50 years ago last March, Patsy Cline tragically died in a plane crash. Her songs rhymed with heartache, loneliness, longing, regret, and mismatched pairing, but their unifying theme was love. Her first hit – 1957's "Walkin' After Midnight" – made her a crossover phenomenon: a female artist who could chart both country and pop. A string of hits from 1961 to 1963 immortalized her. She, like Kitty Wells before her, opened doors in the very heart of flyover country. 50 years on, Patsy Cline thrives on the Internet.
Patsy Cline also belonged to a time when singers could still credibly sing others' songs. The Beatles and The Beach Boys helped kill that in pop music a short time later, making it uncool to record anything but one's own songs. I respect that – genius songwriting, genius playing and genius singing all rolled into one – because it's rare. But what about the beautiful voice who doesn't write songs? Or that songwriter who really can't sing (Bob Dylan)?
The words of "Walkin' After Midnight" evoke:
Compare that to Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"I stop to see a weepin' willowCryin' on his pillowMaybe he's cryin' for meAnd as the skies turn gloomyNight winds whisper to meI'm lonesome as I can be.
Hear the lonesome whiperwillHe sounds too blue to flyThe midnight train is whining lowI'm so lonesome I could cry
That's rural angst and not the sort of loneliness people feel in cities -- is it?I've never seen a night so longWhen time goes crawling byThe moon just went behind a cloudTo hide it's face and cry.
Here is the original 1957 "twangy" version of "Walkin After Midnight":