Patsy Cline's 10 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

GAB Archive/Redferns
Patsy Cline photographed circa 1960. 

What Patsy Cline did in eight short years is nothing but remarkable. Over the course of one-hundred-and-two recordings, she created a catalog that continues to inspire fans of multiple musical formats all over the world. But, in a sense, those numbers are only partially correct.

During the first five years of her career, she was signed to Four Star Records, and was obligated to record songs that were tied to the label's owner, Bill McCall. In the case of "Walkin' After Midnight" -- which received a national boost from Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, she was able to hit big. But, there would be no follow-up hits for Cline on the label.

Then, in 1960, she was able to move to Decca. She remained with Owen Bradley as a producer, and used many of the same musicians that she had been using -- but the material that she had access to was so much more. So, shorten those eight years to three, and slice the number of recordings in half to fifty-one, and you get the true measure of just how legendary her career was. The abbreviated Patsy Cline song catalog ranks as one of the best of all time, any artist or any format.

In choosing ten of those best performances, we tried to keep a focus on the songs that Cline was known for -- rather than some of her incredible covers such as "The Wayward Wind" and "South Of The Border." We did feel that it was necessary to choose one song from her Four Star days, just to show that it wasn't totally a vast wasteland of a period. Enjoy this look back at a career that was too short, but also reflects the words on her marker at Winchester, Va -- "Death cannot kill what never dies."

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10. Patsy Cline - "Always"

One month prior to her passing, Patsy recorded this Irving Berlin evergreen. It was five years after her death when the song was released as a single originally in 1968, but the song didn't gain a true audience until 1980, when a version with new instrumentation hit No. 18 on the Country singles chart. Of course, among Patsy Cline’s most devoted fans, this song of everlasting devotion truly became an anthem in 1994, when Gaylord Entertainment launched the musical Always….Patsy Cline, with Mandy Barnett starring in the lead role.

9. Patsy Cline - "Walkin' After Midnight"

In a sense, you could say that Patsy Cline was a "Reality TV" TV star long before future American Idol winners Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson were ever thought of. The singer was the winner of the popular CBS series Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in January of 1957. The difference in Cline's story is that she did have four singles out on Four Star before this song hit, but this served as the launching pad for one of the most influential careers in music history.

8. Patsy Cline - "Why Can't He Be You"

One of the Patsy Cline songs that has grown in popularity over the years. The Hank Cochran song was originally released as the B-side to her 1962 single "Heartaches," and never made it onto an album until her 1967 Greatest Hits package. Cline’s friend Loretta Lynn gave the song widespread popularity on her 1977 tribute disc I Remember Patsy, as the song was released as a single and made it to No. 7.

7. Patsy Cline - "Imagine That" 

The song – the flip side of "When I Get Thru With You" -- never truly gained an audience, only peaking at No. 21 on the Country singles chart as a result of programmers turning over the record and playing the other side. But, the Justin Tubb composition still ranks as one of her finest moments, as the singer gave the song a wry sense of ironic wit about a woman who is standing by her man -- no matter what he does. The song touched an emotion in Sara Evans, who covered it on her 1997 debut album Three Chords and The Truth.

6. Patsy Cline - "Sweet Dreams"

The song's writer, Don Gibson, and Faron Young both recorded versions of the song that made the top ten. However, Cline's 1963 treatment rendered any previous version almost obsolete. Owen Bradley's genius was in full force on the song that became her first posthumous release, with a string section performance that will still give you chills. In 1985, the song served as the title of a film starring Jessica Lange as Cline, and Ed Harris as Charlie Dick, her husband. In an interview, Dick said "It’s a good film, if you like fiction."

5. Patsy Cline - "He Called Me Baby"

Harlan Howard penned the song, but Patsy Cline took it and made it all her own, with a sensual take that stands as perhaps her sexiest performance. The singer evoked a sense of longing for a former relationship that set her recording of the song apart.

4. Patsy Cline - "Faded Love"

Cline’s death was still in the news when Decca released her version of this Bob Wills classic in 1963. This Patsy Cline song speaks for itself, as the 1960-1963 Decca years with Bradley stand as one of the best female artist -- producer unions ever. Of course, what makes this song so effective is the breath that listeners hear Cline take before the final line. The song was powerful enough without it, but that moment made this song a no-brainer to be on this list.

3. Patsy Cline - "She's Got You"

As the story goes, Hank Cochran called Cline one day to tell her that he had just written her next number one song. She told him to come over to her house, and play it for her and Dottie West, who was visiting her Madison home at the time. Upon hearing the song, she knew it was something special. She called both her manager and producer the same day to sing the song to them, and the 1962 release became her second number one hit.

2. Patsy Cline - "I Fall To Pieces"

After gaining her release from Bill McCall's Four Star Records and moving to Decca, Patsy Cline seemingly had her pick of the best material available -- a stark contrast to her records before. But, it almost didn’t happen. The singer didn’t think much of the song at first, as it was turned down by Decca labelmates Brenda Lee and Roy Drusky. But, a song usually finds its’ true home – one way or another, and this song became an artistic triumph, hitting No. 1 on the Country charts and No. 12 on the Hot 100.

Honorable Mention. Patsy Cline - "Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray" 

Historians and fans remain very much mixed on Cline’s 1955-60 recordings for McCall at Four Star Records. Some feel that the material was very much inadequate, while some feel that anything Cline recorded was a classic. Listening to her first five years of recordings as a whole, it’s easy to feel a sense of unevenness, but this Eddie Miller / W.S. Miller copyright served as the blueprint for how a Patsy Cline song should sound. Of all of her Four Star masters, this song of aching loneliness is perhaps the closest to what the singer would record during her tragically-brief run at Decca.

1. Patsy Cline - "Crazy" 

Again, at first, the singer balked when the song was pitched to her. The demo singer of the song had a very unique style on the recording, half-talking and half-singing. But, as he was known to do at times, Owen Bradley persisted, and came up with a new arrangement that was straight out of the then-current "Nashville Sound" playbook. The song wound up becoming an American standard, hitting No. 2 on the Country charts, and giving the singer her only top ten on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 9. And, that writer whose style took some getting used to for Cline? He wound up doing okay for himself. His name is Willie Nelson.