That’ll Be the Day, by The Crickets (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 1st – 22nd November 1957
I wish I could describe it, or transcribe the notes onto the page, and somehow do it justice. But I can’t. It kind of rolls, kind of cascades, and kind of jangles. And yet does none of those things. Just click on the video link below and listen for yourselves, if you aren’t already familiar with one of the seminal moments in pop music history.
I’ve been using that word a lot recently: ‘seminal’. Maybe I’ve been over using it. But it’s just so easy to stick in as I go. Pretty much every second record we come across at the moment is ‘seminal’. And, to be fair, they’ve had enough time to become so. We are listening to songs that topped the charts sixty-one years ago. That’s more than enough time to become ingrained and cemented – and in some cases mummified – in the popular psyche. And I suppose this is why it’s so common to compare old music favourably to its modern counterparts, because we grow up with these totems of musical history – the Elvis’s, the Holly’s, the ‘Rock Around the Clocks’ – and current pop stars are easy to cast as Johnny-come-lately copycats. But who knows? As I write this post the current UK #1 single is ‘Shotgun’, by George Ezra. And there’s every chance that that will be just as revered as ‘That’ll Be the Day’ in sixty-one years’ time. Every chance…
Anyway – to the record. That intro draws us into a song about – on first listen – a guy who hopes his love’ll never leave ‘im. Well, that’ll be the day when you say goodbye, That’ll be the day when you make me cry, You say you’re gonna leave, You know it’s a lie, Cos that’ll be the day-y-y, When I die… Except, wait a sec. He isn’t blindly hoping his girl sticks around; he’s pretty confident about it. He ‘knows it’s a lie’. You sit and hold me, And you tell me boldly, That some day I’ll be blue… Nope, Buddy says. That’ll be the day! The song title is actually a challenge: challenging his girl to even think about breaking up with him. Compare lyrics – if you dare – with Eddie Fisher’s ‘Outside of Heaven’, from way back in January 1953, to see just how far pop music has come in under five years. This is an arrogant record, a sexy record. This is rock ‘n’ roll!
Buddy Holly’s voice dances and flirts – plays, almost – with the listener. He coos, he pauses, he growls. I mentioned in my last recap that the rock ‘n’ roll records which we’ve featured so far have focused on the singer, rather than the band. Not here. The Crickets play tightly, but also very loosely. There’s a great, rough-around-the-edges feel to this record that contrasts greatly with the polished cheese of Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’, whose bumper run at the top this track ended. We have a solo, which is just as jangly as the intro, and I love the drums – especially in the second verse and final chorus: When Cupid shot his dart, He shot it at ya heart, So if we ever part, Then I’ll leave you… BA DOOM DOOM!
I’m going to term this period in music as the ‘2nd Wave of Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ We’ve had Elvis, now we’ve had Buddy. Whereas as earlier it was the oldies jumping on the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon – your Kay Starr’s, your Johnnie Ray’s and your Guy Mitchell’s – now we are getting kids who have been weaned on rock, who’ve grown up and formed their bands knowing nothing but this cool new music. And ‘That’ll Be the Day’ is the perfect poster-song for this new movement – four kids from Texas playing their own songs, fast and loose.
As with Elvis, I know the music of Buddy Holly pretty well. When I was about twenty I – as everyone really should – bought his Greatest Hits and took it home to hear how modern pop music was invented. And I’d love to wax lyrical on him, but I’ll hold back for the simple fact that we’ll be hearing from him again soon. He’ll be dead by that time, but he will at least have one last hurrah at the top of the UK Singles charts (he should have had around twenty hurrahs, but that’s a story for another day…) The Crickets, though, will not be back at the top of the charts again and so I would recommend that you go away and listen to, in no particular order, ‘Oh Boy!’, ‘Maybe Baby’, ‘Not Fade Away’ and ‘It’s So Easy’. And anybody who thinks I’m exaggerating when I say that so much of modern pop lies in the two minutes twenty seconds of this record should listen to the ‘ooh-hoos’ Holly delivers at the end. The Beatles spent their first two years ripping that trick off.
It is nice, though, that so many of the major rock ‘n’ rollers of the 1950s are getting a moment in the sun (i.e. the chance to feature in this countdown). The Crickets just now, while Buddy Holly will also get a solo turn. Bill Haley’s been. Jerry Lee is up soon. Chuck Berry will get there eventually (how I am looking forward to writing about that particular number one!) There are some glaring omissions, though: no Little Richard, no Fats Domino, no Gene Vincent… The chart Fates can be cruel.
They wouldn’t have dared, however, keep a record as immense as ‘That’ll Be the Day’ from the top.