This is the 62nd post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
As Destiny’s Child’s album “Survivor” hit the top of the charts across the world in 2001, the group’s three members were already working on solo projects. Michelle Williams was working on a gospel album that was planned for an early 2002 release. Beyoncé, who we still referred to as Beyoncé Knowles, was filming “Austin Powers in Goldmember” and was slated to release her debut album in fall of 2002. And finally, Kelly Rowland’s debut was going to come out in early 2003.
According to Destiny’s Child’s manager (and Beyoncé’s father) Mathew Knowles, this staggering was by design. “I wouldn’t want any of my artists to directly compete with each other,” Knowles said. “They’re so multitalented that while one’s working TV, the other can be working a record.”
But this plan was upended in the summer of 2002, when Rowland’s collaboration with Nelly became a huge hit on the Billboard Hot 100. That song, “Dilemma,” peaked at Number 1 in almost a dozen countries, and reached the top 10 in a dozen more. As such, Rowland’s debut album release date was moved up to the fall of 2002 and Beyoncé’s album release was pushed back to the summer of 2003.
Beyoncé’s “Dangerously in Love” was mostly done by the time the release date was delayed, but those extra months gave Beyoncé the chance to record more material. To record more songs for “Dangerously in Love,” Beyoncé recruited producer and songwriter Rich Harrison. Before working with Beyoncé, Harrison had produced songs for Rowland, Amerie, Alicia Keys, and Mary J. Blige. For a while, he had wanted to create a song around The Chi-Lites’ 1970 song “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So).”
He just hadn’t found the right fit. As he told MTV:
I had it in the chamber… I hadn’t really shopped it much, because sometimes you don’t want to come out of the bag before it’s right. People don’t really get it and you’ll leave them with a foul taste in their mouth. So it was just something that I held on to until I got the call from B.
Harrison was so excited to get the call from Beyoncé that he went out to the clubs to celebrate. He might have overdone it, because the next day, he was not only late to meet Beyoncé, he was hung over. He tried to redeem himself by playing the sample, but she didn’t initially love the idea. The horns in The Chi-Lites’ song struck her as too retro. He was able to convince her, but she only gave him two hours to write the song. All while he was still hung over.
He was able to get himself together, though, and by the time Beyoncé came back to the studio, Harrison had something to share. The two of them finished the song, incorporating some of the off-handed dialogue into the song. As Beyoncé kept catching glimpses of herself in the mirror, she kept saying, “I’m looking crazy right now.” That became part of the chorus. Jay Z (who then stylized his name as Jay-Z) wrote his part part in about 10 minutes.
“Crazy in Love” and the “Dangerously in Love” album both peaked at Number 1 in the US and the UK, reaching the top 10 in almost two dozen countries. Additionally, Beyoncé was the third female artist to top the UK Singles Chart and UK Albums Chart simultaneously. Mariah Carey was the first, in 1994, followed by Kylie Minogue in 2001.
“Crazy in Love” was also a success critically. The song won two Grammys: Best R&B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. It went on to be on a myriad lists: Number 118 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Number 3 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Songs of the 2000s, and Number 1 on NME’s similar list of the songs of the decade.
The combination of Beyoncé of Jay Z would make any track come alive, but Beyoncé says the song’s appeal comes from that Chi-Lites sample. As she told MTV:
It’s the horn hook… It has this go-go feel to it, this old-school feel. I wasn’t sure if people were going to get it.
To be sure, that hook helped define the original song. But some of the cover songs abandoned it, and did so with varying results.
Irish singer-songwriter Mickey Joe Harte performed an acoustic version of “Crazy in Love” on Irish radio program, “The Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM.” Harte’s cover later appeared on “Even Better Than the Real Thing Vol. 1,” a compilation of performances from D’Arcy’s show. Despite being stripped down, the version kept the Chi-Lites’ riff from the original, over which Harte mimicked the “Whoa oh oh uh oh.” In that regard, it retained the most of the defining parts of the song.
Patrick & Eugene is an English duo comprising Eugene Bezodis and Groove Armada percussionist Patrick Dawes. Perhaps the best introduction to the duo would be Bruce Eder’s review, in which he described Patrick & Eugene’s sound as “’60s pop, psychedelia, Dixieland jazz, and the influences of Afro-Cuban jazz, ’60s reggae, the music of John Cage, and ’20s pop, all of it mashed together into something that sounds like a modern incarnation of the Bonzo Dog Band.” That’s accurate, and one can hear bits and pieces of that in Patrick & Eugene’s “Crazy in Love,” which appeared on the 2004 album, “Postcard from Summerisle.”
When Snow Patrol’s song “Spitting Games” was re-released, the enhanced CD had a version of “Crazy in Love” that had been performed on BBC Radio 1. Snow Patrol kept the same tempo and arrangement of Beyoncé’s original, but replaced the horns of The Chi-Lites’ sample with guitars. “Crazy in Love” worked well as a rock song until Snow Patrol got to the rap part at the end of the song. Of course, anyone trying to sing rhymes originally rapped by Jay Z would be at a disadvantage, though this delivery felt especially schlocky.
Snow Patrol’s “Crazy in Love” later appeared on its 2009 compilation album, “Up to Now.”
Smiffenpoofs, an all-female collegiate a cappella group from Smith College, included “Crazy in Love” on its 2006 album, “Bear Right at Tiny’s.” Compared to other a capella songs, this was layered and textured, and thus it didn’t feel naked without any instruments. And they even nailed Jay Z’s rap part.
British band The Magic Numbers performed a stripped-down acoustic version of “Crazy in Love” on the Australian radio station Triple J. And by stripped down, I mean that most of the song sounded a capella. But it worked, thanks in large part to the fact that it alternated between male and female vocals. The Magic Numbers’ “Crazy in Love” appeared on the third “Like a Version” compilation, in 2007.
Singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham (of “Mother Mother” fame) recorded an acoustic version of “Crazy in Love” for her 2007 release, “In the City + In the Woods.” Though it featured only a guitar and a violin, this plucky cover had some spirit, right down to Bonham singing the riff of The Chi-Lites’ sample.
When reviewing “I Will Survive,” I mentioned The Puppini Sisters, a group that sings harmony vocal pop in the style popular in the ’30s and ’40s. The Puppini Sisters are inspired by the Andrews Sisters and their schtick is to apply that retro swing formula to modern songs. But it’s a formula that works, especially because the group’s members know how to pick appropriate songs. They did well in picking “Crazy in Love,” which appeared on the group’s 2007 album, “The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo.”
Canadian singer-songwriter Mélissa Laveaux teamed up with producer Mocky in 2009 to cover “Crazy in Love.” Laveaux and Mocky changed the arrangement a bit, but what stood out beyond that change was the way Laveaux’s soulful voice paired so nicely with her folky guitar stylings. The song appeared on the deluxe version of her previously released debut album, “Camphor & Copper.”
Antony and the Johnsons’ third studio album, “The Crying Light,” featured a song called “Aeon.” The B-side to that single was a cover of “Crazy in Love” performed as a slow orchestral piece. Anohni’s chilling vocals, performed over piercing strings, recast the song as a tragic ballad. Whereas Beyoncé and Jay Z sang the original with a sense of whimsy, there was nothing fun about about this cover. When Anohni sang she was “looking so crazy right now,” it was pretty convincing.
German rockabilly group The Baseballs — yes, you read that right — applied its stylistic formula to “Crazy in Love” for its debut album, “Strike!” The band’s schtick is to perform modern songs in a style reminiscent of rock from the ’50s and ’60s, and its cover of “Crazy in Love” sounds like what you’d expect the song to sound like in that style. But it’s still entertaining, even if it is gimmicky.
With just her voice and an acoustic guitar, British singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot played a folky version of “Crazy in Love” on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio Two show. The performance later appeared on the compilation album, “Dermot O’Leary Presents the Saturday Sessions 2011.” Before she started, Pallot admitted that she had never played the song before, and would “probably never do it again.” But for someone who had “never done it before,” she sounded like she had been playing the song for years.
Indeed, Pallot has done this at least two other times, once for Radio Hamburg…
…and once for GaydarRadio.
In 2013, The Bryan Ferry Orchestra released two versions of “Crazy in Love” in conjunction with the film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” One featured singer Emeli Sandé, and was released on the album, “The Great Gatsby – Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film”…
…and the other was an instrument version, featured on “The Great Gatsby Jazz Recordings – A Selection of Yellow Cocktail Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film.”
The instrumental version seems to be a truncated variation of the version with Sandé, and it’s OK that its cut short. The jazz interpretation works well, but once you’ve heard Sandé’s vocals, the track feels naked without her.
It’s hard not to hear that ragtime approach and not think of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. Though Bradlee and his group have not covered the song, he did work it into a mashup. As the title suggests, “Rolling In The Crazy In Love (Adele/ Gnarls Barkley / Beyonce Mashup)” combined Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” It’s more of a sampling than a true cover, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Bradlee’s included the version on “Assorted Tracks and YouTube Memories, 2010-2013.”
In 2014, a remixed version of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” debuted in the trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the movie based on the novel of the same name.
It inspires me to work on other artists’ songs [because] it pushes my boundaries in a direction that I wouldn’t necessarily come up with… Obviously I know how ‘Crazy in Love’ goes, but I knew there was the possibility her vocals would be different. It’s almost more vulnerable and beautiful this way, because you do do crazy things when you fall in love. To hear the mood reversed and flipped makes it even more powerful.
The single and “Fifty Shades of Grey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” were both released in 2015.
That remixed version of “Crazy in Love” inspired a cover in that style by singer Sofia Karlberg. Karlberg’s YouTube video of her performing the cover went viral, giving her fame and a fan base. Her cover later charted on the UK Official Singles Chart.
Irish producer and singer-songwriter Jonathon Ng releases music under the alias EDEN, but previously went by the moniker The Eden Project. “Final Call,” his last release as The Eden Project, contained two covers: “Crazy in Love” and Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.” Featuring Leah Kelly, the track started out slow and modest before unfolding to sound like an epic trailer by the end.
The Eden Project was not the only act to give “Crazy in Love” the epic trailer treatment. British producer and composer Jay Singh has made epic trailer versions of several songs under the alias J2. In 2016, J2 released a cinematic-sounding version of “Crazy in Love” that featured Wülf. It was so cinematic that it feels weird to listen to it on its own, as it sounds produced with trailers specifically in mind. It feels naked or incomplete when listening to it divorced from that context.
Oh Wonder, comprising Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, played a cover of “Crazy in Love” in the BBC’s Live Lounge. Normally a duo, Oh Wonder was joined a bassist and drummer for this performance. It was slower than the original, but unlike the other slow covers of “Crazy in Love,” Oh Wonder’s version was not dark or depressing. The grins on their faces say it all: they were having fun.
For being not yet a decade and a half old, “Crazy in Love” has inspired an impressive number of cover songs. I’ve reviewed some songs two or three times as old that don’t have as many versions.
There are a few ways to explain this, the most obvious being that it’s a good song. But there’s more to it than that, because several good songs don’t have failed to garner this many covers in such a short time. It helps that this song was unavoidable in 2003, and it helps that it hasn’t completely left radio rotation or dance clubs.
So on one hand, it makes sense to cover a song with which the whole world is intimately familiar. But on the other hand, it must be a lot of pressure to attempt to remake a song that includes two of music’s biggest names in the last 15 years. There’s an argument to made that no one has been bigger in music than Beyoncé or Jay Z in that time frame.
As is the case with all cover songs song, the ones that have the best chance of standing out are the covers that reinterpret the song, change genres, and change the tone. But though many of the “Crazy in Love” covers sound different from Beyoncé’s original, many of the covers sound alike. They reflect a handful of modern covers trends:
- Take a hip-hop song and strip it down to just an acoustic guitar
- Take an upbeat song and slow it down to a sad ballad
- Take a modern song and give it an old-timey make-over
- Take a familiar song and make it sound like something you’d hear in a movie preview for volume 37 of the Transformers saga
This is not to say all the covers were like that, nor is it to say that the ones that fall into those categories were formulaic. Many of the artists managed to put their own spin on the track. And many of them were good.
Of all the versions, the one that probably had the biggest influence on subsequent covers was the version by Anohni that appeared on the Antony and the Johnsons album. All the slower versions of the song seemed to channel the haunting spirit with which Anohni imbued the song. Even the 2014 remix with new vocals from Beyoncé sounded like a descendent of Anohni’s version.
I have no doubt that we’ll hear more covers of “Crazy in Love” in the coming years. And I have no doubt that we’ll hear more slow, sad, scaled-back versions. And I think it’s safe to say those covers will owe a debt to Anohni’s version. Anohni has changed the DNA of “Crazy in Love.” And considering that this is one of the biggest songs of the last 15 years, that’s no small feat.