Correction to This Article
A Sept. 22 Weekend article incorrectly identified the record label with which Cee- Lo Green of the group Gnarls Barkley has signed a solo deal. It is Atlantic Records, not Warner Bros.

Gnarls Barkley, Driving You 'Crazy'

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

This is "Crazy": Gnarls Barkley's soulful single, summer's inescapable anthem to incipient madness, has been covered by Nelly Furtado. And Billy Idol. And the Roots. And the Raconteurs, who might well do it Saturday at the all-day Virgin Festival at Pimlico Race Course, where Gnarls Barkley will certainly perform it.

"Crazy" has also been covered by folk-soulman Ray LaMontagne, power-popster Butch Walker, indie-pop duo Mates of State, Greg Dulli's side project the Twilight Singers and Bryan Adams (Bryan Adams?). The list goes on, and it keeps growing. Even Paris Hilton has threatened a version, proving the perils of ubiquity.

What has inspired this reaction is a slice of psychedelic/troubled soul that begins: "I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind / There was something so pleasant about that place / Even your emotions have an echo in so much space. . . . Yeah I was out of touch / But it wasn't because I didn't know enough / I just knew too much."

Already epic-sounding -- the string-supported melody is adapted from a '60s spaghetti-western theme -- the song takes off with a soaring, hypnotic hook with such aching doubt attached that it's impossible to dislodge it from your mind once you've heard Cee-Lo Green sing it.

"Does that make me craaaaaazy ? / Does that make me crazy ? / Does that make me craaaaaazy ? / Possibly."

As the song progresses, the chorus shifts from confession to accusation ("I think you're crazy") to communal assertion ("Maybe we're crazy"). For sure, folks are crazy for "Crazy."

There is no Gnarls Barkley, just Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo. Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is the underground producer of 2003's "The Grey Album," a provocative, unauthorized mash-up of vocals from Jay-Z's "Black Album" and instrumentals from the Beatles' "White Album," as well as the smash "Demon Days" album by Gorillaz.

Cee-Lo (Thomas Callaway) made that name for himself as a founding member of the Goodie Mob, second only to OutKast in the first wave of Southern hip-hop, later releasing a pair of solo albums overlooked enough to get him dropped by his label. A supergroup this is not, which is why the Gnarls Barkley album, "St. Elsewhere," was a casual, one-time collaboration, paid for out of their own pockets, often worked on by e-mailing audio files back and forth, with Danger Mouse providing the musical backdrops, Cee-Lo the lyrics.

Then things got "Crazy." The BBC's Radio 1 played an advance so much that when "Crazy" was released in March, it became the first single to open at No. 1 in Britain purely on the strength of digital downloads. It remained atop the singles chart for nine weeks, the longest of any track in a decade. "St. Elsewhere" also opened at No. 1. Stateside success followed, with "Crazy" topping several charts. At one point it appeared simultaneously on 11 Billboard charts, including urban, pop and alternative. The album got as high as No. 4 and has sold more than 1 million copies.

What makes all this so sweet is that "Crazy's" lyrics were inspired by a conversation that Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse had in the studio, two music outsiders who had experienced disappointments mulling limited prospects in an unimaginative pop landscape.

" Are we crazy to yet again go out on a limb artistically, creatively, to make a statement?" Cee-Lo recalled recently. "We decided, yes, we did want to go out on a limb again.

" 'Crazy,' " Cee-Lo suggests, "defies genre and radio formats because we didn't consider [them] to begin with. The song connects emotionally, and I'm excited it's become something so many people are covering. Because even though music is supposed to be an expression of your own creativity, for people to cover something that initially some might feel taboo, something that's very vulnerable, for them to embrace it as their song, their life, their experience is very gratifying."

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