"Crazy" Lets the Sun Shine In
Sometimes when I need a little uplift, or a quick sanity check, the song “Crazy”, does the trick for me. It never fails to help me through, though I’ll confess there’ve been times when I’ve had to put it on repeat for a bit of a while.
After I took the music theory classes that got me started writing songs, new neural pathways helped me hear things I hadn’t noticed before.
When I reached to “Crazy” again recently, I noticed a moment in the song, right at the 0:54 second mark, that always makes me feel a joyful release, like the sun just came out on a cloudy day.
I needed to know what was behind that magic, so I went to see my friend (and longtime music mentor) Justin Amolsch, and asked him about it.
Justin listened to the song with me a couple of times, then sat down at his piano to explain.
The song is written and plays out in the key of C minor. People often describe music composed in minor keys as solemn, sad or mysterious. The minor tone suits the lyrical atmosphere of this song, which is about how we sometimes question our own sanity during difficult times.
“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind…”
“Crazy” has three distinct sections. The A section (let’s call it the verse) and the B section (I’ll call that one the chorus) each begins with a C minor chord, defining the key and setting the stage by pulling us down into that solemn place. The first minute of the song gives a gray, cloudy feeling.
It also sets up the expectation that each section will begin with a C minor. That brings us to the 0:54 second mark again, where the C section (which I’ll call the bridge), begins.
This bridge kicks off on a major chord. It lands solidly, with both feet, on C major, a chord not typically found in the key of C minor. It’s unexpected. To the western ear, major chords and songs in major keys are experienced as upbeat and happy. Most of our pop songs play out in major keys.
When that C major lands, it lifts the song and the listener up. It creates a feeling like the sun just punched through a cloud cover.
To accentuate this effect, there’s a short pause in the vocals here, too. We get to bask in that C major sunshine for two full measures before the song returns to its heavier C minor moorings.
The clouds then remain for another verse and chorus. This time, though, things feel a little different, because we know we have something to look forward to. Sure enough, at 1:45, the sun busts through again, giving us that major lift (the one Leonard Cohen sings about in “Hallelujah”), a second time.
“Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah”
This major lift happens a total of three times in “Crazy”. The third time around, the C major sets up the outro, doing us the kindness of sending us on our way on a hopeful note.
“There was something so pleasant about that place
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space”
“Crazy” never lets me down.
When I need a boost, I don't want someone to tell me to put on a happy face. I want to have my sadness, and the gravity of this life-in-human-form acknowledged. I want someone to give my emotions an echo, but also to give me some hope.
With their song, CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse show their willingness to sit with us, to reflect what we’re feeling back to us with an earnest look, with a little ribbing, and most importantly, with a little eye twinkle that communicates hope.
“Ha ha ha, bless your soul… you really think you’re in control?”
In setting up the ending with that C major chord, the outro acts like a friend putting out a hand to help us get up and back on our way. It says, “Me too. We’re together in this.”
“Maybe I’m crazy
Maybe you’re crazy
Maybe we’re crazy
In reading about this song I discovered that this seventeen-year-old gem is having a TikTok moment right now with a thing called The “Crazy” Challenge.
I also learned that CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse share writing credit with two Italian composers, brothers named Gianfranco and Gianpiero Reverberi, whose tune “Last Men Standing” they sampled for the main riff.
I wonder how many of the people rising to The “Crazy” Challenge realize that “Crazy” began life as theme music in a spaghetti western!
Aw, c’mon. Let’s hear CeeLo again:
For your enjoyment.
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