By 1980, Don McLean was a successful singer/songwriter who, eight years previously, had a UK number one with 'Vincent', and had also written 'And I Love You So' that was covered by none other than Elvis Presley. 'Crying' though is itself a cover of the 1961 Roy Orbison song that although only managed to reach number 25, was voted number 69 on Rolling Stone's 2004 list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
It's not hard to see why. Orbison's lyric is straight, direct, to the point and shorn of any needless baggage:"I thought that I was over you, but it's true, so true. I love you even more, than I did before, but,darling, what can I do? For you don't love me, and I'll always be crying over you"
Almost Haiku-like in its simplicity, what makes the original 'Crying' so wondrous is Orbison's searing, three octave range that infuses drama enough for Italian opera into his reading, but left enough room for human vulnerability and a lack of control that meant you could never be sure at any given moment whether he was going to crack and break down in tears. It barely need any backing; the tune and that voice accompanied each other perfectly all by themselves.*
It might seem a bit strange to go on about Roy when I'm meant to be discussing Don, but it's necessary as counterpoint; McLean's version is the virtual antithesis of the above. Where Orbison soared, McLean's whine struggles to emote and, knowing he can't compete with a voice of Orbison's calibre, he plays it for sympathy rather than empathy, straining his eyes shut for the high notes while an orchestration of treacly strings drip slowly down the wall behind him - where Orbison's song is a three course meal prepared by a cordon bleu chef, McLean's attempt is two slices of thin white bread wrapped around a large chunk of fatty ham. And just as appetising.
* Check out 'Llorando', a Spanish version 'Crying' sung A Cappella on the
'Mulholland Drive' soundtrack for a good illustration of what I mean .