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The Decade In Music: Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' (2006)

[Every weekday from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, Song of the Day will survey the past decade, one year (and one song) at a time, with an emphasis on America's most popular music. These picks don't exactly qualify as musical discoveries, but they do have something to say about the 10 years we're about to leave behind. Song of the Day will return to new music on Monday, Nov. 23. --ed.]

When word broke that wily Goodie Mob vocalist Cee-Lo Green and RIAA-baiting producer Danger Mouse were going to collaborate as Gnarls Barkley, few could have predicted the final product. Their respective projects and productions were steeped in soul, with a little crazy-eye and a tendency to barrel in several directions at once, regardless of trends.

Built around a Spaghetti Western sample, the band's first single — the psychedelic soul song "Crazy" — was an instant viral hit. For what seemed like years, the song wound up hanging over the popular consciousness like a wistful being bearing its soul. It was immediate, yet uneasy: "I remember when I lost my mind / There was something so pleasant about that place / Even your emotions had an echo in so much space."

But when it comes down to it, "Crazy" was the one song everyone could agree on. Yes, there were multiple covers by famous people, but "Crazy" never felt like it belonged to anybody. Cee-Lo once called Gnarls Barkley "shapeless and formless," and, befitting the duo's numerous costume changes, the endlessly versatile "Crazy" never kept to one interpretation. Case in point: when Cee-Lo took the stage as Darth Vader at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, the tempo was slowed to make the song a rolling ballad, lending serious heft to the words, "I can die when I'm done." It felt like a eulogy — the duo no doubt wanted to move on — but it remains a left-field soul wonder.

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