Welcome to Two for Tuesday, an ongoing weekly series where Consequence of Sound’s Henry Hauser will take two ”unlikely pairs” in music and compare, contrast, juxtapose, and evaluate the commonalities between both parties. Last week, he discussed how The Hollies and Johnny Rivers both found love in the rain, and this week he’s charting the craziness shared between Heart and Gnarls Barkley.
Sometimes the universe presents conundrums too onerous to handle. Whether it’s lovesick infatuation, societal strife, or just a rickety John, incessant demands on the soul, mind, and wallet bring even the resilient to their knees. So what then? Why, go CRAZY, of course! Nuts, bonkers, loony, unhinged, postal, ape shit – craziness comes in more flavors and varieties than Baskin-Robbins and Heinz combined (68). And these brands of temporary insanity are anything but stable; they morph and mutate until the only thing that matters is maintaining that high of explosive irrationality.
Take Heart’s “Crazy on You” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”. Released exactly 30 years apart, both debut singles are anchored by a spastic surge of reckless abandon. But because these two artists are driven off the edge by markedly different stimuli, their perspectives are wholly distinct.
Heart’s variegated, schizophrenic ’76 single, “Crazy on You”, begins with the sylvan finger picking of Nancy Wilson. Segueing brusquely, Nancy unleashes a salvo of hurried, emphatic acoustic chords that signals turbulence on the horizon. Not to be outdone, lead guitarist Roger Fisher piles a hard rocking electric riff, as Ann Wilson urges escape from unremitting worries and cares (“We might still have time/ We might still get by”).
Penned by the Wilson sisters in response to the war in Vietnam, Heart bemoans that between “bombs and the devil”; the halcyon days of youth are ancient history (“No way to breathe easy, no time to be young”). Left with no means of recourse, Ann seeks to dissolve her psychic angst in one delirious, maddening night of passion. Shrieking like a lascivious banshee, Heart’s front woman works herself into a rapturous tantrum, “lemmme gah kreyy-zeeee, kreyy-zeeee on you-hooo!”
For Heart, craziness means having no alternatives. It’s a last-ditch response to extreme mental, emotional, and spiritual turmoil, and not necessarily an ineffective one. There’s no denying that even fleeting moments of manic passion can drive catharsis. Whether that passion is the result of love or pain is immaterial to the Wilson sisters – it’s their only defense against paralyzing psychosomatic turmoil, and damned if they don’t milk it.
Gnarls Barkley has a very different take. To Danger Mouse and Cee Lo Green, craziness is a deliciously free and vivid state of mind, not a remedy of last resort. Sampling “Nel Cinitero Di Tuscon”, written back in ’68 by the Gianfranco brothers, “Crazy” kicks off with heavy drums and repetitively throbbing bass. In the opening verse, Cee Lo gushes about that time he lost his mind (“There was something so pleasant about that place/ Even your emotions have an echo in so much space”).
Going crazy isn’t about breaking down; it’s about liberating yourself from the shackles of convention to achieve greatness. Seeking to emulate his boyhood idols that “had the heart to live their lives out on a limb”, Cee Lo ponders whether this makes him crazy. Atop a lattice of crisp violins, the singer belts out a piercing falsetto that clashes with the uncertainty of his lyrics, “Does that make me craeee-zeeeee? Praww-ha-bahh-leee-hee!”
While Heart sees craziness as an antidote for pain, Gnarls Barkley’s version is a means to heightened awareness and spiritual fortitude. Though it may seem like Gnarls Barkley has the healthier perspectives, lurid emotions are extremely volatile. One day you’re basking in the glow of insane rapture; next day you’re wrapped up in a straitjacket. Careful, Gnarls.