First, a bit of history… On February 2nd 1959, a group of popular rock ‘n’ roll stars played a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, as part of ‘The Winter Dance Party’ tour. In order to avoid a long, cold bus journey to their next concert in Moorhead, Minnesota, some of the musicians chartered a plane. Though the weather that night was poor, the visibility terrible and the pilot unqualified to fly using only instruments, they took off regardless and minutes after take-off, just gone 1am on the morning of the 3rd, the plane slammed into a cornfield. All four aboard were killed instantly. They were the pilot Roger Peterson, J.P. Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper), Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly.
It Doesn’t Matter Anymore, by Buddy Holly (his 1st and only solo #1)
3 weeks, from 24th April – 15th May 1959
All of which means that the eighty-fourth UK #1 single is the first ever to do so posthumously. Released a couple of weeks after Holly’s death, and hitting the top a full two months later, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ gives The Father of Modern Pop Music (I know, I know, I’ve literally just made this title up; but I dare you to challenge me on it!) one final hurrah. Would it have topped the listings anyway – given that Holly was only twenty-two when he died and at the peak of his powers? Maybe… The manner in which it meandered up the charts suggests that this wasn’t some flash in the pan reaction to his death, while the peak positions of his previous two singles (#17 and #30) beg to suggest otherwise.
To the song… Some people make a lot of the rather nihilistic title as being somehow appropriate in the wake of his death. But it wasn’t suicide; so that’s always seemed a slightly strange angle to view this record from. No, this is a song about a break up: There you go and baby, Here am I, Well you’ve left me here, So I could sit and cry, We-ell golly-gee, What have you done to me, Well I guess it doesn’t matter anymore… His girl’s up and left him, but Buddy’s putting on a brave face: There’s no use in me a-cryin’, I’ve done everything and now I’m sick of tryin’, I’ve thrown away my nights, And wasted all my days over you…
The lines come thick and fast, the song rattles to a conclusion in a mere two minutes, and in the end BH has decided to shrug it off and move on: You go your way and, I’ll go mine, Now and forever till the end of time, I’ll find, Somebody new and baby, We’ll say we’re through, And you won’t matter anymore…
And it’s not what you would immediately imagine a Buddy Holly record to sound like. The only instruments here are violins and a lightly-tickled guitar – far removed from his more recognisable rock ‘n’ roll hits like ‘Oh Boy!’ and ‘Rave On’. Plus, despite all his fame as a songwriter and composer, this record was actually written by our friend Paul Anka.
Despite the minimalist instrumental accompaniment and the fact that he didn’t write it, Holly still makes this record his own. Because? That voice. In the space of two minutes he finds room for all the tricks in his repertoire. Hiccups (…over you-ou-ou-ou-Ah-hoo…), snarls, times when his voice has a deep, gloopy quality and times when it is light as a feather. For all his talents as a guitarist and composer, Mr. Holly was a pretty decent singer too. And in the context of Buddy Holly’s solo songs, away from The Crickets, this slips in nicely along with other non-guitar led tracks such as ‘Everyday’, ‘Raining in My Heart’, and ‘True Love Ways’ (I know I’m going a bit link-heavy, but really everyone should take a moment out of their days to appreciate What Buddy Did For Us. Not for nothing did acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones start out by playing covers of his songs…)
You could also argue that this is, as well as being the first posthumous #1, the first ‘popular band member gone solo’ chart-topper. OK, ok, this was nowhere near Buddy Holly’s first single release as a solo-act but still… The fact that he did it paved the way for, let me see… Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Sting, Robbie, Geri, Zayn and many, many more.
But to finish, let’s go back to the night of February 2nd, 1959. The Day the Music Died. Some of the tales are semi (or perhaps completely) legendary. The fact that Holly only commissioned the plane because his drummer had caught frostbite on the freezing tour bus. That the Big Bopper only took a seat on the plane because he had the flu and wanted to get a good night’s sleep. (Let me include a link here to his biggest hit ‘Chantilly Lace’, featuring the filthiest laugh ever captured on record). Ritchie Valens won his seat on the plane in a coin toss with Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsop. Allegedly – and I so hope that this is all true – Valens claimed it was the first thing he’d ever won, while Allsop went on to open a restaurant called ‘Heads Up’ (he’d called tails…) It was all immortalised in song by Don McLean some twelve years later. We won’t be meeting his version of ‘American Pie’ in this countdown, unfortunately, but we will be meeting the Madonna version. Which will be fun.
Anyway, let me leave you with one final link. Proof, perhaps, of Buddy Holly’s magic. Not only did he write gorgeous, timeless and immeasurably influential songs, but thirty five years after his death all Weezer had to do was stick his name on a song and they were blessed with a classic of their own.