This song is about losing your mind and diving into insanity, which the Cee-Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley finds is not all bad. Speaking at a BMI conference, he explained the inspiration for the song: "It was '04, I was going through a divorce, I did not have a deal - things were bleak at the time and I was going through a personal trial. But it was an opportunity to be expressive. Danger Mouse's production compelled me into a deep retrospection, and I really appreciate him for that because with him, I knew that my misery had some company, because his music was so miserably brilliant and beautiful to me. It was the sound of my soul. If you could have taken a picture of it, it would have resembled this internal chaos."
Going along with the theme of the song, the music video is done in the style of the Rorschach test, which is a psychiatric evaluation where the patient is asked what he sees in various inkblot patterns. It was directed by Robert Hales, who used an ink theme in the video for Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."
Gnarls Barkley is producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and vocalist Cee-Lo Green (Thomas Callaway). Danger Mouse produced The Gorillaz album Demon Days; Cee-Lo was in Goodie Mob. The name "Gnarls Barkley" is a play on "Charles Barkley," who is a Hall Of Fame basketball player and an outspoken commentator. The moniker came up in a conversation between Danger Mouse and some of his friends when they were throwing out weird ideas for band names.
In a 2006 interview with The New York Times, Danger Mouse said: "I brought in a song that I felt was a complete Ennio Morricone ripoff, (Morricone is a composer of spaghetti-western scores) but Cee-Lo and I started talking, and I somehow got off on this tangent about how people won't take an artist seriously unless they're insane. And we were saying that if we really wanted this album to work, the best move would be to just kill ourselves. That's how audiences think; it's retarded. So we started jokingly discussing ways in which we could make people think we were crazy. We talked about this for hours, and then I went home. But while I was away, Cee-Lo took that conversation and made it into 'Crazy,' which we recorded in one take. That's the whole story. The lyrics are his interpretation of that conversation."
This song was leaked on the Internet and became a very popular download when it was released in England, sending it to #1 on the UK charts.
In 2006, Danger Mouse told The Observer Music Monthly, "I did the initial backing track when I was in Iceland on holiday a couple of years ago. We put it on in the morning and by the time we left the studio that evening we had the whole song done." Cee-Lo Green added, "I thought 'Crazy' might be the song that Danger Mouse would write if he wrote songs. He played the instrumental track for me and I was just, 'Wow!' We put the track on repeat while we talked for 2 hours about sanity and its place in pop culture and the creative process., how it's associated with true artistry."
This was the best selling single of 2006 in the UK, where it spent nine weeks at #1. At the end of 2007, it was the most downloaded song ever in the UK.
This was chosen by a panel of experts including Yoko Ono, Lil Wayne, Lars Ulrich plus critics and industry insiders as Rolling Stone's #1 song of the 2000s.
Cee-Lo Green explained to Mojo December 2010 why he believes this song proved to be so popular: "It rang true to a lot of my peers and fellow artists. Because the song was about insisting upon doing things my way, and the thin line between being crazy and being convinced that you're right."
Robert Hales (Jet, Nine Inch Nails) directed a music video inspired by the Rorschach inkblot test, a method of psychological testing whereby patients identify shapes and images they see in inkblots. In the clip, Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse appear throughout morphing inkblots, designed by art director Bryan Louie.
Looking back on this song in 2016 (its 10th anniversary), Cee-Lo told Entertainment Weekly that they came up with the lyrics by listening to the music loop over and over in the studio and riffing on ideas. "We talked about rock stars and authenticity - about the Ozzy Osbournes, the Iggy Pops of the work, the Jim Morrisons," he said. "It just kind of affected the subconscious. I scribbled down the lyrics, and I did it in one take. I didn't think much of it at the time."