February made me shiver, With every paper I delivered, Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step…
Sixty-one years ago today, a light aircraft slammed into a field in Iowa during a snow-storm, killing everyone on board. The four passengers were Ritchie Valens (a seventeen-year-old up and coming rock ‘n’ roller), J.P. Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper, of ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame), pilot Roger Peterson, and Charles Hardin Holley. Buddy Holly.
The Day the Music Died has passed into folklore. I’m not going to write about that today. Rather, for my 2nd artist’s Top 10 post – check out the first one I did here – I’m going to list my favourite UK hit singles from a man whose legacy stretches far. The Beatles, The Stones, punk rock and power pop – they all owe a big debt to Buddy.
As before, I’m restricting myself to ‘A’-sides of singles that charted in the UK. So no ‘Everyday’, no ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’, no ‘Not Fade Away’, and no ‘You’re So Square… Baby I Don’t Care’. Don’t blame me… Blame the people that didn’t buy those singles, or the record labels that never released them…
10. ‘Think It Over’, with The Crickets, 1958 – peaked at #11
People sometimes forget that Buddy Holly recorded some down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe it’s the thick-rimmed glasses that make him seem a little more, how to say, cerebral, than Elvis or Little Richard… But while he was able to add more subtlety than most of his contemporaries, ‘Think It Over’ has swagger and attitude to spare. Is she sure she doesn’t want him? Really sure? Maybe she should think it over… Great piano solo, too.
9. ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, 1959 – reached #1
Holly’s only solo #1, three months after he died. More strings than you’d expect from a rock ‘n’ roll single, and a very memorable vocal performance. Lots of trademark hiccups and southern drawl. The video above starts with a snippet of ‘Heartbeat’… not sure why. Read my original post on ‘It Doesn’t Matter…’ here.
8. ‘Reminiscing’, 1962 – reached #17
Some sexy sax, and a quality chugging riff. And Buddy’s voice. I’ve always loved the way he has fun with the line You’re a mean mistrea-ea-ea-ter… This peaked in the early sixties, along with several other gems from his back catalogue.
7. ‘What To Do’, 1965 – reached #34
Since this was never a big hit in Holly’s lifetime, you can hear it in all manner of overdubbed and re-imagined versions. I’ve gone for this stripped-back one, though. Just Buddy Holly and a guitar, so close to the mic that you can hear his breathing. It was a minor hit a full six years after his death. I love the lines about ‘soda pops’ and ‘walks to school’, that by the mid-sixties must have sounded very old-hat.
6. ‘Early in the Morning’, 1958 – reached #17
Some more swagger from Mr. Holly. We-e-e-e-el, he crows at the start, You gonna miss me… To be honest he doesn’t sound very heartbroken. In fact he might just be enjoying the break-up. I love his vocals here, one second yelping, the next growling…
The Top 5 were all Top 10 hits in the UK, all priceless slices of rock ‘n’ roll goodness:
5. ‘Maybe Baby’, with The Crickets, 1958 – reached #4
Every Buddy Holly song has a little detail – beyond the lyrics and melody – that makes it stand out. In ‘Maybe Baby’ it’s the reverb on the guitar. A near perfect pop song.
4. ‘Peggy Sue’, 1957 – reached #6
Buddy’s first ‘solo’ single – even thought The Crickets are clearly accompanying him in videos around online… It was written for the drummer, Jerry Allison’s, girlfriend after they had temporarily split up. Probably more groundbreaking than the 3 songs I’ve chosen above it… That drumbeat for a start is like nothing heard in a rock ‘n’ roll single before. Just my personal preference. The moment when the electric guitar comes in. My, my, my…
3. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #1
If the plane crash was The Day the Music Died, then this is the moment it all began. The jingle-jangle intro, the hiccuping voice, the John Wayne inspired hook… My favourite bit has always been the start of the second verse – the country twang on the: well-a, when Cupid shot his dart… Read my original post on this number one record here.
2. ‘Oh Boy!’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #3
Teenage angst – you can here my heart a-callin’ – and lust – a little bit of lovin’ makes the everythin’ alright – in The Crickets 2nd big hit. Holly’s vocals rasp, yelp and strain against the conservatism of 1950s America, and it just pips ‘That’ll Be the Day’ into the runners-up slot…
1. ‘Rave On’, 1958 – reached #5
We-a-he-a-he-al… The opening second of this record already seals its place as an all-time great. The way he stretches out the opening syllable is sublime, and then it morphs into a proto-punk number with its relentless riff surfing along in the background. One minute fifty seconds of rock ‘n’ roll brilliance, the well from which so much modern pop music springs…
Charles Hardin ‘Buddy’ Holley
September 7th 1936 – February 3rd 1959.