369. ‘Oh Boy’, by Mud

I gave Mud’s previous #1, the mopey ‘Lonely This Christmas’ a pretty negative write-up, and I’m afraid this ain’t going to be much more positive…

Oh Boy, by Mud (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 27th April – 11th May 1975

Rule number one for writing a post on a cover version: don’t just compare it to the original. (‘Oh Boy’, of course, was a huge 1958 hit for The Crickets, the follow-up to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, one of Buddy Holly’s blueprints in building the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.) It is a fine rule, most of the time.

But when the original is so seminal, so brilliant… Well, it’s impossible. Especially given how Mud suck all the life out of what was a scorching rock song, and reduce it to a funereal plod. You wait for the tempo to raise, for the band to reveal that they’ve been stringing us along and to crack into life, but nope… It just keeps lumbering along, like a buffalo stuck in a swamp.

I do like the hard rock guitars, I suppose, that give this record a bit of a pulse, and there is a new spoken word bit in the middle, by a very seductive sounding lady. All my life, I’ve been waiting, Tonight there’ll be no hesitation… The way she moans her Oh Boys is very Serge and Jane. On the whole, though, I’m left asking ‘why?’ I’m all for trying something different, putting a new spin on an old song. And who knows, maybe if Mud had gone for a straight cover version I’d have called the attempt sacrilege? It’s just… very lifeless.

By the end, the tempo has slowed even further. It is now a certified funeral chant, the instruments having faded and the band going it alone and a capella. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but glam rock is dying a slow death. Time to stub the cigarette out and be done with it. The frustrating thing is… Mud had way better songs than this that didn’t get to number one. ‘The Cat Crept In’, ‘Dyna-mite’… They even did much better covers than what they’ve attempted here: their take on ‘In the Mood’ is silly fun, while their version of Elvis’s ‘One Night’ is what ‘Lonely This Christmas’ should have sounded like.

A frustrating band, then, Mud. Not in the top league of glam, but a solid promotion contender. If you want to know hear more from their back-catalogue, I’d skip ‘Oh Boy’ and crack on with the songs I listed above. And of course their one, true classic: ‘Tiger Feet’. We can forgive everything when we remember ‘Tiger Feet’… Hilariously, on Spotify, Mud’s back-catalogue has been combined with that of Müd (note the umlaut), a hardcore trance act with songs like ‘Fuck It’s Hot’. At least, I assume they’re not the same band… Who knows what directions they went in when the hits dried up…

Follow along with every number one so far…

Top 10s – Buddy Holly

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.

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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.

84. ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, by Buddy Holly

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.

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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.

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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.

64. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, by The Crickets

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That’ll Be the Day, by The Crickets (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 1st – 22nd November 1957

That intro…

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!

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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.