By Aidan Connelly
Plenty of words describe the 2006 phenomenon that was Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and the most fitting phrase is unfortunately a cheap pun.
Initially leaked months ahead of its scheduled release, “Crazy” was nothing less than a mainstream breakthrough for the group’s singer, CeeLo Green, and its producer, Danger Mouse. They weren’t unknown artists prior to the release. In the ‘90s, Green was the youngest member of Outkast-affiliated Goodie Mob, and even sang backup vocals on the chorus of TLC’s megahit “Waterfalls.” If that comes as a surprise, it’s probably because his voice is mostly unrecognizable due to the layering of the mix. In 2004, Danger Mouse very notably pushed the boundaries of fair use with his Jay-Z/Beatles mash-up album, The Grey Album. But it wasn’t until they came together to form Gnarls Barkley that mainstream audiences got a sense of the talent pouring out of each of them.
“Crazy” is based off a piece of music originally written for the 1968 Spaghetti Western Django, Prepare a Coffin. The song “Nel Cimitero Di Tucson,” shows no indication that it’d become the basis for an oddball, soul megahit. At first listen, it doesn’t sound like something that would sell many records, yet here we are.
“Crazy” is Gnarls Barkley’s first and biggest hit, selling over 4 million copies worldwide. Its accompanying album, St. Elsewhere, earned a double platinum rating and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album, which is interesting to consider, given that it sounds absolutely nothing like any other album that’s ever won that category. “Crazy” also didn’t sound much like any of the other singles on the charts it topped. 2006 was the year of James Blunt and Daniel Powter, of “Sexyback” and “Hips Don’t Lie.” Gnarls Barkley was the undisputed king of a musical lane entirely its own.
That unique quality also ended up leaking into their live performances, most notably through the bombastic silliness of the Star Wars costumes at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards and the poignant tableau of lonely airplane pilots for their 2007 Grammy performance.
Ten years later, “Crazy” still sounds cool and intriguing. Would it still be a hit if it came out today? Considering the fact that the lane it established is still wide open, it wouldn’t be that crazy.