Radio going ‘Crazy’ for Gnarls Barkley


Musicians often joke that the songs they spend the least amount of time on are the ones that become the biggest hits. But in the case of R&B/hip-hop duo Gnarls Barkley, a collaboration between producer Danger Mouse and rapper Cee-Lo, that’s exactly what happened with “Crazy,” the soul-kissed first single from their upcoming debut, “St. Elsewhere.”

The track already has spent four weeks at No. 1 on the U.K. singles chart, where earlier in April it became the first song to debut at the top solely on the basis of download sales. The following week, it remained No. 1 by selling more than 10 times as many copies (194,000) in stores as it had previously via downloads (18,000).

In doing so, it has furthered the notion that digital sales can fuel, rather than cannibalize, physical transactions. This is music to the ears of Downtown Records chairman/CEO Josh Deutsch. His new imprint will issue “St. Elsewhere” jointly with Atlantic on Tuesday (May 2) in digital form in North America and the following week as a physical CD. The set arrived April 24 internationally via Warner Music. (Alternative Distribution Alliance distributes Downtown Records.)

“We were all terrified a few years back about the digital distribution future and what that would mean to physical sales, but this is a very powerful statement for legal downloading,” Deutsch says. “That’s another thing that’s exciting about the single — the fact that it has become a phenomenon in terms of its place amid U.K. music history.”

FIRST TAKE

All of the hubbub is somewhat amusing to Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse, who financed “St. Elsewhere” themselves and spent more than a year batting ideas around in the studio. In fact, Cee-Lo’s vocal on “Crazy” was captured on the first take.

“This was one of the songs where we talked a lot about our sanity and other peoples’ views of us,” says Danger Mouse, who most recently worked behind the scenes on the acclaimed “Demon Days” album by Gorillaz. “Next thing you know, the track is going and Cee-Lo’s writing stuff down. A couple of hours later, he went in and sang it, and that’s what you hear.”

“It blends the emotion of those great old soul records with very strong 21st century production values,” Warner Music U.K. managing director Korda Marshall says of “Crazy.” “Based on the demographics, we call this a seventh heaven record — multigenre, multi-age.”

“Some of what we did is definitely more accessible,” Danger Mouse says. “We can understand that. But it wasn’t intended that way. We’re fortunate that something came out that’s easier for people to enjoy.”

“Crazy” is growing quickly on U.S. radio, and at stations catering to such disparate genres as R&B and modern rock. MD Ebro, of R&B/hip-hop WQHT New York, says the song is “in the vein of (OutKast’s) ‘Hey Ya!’ but it will probably take a little bit longer to come home for my audience than it would for other types of audiences.”

Gnarls Barkley was scheduled to make its live debut April 30 at California’s Coachella festival. Also in the pipeline are appearances on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” (May 24), Lollapalooza (August 5) and the United Kingdom’s Creamfields fest (August 26).

Reuters/Billboard

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