorded by Howard’s wife Jan, a very successful star in her own right who placed no fewer than 30 singles on the country chart. Harlan pitched it to Decca Nashville producer Owen Bradley, who saw it turned down by Brenda Lee, Roy Drusky and others. Cline, who happened to be at the label offices at the same time, became aware of “I Fall To Pieces” and asked to record it.
Too country for pop, or too pop for country?
Patsy went into the studio to start taping it for Decca, but she had severe reservations about it at first, especially concerning the backing vocal role of the Jordanaires. Ironically, where Brenda Lee had thought “Pieces” too country for her pop style, Patsy viewed it the other way around, thinking it too pop for her audience. But once she was recording, she got into the song and was all in favour of its release.
Country radio, however, wasn’t — or at least not until Decca put some heavyweight promotion behind it and the track found an advocate at a pop station in Columbus, Ohio. “Pieces” had already been on release for more than two months when it finally made the country chart in early April 1961, and progressed to the Hot 100 in late May.
In early August, more than six months after release, “I Fall To Piece”’ climbed to the top of the country chart, spending two weeks there before reaching No.12 on the pop survey. Perhaps just as surprisingly, for such a modern-day country icon, Cline would only top the country listing once more, in 1962 with “She’s Got You.”
“Song thoughts for the everyday little guy”
In a fascinating interview with Billboard published on August 5, 1961, the very week that the Cline single climbed to the country summit, Decca Nashville’s Bradley said: “I always look carefully for a song idea. When I heard about ‘I Fall To Pieces’…I bought the lyrics right over the phone, without even hearing the tune. These are the kind of song thoughts for the everyday little guy, for the working people. They capture a little human experience that people can identify with.”
“I Fall To Pieces” would not only attract countless covers, but it appeared on the country chart twice more for Patsy, long after her sad passing in 1963. A new mix with an orchestra and chorus reached No.61 in 1981, before an electronically-created “duet” version with Jim Reeves went to No.54 in 1982.
“I Fall To Pieces” is on Patsy Cline Showcase, which can be bought here.
Follow the official Patsy Cline Best Of playlist.