460. ‘Crying’, by Don McLean

Hot on the heels of ‘Suicide Is Painless’, we are crying, crying, crying… A depressing double-whammy at the top of the charts…

Crying, by Don McLean (his 2nd and final #1) 

3 weeks, 15th June – 6th July 1980

‘Crying’ was, of course, originally recorded by Roy Orbison. As I do every time I approach a cover of a famous hit, I try to blank out any knowledge of the original. Which is always hard, but especially so when said original was by The Big ‘O’. Don McLean takes what was already a ballad, and slows it down further. We are moving at treacle pace here.

I was alright, For a while, I could smile, For a while… It’s a classic Orbison theme: hiding your heartbreak behind your dark glasses. But when I saw you last night, You held my hand so tight… And it’s effective, as we’ve all been there – watching as a former crush moves on. And though you wished me well, You couldn’t tell, That I’d been crying… 

My biggest problem with this take – and let’s just have it out and admit that this isn’t a patch on the original – is that all the melodrama has been stripped out. Roy had a latin beat, strings and a marimba… You could samba as you cried. Don goes for a much more straight-forward, country version, and suddenly the lyrics sound trite and basic. The music plods as you wait for it to reach the climax.

Another sizeable problem is that for all Don McLean’s skills as a singer, he isn’t Roy Orbison. The climax here is the word ‘crying’ repeated over and over. Orbison rattles the roof with it, as he does on all his big heartbreak bangers: ‘Running Scared’, ‘It’s Over’ and the like. McLean can’t, and his voice ends up sounding reedy. That’s not to say he can’t put emotion into his songs. I find his previous #1, ‘Vincent’, heartfelt and heartbreakingly sad. Here, though, he over reaches, and his Cry-y-y-ying sounds… like Miss Piggy?

It’s still a pleasant melody, and I am enjoying it to some extent, but it’s a bit of a wet-blanket of a song. And yet another country chart-topper that I can’t quite get behind. At least, quickly scanning down my list, it looks like the last one for a while… This was also Don McLean’s last hit in the UK (he had barely charted since ‘Vincent’ either) until a re-release of ‘American Pie’ in the early ‘90s. He remains active, though, and released his 22nd studio album just last year.


17 thoughts on “460. ‘Crying’, by Don McLean

  1. Im going to be sacriligious here. Roy Orbison is the greatest male singer in pop – but this was the version i knew and loved first. I love a song that builds, and no one does it better than Roy, give or take a Gene Pitney or Glen Campbell as competition, but Roys version sounds positively jaunty in comparison. His hit duet with kd Lang was more effective, but I’d never thought of this version as Country. Don is more folk/singer songwriter/50s referencing and at his best on gentle melodic gems like his brilliant Castles In The Air, and I see this as a (slower) continuation of that with a lush twist. Don had never stretched his vocals before, so the expectation was not for the Big Ending. Crying wasnt one of Roys better known tracks at the time, so it was fresh as a song and of course hit that nostalgia button for my parents generation, and mine who loved the 70s and Vincent Pie. Double whammy!

    The follow up was 50s classic Since I Don’ t Have You given the same styled treatment – which Art Garfunkel also used as follow up to I Only Have Eyes For You, also my fave version of that song which also underwhelmed you. I guess you had to be there 🙂

    • I’ve always thought the KD Lang duet sounded like them covering Don McClean’s cover. I agree that Orbison’s original sounds jauntier, musically, but his voice convinces much more in its heartbreak than McLean’s does… Anyway, what would the world be if we all liked the same thing?

      • It would be deathly dull if we were all the same! The great leveller about music is – theres no wrong or right, its entirely personal opinion. If someone is enthusiastic about some record then its worthwhile making it. And I say that with a straight face knowing whats coming up at xmas 1980 🙂

      • I know the song you’re referring to, although I’ve obviously never sat down and listened to it all the way through… I’m actually looking forward to reviewing it. Can it take the coveted ‘Worst #1 so far’ crown, from JJ Barrie, though…?

  2. Much like the Spinners, Don McLean is an artist I wouldn’t have thought of having any hits after the ‘70s. He just embodies that early ‘70s singer-songwriter era especially with “American Pie” that once that era ended you would have thought he’d quickly fade with it. I guess it helps that McLean’s “Crying” cover fit nicely with the pop country and adult contemporary styles that were dominating the charts at the beginning of the ‘80s since aside from peaking at #5 on the Hot 100 in early ‘81 it also peaked at #2 on the Adult Contemporary charts and #6 on the Country charts. In the US, Roy Orbison’s original is still the bigger hit peaking at #2 in 1961 behind only Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road Jack.” Obviously, his version is the better one but McLean’s take is perfectly fine on its own. It may be boring in that gloopy early ‘80s way but I like the guitar and strings that give the song a warm and comforting feel.

    In case you missed it, I talked about Adele’s first big hit “Chasing Pavements” a couple days ago in time for her latest release

    • In some ways 1980-81 is still the 70s – we’ve got ELO, ABBA and a bit of disco still to come before the 80s proper really gets going, in my mind anyway, around 1982. I don’t think this is a bad record, but any enjoyment I get from it is down to the quality of the original song, and not from the, as you put so well, ‘gloopy’ production and McLean’s vocals.

      • Yeah the first couple years of a decade are almost always hangovers from the last decade with many genres and acts that defined the previous decade getting some last wind of hits before the decade really gets going culturally

  3. “he isn’t Roy Orbison”…yea and we still don’t have another one.
    It’s ok but no it doesn’t even touch the original…you can’t touch the original. The only thing I was happy about at the time was seeing Mclean have another hit almost a decade after American Pie and Vincent.

  4. Pingback: Recap: #451 – #480 – The UK Number Ones Blog

  5. Pingback: Roy Orbison: Best of the Rest | The UK Number Ones Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s