Wednesday, March 31, 2010

421. Buddy Holly- Proof that rock, like most good things, was invented by nerds.

Album: Buddy Holly's Greatest hits.

Artist: Buddy Holly.

Year: 1960 sometime

Genre: Rock.

  1. "That'll Be The Day"
  2. "I'm Looking For Someone To Love"
  3. "Words Of Love"
  4. "Not Fade Away"
  5. "Everyday"
  6. "Oh, Boy!"
  7. "Peggy Sue"
  8. "I'm Gonna Love You Too"
  9. "Maybe Baby"
  10. "Rave On!"
  11. "Think It Over"
  12. "Fool's Paradise"
  13. "Early In The Morning"
  14. "It's So Easy"
  15. "Heartbeat"
  16. "True Love Ways"
  17. "It Doesn't Matter Anymore"
  18. "Raining in My Heart"

I’ve always seen the genesis of Rock and Roll as more like the invention of the wheel than the patenting of the USB-powered foam rocket launcher. The wheel wasn’t created by one guy in one place, it was conceived all over the planet out of necessity. It’s the same with Rock and Roll which had to be created to save us from listening to the alternatives for the rest of our lives. Rock didn’t spring forth fully formed it bubbled into the collective psyche through the minds and hips of a group of people who all decided to give in to their primal urges and create music. To my mind this makes arguments about who created Rock and Roll and who wrote the first rock song kind of irrelevant.

One of the many midwives who brought rock kicking and screaming into the world was Buddy Holly, who’s distinctive guitar sound and even more distinctive vocals helped to usher in the genre that we know and love today. A tragic early death might have prevented him from recording much music but what he did commit to vinyl influenced countless artists and gave us some often covered Rock and Roll classics.

But I’ve got to confess I’ve never liked him.

My problem with Holly has always been his trademark quirky vocal style. You’ve all heard That’ll be the Day a million times so you know what I’m talking about. It’s that conscious decision he makes not to hold a vowel sound but to repeat it: “That’s be the da-a-ay when I die” or in his other big hit: “My Peggy Sue-oo-oo.” And there’s that slight yelping noise he makes in the middle of a word as if he’s singing with a ferret in his pants. For no good reason he’ll suddenly sings one syllable an octave higher as if a rodent of some description has just brushed against his testicles while traveling from one trouser leg to the other. It’s weird and I’ve never understood why he did it although I do have a theory. In his early days, white radio stations would often refuse to play Elvis songs because they believed he was black. He sang “coloured music” and on first hearing most DJ’s believed he was an African-American (although they didn't use that terminology). Holly’s affected vocal twang emphasizes his Texan accent and makes him sound white. I can’t help but wonder if part of the logic behind his vocal style is an effort not to confuse prejudiced American radio stations and assure him of more airplay. Of course I could be over-thinking this and it’s possible that he’s just doing it because it’s natural and he likes it. Or maybe there really was a ferret in his trousers, perhaps those black-rimmed glasses and clean cut image were helping to disguise a rampant sex fiend who loved nothing more than recording with dacks full of rodents. We'll never know. (Actually yes we will- he didn't)

I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to The Chirping Crickets to find that Holly doesn’t feel the need to use this vocal style on every track. He’s quite happy to sing most of the album in a much straighter fashion and I found myself really enjoying his voice. He can belt out a good rocker or give some genuine emotion to a ballad. He’s actually a great singer and not just a quirky one. He can also play guitar and write a tune. Standards like Oh Boy, That’ll be the day and Not Fade Away were all tracks that I knew well but I’m looking for Someone to Love and Rock Me My Baby were both new to me and songs I really enjoyed. There’s everything you could want in an early rock and roll song: a good beat, some tasty guitar licks and refreshingly innocent vocals that suggest young love in the fifties went no further than hand holding and dancing. Of course I’m not naive enough to believe that teenagers weren’t just as randy back then as they are now but in an era when artists release songs called “I’m fucking you tonight,” it’s kind of refreshing to hear singers being so coy and reserved.

I enjoyed The Chirping Crickets a lot more than a thought I would but I was put off by the backing vocals. The clowns who sing behind Holly are a bunch of guys who clearly deserve to spend life wearing garments teeming with hungry, sharp-toothed carnivores. Every song on the chirping crickets had a group of fools wittering in the background, often completely drowning out the band who are cooking along and laying down some tasty music. The vocalists weren’t the Crickets themselves but some other guys who were dragged in to ruin the songs. Whoever was responsible for the vocal arrangements on this album had absolutely no sense of restraint or moderation. The backing group slather every moment with a series of the silliest noises it’s possible for males to make in harmony. In addition to actual words and a series of “aaahs” and “ooohs” there are the following gems which I can’t believe I actually took the time to annotate: “dum de dum dum oh boy,” “Da da la de da da la de Da da dum,” “Ba ba ba ba ba bop” and one that started with the word “Fa” and was followed by a hell of a lot more “las” than I can be bothered typing.That’s the thing with creating something new. It only really works if you’re prepared to discard the old. The backing vocals on The Chirping Crickets come straight out of the crooner’s handbook. They were probably great when backing Bing Crosby but for moderns ears they’re more annoying than a rabid ferret in the pantaloons when they clash with the downbeat and guitar breaks.

I had a great time listening to this album but I would have enjoyed it even more if Holly ditched his vocal quirks and the backing vocals were ditched entirely. (Ha! Listen to me, a talentless non-musician telling one of the biggest names in pioneer rock how his music can be improved. It's lucky for me the guy's dead because if he wasn't he'd have every right to come and deliver me a swift kick in the peggy-sues)

Highlight: Rock me my baby.

Lowlight: Peggy Sue. (and a special mention for the cover photo. Why the hell is it so damn purple?)

Influenced by: Crooners.

Influenced: John Lennon.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: I was 7 when the original Buddy box set came out in 1979. I remember my Dad getting it as a Christmas gift from Mom. Over the years I became it's caretaker. I have loved and adored that set since it came out. I've also been bugging MCA (and anyone else who would listen) to grace us with a CD version. I've got several letters in reply telling me that due to litigation over publishing holdings it wasn't going to happen. And yet, here in time for Christmas 2009 we finally get the Holy Grail from Lubbock!

-That's a review from the box set but I had to include it because I'm so impressed with anyone who is prepared to actually put pen to paper and write to a record company.

So what do you think- Is Holly a Buddy of yours or will the day you befriend him be the da-a-ay when you die? Let me know know below.


  1. I like Buddy, but only in small doses. A very talented guy. I read an article once that said he was nothing like the image. He was a pistol packing, wild living, red blooded good ol' texas boy. It's just those glasses.
    And that orchestral stuff he did was simply beautiful.

  2. Wrong album. The one that was at 421 spot was actually 'The "Chirping" Crickets' by Buddy Holly and The Crickets, not a greatest hits album. There is a Buddy Holly greatest hits album on this list, though it is a different compilation, and it's somewhere in the 91-100s on the list. The album, if I can recall, is called 20 Golden Greats, a compilation from the 70s.

  3. Oops. You're correct. I'm not sure how I missed that. Thanks for pointing it out. I think I thought The Chirping Crickets was an out of print best of I couldn't find and substituted this instead. I'll rectify the situation when I write about the Best of that's coming up later in the list.

  4. Actually, it is not out of print, as it has been reissued on CD quite a few years ago.