His Hollyness the Buddy
While 50 years is indeed a long, long time ago, and Buddy Holly’s death did mark the day the music died, I can say with heavy-rimmed spectacular confidence that Holly’s star is on the ascendant again, writes Indrajit Hazra.india Updated: Nov 27, 2009 23:18 IST
When two of my favourite bands channel through the songs of one artist, I sit down, shut up and listen. And that’s what I’ve been doing now that I’m armed with the innocuously sounding The Very Best of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Effectively, I’m also scuba-diving through the history of rock’n’roll through one double album.
When I first heard the Beatles’ cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Words of Love’ on the 1964 Beatles for Sale album, I was too young to take any note of the original songwriter-singer. (Incidentally, Paul McCartney owns all of Holly’s song copyrights.) Even a couple of years later, all I did while stomping my feet to the Rolling Stones’ version of Not Fade Away, was to note the name on the liner notes the name next to the song in brackets: ‘B. Holly’. As I listen to Holly singing the originals today on this definitive collection, I realise how much from the Buddy Holly barrel was always ready for picking by bands we associate with different eras — and hairstyles.
And yet Holly, who would have been 73 this year (a year older than Ratan Tata) if he hadn’t boarded that Beechcraft Bonanza light plane and died at 22 (five years younger than Kurt Cobain), with his ‘Buddy Holly’ glasses and clean college boy looks, is considered a 50s phenomenon, in the same rock’n’roll hall of fame as Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and the young Elvis (who inspired him to switch from country and bluegrass to rock’n’roll). Well, of course he’s a 50 phenom, considering he died in 1959. But as I trip through the 50 songs on this record, I realise how Holly’s repertoire passes through decades and styles as easily as ghosts through walls. Listen to ‘Maybe Baby’ and you can already hear the Ramones; listen to ‘Blue Monday’ and there’s a Billie Holiday tucked in there; the phat-laced ‘Reminiscing’, with its gorgeous sax run-on parts by King Curtis, could be Motown out on a walk in the city.
Sure, many of the songs sound dated. But the classics — ‘Words of love’, ‘Crying, waiting, hoping’, ‘Rock-a-bye rock’, ‘Ready Teddy’, ‘Peggy Sue’ (covered by John Lennon in his 1975 album Rock’n’Roll) and, of course, ‘That’ll be the day’— simply brush aside eras and catch you by your Teddy Boy jacket collars with its deceptively potent mix of foot-tappability and sheer good tunes — the sort of lyrical, heartfelt music that leaves ironic rock unnerved.
Holly, more than many of his contemporaries like Elvis made the ‘hiccuping’ style of singing his trademark (“I love you, Peggy Sue/ With a love so rare and tr-u-u-e / Peggy, my Peggy Su-u-u-u-ue”). But he’s known for more innovations that have become standard practice than that. At a time when the singer-performer was, a la Hindi film music, separate from the guy who wrote the words and from the other guy who composed the music, this youngster from Lubbock (‘The giant side of Texas’) was one of the pioneering singer-songwriters. Holly was also instrumental (pun definitely intended) in firming up the lead guitar-rhythm guitar-bass-drums formation with his band, the Crickets, that remains the basic unit of most rock groups to this day. Also, the Fender Stratocaster first started getting noticed in the spindly hands of Buddy Holly — not of Buddy Guy, who happens to be the same age as the man who’s the subject of Don McLean’s 1971 ‘American Pie’.
While 50 years is indeed a long, long time ago, and Buddy Holly’s death did mark the day the music died, I can say with heavy-rimmed spectacular confidence that Holly’s star is on the ascendant again. Why? No, not just because I still pogo to Weezer’s 1994 hit ‘Buddy Holly’. Nor because I love Nirvana’s 1992 scorcher ‘In bloom’ with its music video giving a nod and a wink to Buddy. It’s simply because this collection of songs cuts out all the middle-men and finally gives me the man in the middle himself. Now will someone please come up with a club remix of ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’ and bring it o-oh-on?