Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 13 News List

A 'Crazy' way to record a hit

Cee-Lo Green and Danger Mouse originally saw Gnarls Barkley as a quirky side project, but their genre-bending tribute to psychosis has topped charts on both sides of the Atlantic

By Sarah Rodman  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BOSTON

Danger Mouse perform at the June MTV Movie Awards in Culver City, California.

PHOTOS: AP

How insane has the success of the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy become?

According to Josh Deutsch, chairman and chief executive officer of the group's record label, Downtown, Crazy is currently in rotation on seven different radio formats in the US, "including smooth jazz," he says with a laugh.

In addition, Crazy appears on no less than 11 Billboard charts -- including pop, hip-hop/R&B, and dance -- and is being played everywhere from Top 40 outpost to alt-rock signals. You can even hear that now familiar blend of plucky bass, warped strings, and aching falsetto while shopping at department stores.

Nelly Furtado's Promiscuous may be the current No. 1 song in the US, but Crazy, sitting at No. 2, has captured the hearts and minds of music fans of all ages. That includes Furtado, who is one of a growing list of artists -- folkie Ray LaMontagne, Jack White's new outfit the Raconteurs, and '80s sneer king Billy Idol among them -- who've already begun covering the song in concert.

The commotion comes as something of a surprise to Gnarls Barkley, the sonic architects behind the song that will forever be linked with the summer of 2006. Singer Cee-Lo Green (ne Thomas Callaway), late of the Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob, and producer Danger Mouse originally envisioned the Gnarls Barkley album St. Elsewhere as a quirky one-off between likeminded mavericks with idiosyncratic careers.

In addition to his membership in the critically revered Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo has released two deliciously freaky, funky solo albums and is well-known to OutKast fans for contributing his raspy vocals to albums like Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. He also co-wrote the Pussycat Dolls' 2005 breakout hit Don't Cha. Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, made his first big splash in 2004 with his underground release The Grey Album, a mash-up of the Beatles White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album. Last year, he won accolades for his production work on the Gorillaz's Demon Days.

The pair -- who along with their 13-piece band don different costumes for every performance -- collaborated sporadically between those projects to produce St. Elsewhere and recently called the success of Crazy a "double-edged sword."

"It's bittersweet," Cee-Lo told Billboard.com. "We didn't plan on touring for [St. Elsewhere], but here we are, three months into a tour. The dominoes are falling just as they should."

And as the dominoes fall it's becoming clear that Crazy isn't just a song, it's a movement, with an eclectic list of followers from every facet of the music world.

In addition to LaMontagne and Idol, other artists who have worked the song into their own repertoires include alt-rockers the Twilight Singers, pop rocker Butch Walker, upstart Brit garage band the Kooks, and even Kanye West's string section. When Gnarls performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago last weekend it was just one of several acts playing the song.

"It's almost disconcerting," says Deutsch. "People don't generally cover songs that are that current. Its impact has definitely been felt among the artist community for sure."

Among the many admirers of Crazy is Ryan Miller, lead singer of pop band Guster.

"I think it's one of those rare times when there's a hit song that's also a great song," says Miller, also a fan of Cee-Lo's solo albums.

"Cee-Lo's always been a rock star, and I'm glad it took Brian to take it out of him and put him on a platform that he's seen that way," says Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, drummer for hip-hop band the Roots and sometime collaborator and friend of the singer. "To me Cee-Lo has the most soulful voice in music right now."

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