20 Golden Greats

“Something touched me deep inside, the day the music died” – Don McLean (w/cheese)

“Oo-ee-oh I look just like Buddy Holly” – Rivers Cuomo (w/out cheese)

Back in the summer of ’96, the Gear Head and I were in a production of Grease at the Ashtabula Arts Center.  I had a chorus role, and I think the Gear Head was Sonny, and to get into character every night we rolled the sleeves up on our white t-shirts and slicked our hair back greaser style.  We even tried smoking the Lucky Strikes we had for props backstage (nasty things).  And even though the music from Grease is largely terrible, there was this CD of 50s songs they played for house music every night before and after the show, and during intermission.  It had all those great 50s style sock-hop hits that take you back in time to classic cars and chrome diners with cheeseburgers and milk shakes (the closest thing I’ve ever experienced in real life is Eddie’s Grill at Geneva-On-The-Lake).  Buddy Holly was the only artist with two songs on that CD (“That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”), and the Big Bopper and Richie Valens (the other victims of the fateful plane crash) were represented as well.  It was a really fun cast, and we all probably had more fun dancing backstage to the music on that CD than we had doing the actual show.  Years later, I found a copy of it at Half-Price Books: it’s called Only Rock and Roll 1955-1959.  Fitting.  I think it’s part of a series.

Anyhow, other than that goofy Weezer song (I love Weezer’s first two albums…too bad everything they’ve put out since has been crap) that came out right before I started college, that summer was my only real experience with Buddy Holly’s music.  But since I started writing this blog, I’ve gotten a much better sense of rock history, which helps me to put Buddy Holly into perspective.  If he would have lived, it seems like Buddy Holly would have rivaled Elvis for the title of King of Rock and Roll.  Holly was a prolific song writer (emphasis on song writer…he was one of the first to write his own material), churning out 3 albums and 16 singles in his brief 18 months of stardom.  Furthermore, he was the first artist to use the now standard rock band instrumentation of 2 guitars, bass, and drums.  He was a huge influence on the Beatles (in fact, they named themselves partially in honor of the Crickets) and the Rolling Stones, and a young Robert Zimmerman was in the audience at a Buddy Holly show in Duluth, Minnesota two nights before the plane crash that claimed Holly’s life.  And what is truly tragic about the plane crash was that Holly didn’t actually have to be on that plane…he had chartered the flight himself to get off of a miserable tour bus with no heat in the middle of a harsh midwest winter, and he was trying to get to the next venue early so he could wash his clothes and get a little extra sleep after the tour manager had scheduled an extra performance on an off day.  So sad.

As for this particular album, it’s out of print.  Actually, I couldn’t find a copy for a decent price here in the States, but I found a seller in Spain who sold me a copy for $2.80 (plus international shipping, ugh!) on Ebay.  As far as I know, it has all the songs you’d expect to hear on a Buddy Holly greatest hits package.  The gems are certainly “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”, but there are a few other great songs like “Not Fade Away” and “It’s So Easy” as well.  There are a few songs that he did with the NBC Symphony Orchestra that I really don’t care for (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, “Raining In My Heart”, “True Love Ways”), but the stuff he does with the Crickets as his backing band are all decent rock tunes.

Other lists: “That’ll Be the Day” is #39, “Not Fade Away” is #108, “Rave On” is #155, “Peggy Sue” is #197, and “Everyday” is #238 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Buddy Holly ranks #80 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #13 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “That’ll Be the Day” (the moment in the last chorus when the drummer changes the rhythm under the line “when you make me cry” is just sooooo cool.)

Honorable mention: “Not Fade Away” (a cool variation on Bo Diddley’s famous one-two-three, one-two pattern)

Quote: “People tell me love’s for fools.  So, here I go breaking all the rules.”