“Mama He’s Crazy”
Written by Kenny O’Dell
#1 (1 week)
August 4, 1984
The Judds top the chart for the first time with “Mama He’s Crazy,” a perfect marriage between artist and song that broke them through to the big leagues.
Naomi Judd and daughter Wynonna both hailed from Ashland, Kentucky, though while Wynonna and younger sister Ashley were young, they spent quite a bit of time in California. After moving back from the West Coast, they settled on an Appalachian mountain top, where Wynonna’s budding musical talent was encouraged with the purchase of her first guitar.
The mother and daughter honed their harmonies, and by the end of the seventies, the family had moved to Nashville, where Naomi worked as a nurse while pushing for a music business breakthrough. While Wynonna was still in high school, they performed on local morning television. Naomi was able to get a demo tape to producer Brent Maher, who was instrumental in the duo getting a deal with RCA Nashville.
At that time, RCA was testing new artists in the marketplace with specially priced mini-LPs. The Judds’ fellow Hall of Famer Vince Gill also debuted with one of these. Simply titled The Judds – Wynonna and Naomi, the mini-LP featured their debut single “Had a Dream (For the Heart).” That Dennis Linde-penned hit went top twenty. The second release, “Mama He’s Crazy,” became their first of fourteen No. 1 hits.
It showcased their harmonies and their unique mother-daughter setup perfectly. Wynonna would develop into one of popular music’s most powerful vocalists, so it’s especially striking to hear how innocent and fragile she sounds here. Her performance is an early indicator of how well she could calibrate her incredible instrument to meet the needs of the song.
A moment of candor here: Naomi Judd’s death and the circumstances surrounding it cast a dark shadow over writing about these Judds hits, and the intimacy of this mother-daughter conversation makes this one the most difficult to hear.
But let’s take a moment to appreciate how poignant this record still is, and how it foreshadowed an illustrious career for the Judds and Wynonna on her own. They more than delivered on the cautious optimism of “Mama He’s Crazy,” and this is the first of several era-defining classics that we’ll cover in the coming weeks.
“Mama He’s Crazy” gets an A.