Rock and roll virtuoso and pioneer Buddy Holly would have turned 85 years old today. The Lubbock, Texas native revolutionized the burgeoning rock landscape early on, setting the successful outline for what we think of as the prototypical rock and roller: A three piece band consisting of singer and lead guitar player (that would be Holly), a drummer (Jerry Allison) and a bass player (Joe Mauldin) that wrote and performed most of their own material and making it all look so very effortless as they did it with no real point of reference to draw upon. Together with his band the Crickets, the horn-rimmed glasses-wearing Holly embarked upon a short yet sweet career, leaving behind such hit songs as Peggy Sue, That’ll Be the Day, Maybe Baby and It Doesn’t Matter Anymore before perishing at the age of 22 in 1959 in the crash of a small airplane with two other early rockers, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
These days, Buddy Holly is widely considered the forerunner to such legendary musicians as The Beatles and Bob Dylan and it’s a safe bet that, on the eve of director Bruce Beresford’s look at the touring side of Holly in the new movie Clear Lake, most music fans are at least slightly aware of this pioneer’s meteoric rise and rich legacy of unforgettable tunes. But what music specifically should someone new to the Buddy Holly scene endeavor to check out while waiting for Hollywood’s latest stab at the Buddy Holly story? Rest easy, campers, we here at Vents have comprised a quick primer list on the essential sounds of an amiable rocker that left us all way too early. Without further ado…
Early in the Morning – Though not written by Holly, this song epitomizes the so-called “Buddy Holly Sound” and it also illustrates just why he was one of the best stylizers in the business – he could take anyone’s music and wrap his own vibe around it, effectively making someone else’s song a de facto Holly song. Early in the Morning is Buddy Holly unbridled and soulful and hopeful – all three essential components of his music.
That Makes It Tough – Written and recorded by Holly on a home recorder just weeks before heading out on what was to be his final tour, That Makes It Tough is a beautiful lament of lost love imbued with a grittiness that the Lubbock rocker was just beginning to scratch the surface on.
Peggy Sue – What list of essential Buddy Holly tunes would be complete without the biggest hit he had as a solo artist during his lifetime? Named after the girlfriend of drummer Jerry Allison, Peggy Sue is a playful and driving number that is infused with an almost supernatural-like energy. It still resounds 64 years after its first release.
Maybe Baby – Buddy Holly had West Texas attitude and bravura, and does it ever come across in one of the biggest hits he had as lead vocalist and front-man of the Crickets. Though the song is obviously about a love unfulfilled, there’s a stubborn hopefulness Holly lends to the lyrics that would become one of his signatures.
It Doesn’t Matter Anymore – At his last professional recording session (and his only one with a full orchestra), Buddy Holly cut a number of memorable tunes; people always cite True Love Ways as being the evergreen of the bunch, but my money has always been on a tune that one of Holly’s pals, crooner Paul Anka, specifically wrote with his Texas friend in mind, It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. Holly doesn’t disappoint and delivers a two plus minute blistering and absolutely gorgeous song about love lost. Again, his natural optimism – bordering on cocky – kicks in, delivering one of the prettiest songs ever committed to vinyl. A tour de force performance that, had he lived, would have chartered easily in the Top 10.
Enjoy the music everyone and a huge Happy Birthday wish to the legendary Buddy Holly – We all miss you!