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Flashback: Patsy Cline’s ‘I Fall to Pieces’ Hits Number One

Iconic vocalist originally balked at recording the song, written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard

Unlike the narrator in “I Fall to Pieces,” the enduring hit that was penned by two future songwriting legends and recorded by Patsy Cline has certainly become anything but a crumbling disaster.

The miserable tale of a woman trying in vain to forget her lost love, especially when she attempts to move on with someone new, was set to a four/four shuffle beat and featured backing from the Jordanaires, who came to fame singing harmony behind countless Elvis Presley hits. So how could it not be a smash? There was just one problem: Cline herself hated the song and had no interest in recording it. Today, “I Fall to Pieces” is considered a classic, as well as one of the saddest country songs of all time.

In 1960, a young writer from Mississippi, Hank Cochran, teamed up in Nashville with Harlan Howard, a Detroit-born tunesmith who had already scored a huge crossover hit with “Heartaches by the Number.” Howard came up with the song’s title and the two met at Howard’s house the following day to work on the song. Singer Jan Howard, then married to the songwriter, recorded the demo at Pamper Music, where Cochran was a staff writer (along with another writer, Willie Nelson, who would go on to pen another of Cline’s biggest hits, “Crazy). Howard then pitched the song to producer Owen Bradley, who had no luck getting Brenda Lee to cut it. He also courted Grand Ole Opry star Roy Drusky, but Drusky rejected it as too feminine.

Cline recorded “I Fall to Pieces” in November 1960. At the recording sessions, the singer reportedly gave the Jordanaires an icy reception, worried that the quartet’s voices would drown hers out. She was also no fan of the so-called “Nashville Sound,” with its lush, string-laden arrangements and other instrumentation, which she felt were unsuitable for her singing style. Seven months pregnant at the time she recorded the tune, Cline delivered an emotional vocal that’s considered among her very best.

“I Fall to Pieces” was no runaway success, however. Released as a single in late January 1961, the record was a slow builder at both country and pop radio. Debuting on the country chart in April, the song eventually reached Number One in August, two months after Cline was nearly killed in a car crash with her brother. The song’s success helped secure Cline an invitation to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the single would top Billboard’s year-end survey of country hits. The track was included on Showcase, released it November 1961 and the second of just three full-length albums Cline would record in her lifetime. On November 29th of that year, Cline also made her first and only appearance at Carnegie Hall, with New York Times critic Robert Shelton praising her “convincing way with ‘heart songs,’ the country cousin of the ‘torch song.'” “Carnegie Hall was real fabulous,” the brash, outspoken singer quipped at the time, “but, you know, it ain’t as big as the Grand Ole Opry.”

Cline’s first Number One country record, “I Fall to Pieces” topped the country chart on August 7, 1961, and spent two weeks at Number One. It was also a Top Fifteen pop hit and reached the Top Ten on the Adult Contemporary chart. To date, the song has been covered by scores of other artists. The first was Jim Reeves, in 1961. In 1982, a “duet” of the tune featuring Reeves and Cline became a minor chart hit. Other country artists who charted with the song included Diana Trask (in 1970), Mary Miller (1977) and Trisha Yearwood, who performed it as a duet with R&B singer Aaron Neville in 1994.

In 2011, “I Fall to Pieces” was named among Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

In This Article: Patsy Cline

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