Buddy Holly

NPR has been featuring a new recording celebrating Buddy Holly’s music — covers in many styles, some affectionately close to Holly’s originals, some very different in tone from them, but all making you listen to these little songs with fresh ears (the way good covers should). And making you go back to the originals.

First, on June 21, here:

First Listen: ‘Rave On Buddy Holly’
Hear Covers By Paul McCartney, Fiona Apple, The Black Keys, Cee Lo And More

(You can stream the whole album from this site.) And then yesterday, here:

Buddy Holly: At 75, An Icon Gets A Star-Studded Tribute

“There are people who think these songs belong to different generations of artists,” [producer and Hollywood music supervisor Randall] Poster says. “We have ‘Not Fade Away,’ which for some people is one of their favorite Rolling Stones songs, or their favorite Grateful Dead song. Maybe now, some people think it’s their favorite Florence and the Machine song.” [That’s the cover on Rave On Buddy Holly.]

The new album:

In the originals, the music and the words are both stripped down but artful (while seemingly artless, just teen-love songs). Much of the best of popular music is like this — rock music in particular (in contrast, jazz takes simple components and does amazing things, usually ostentatiously, with them) — and it’s as hard to explain why James Taylor’s “Handy Man” works so well, or the Jagger/Richards “Brown Sugar” (to choose two examples with very different feels to them), as it is to explain what John Coltrane did with “My Favorite Things” when he jettisoned Hammerstein’s asinine words and made Rodgers’s music sublime. (The examples of artfully simple rock and pop are endless.)

Some background on Holly, from his Wikipedia entry:

Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959) known professionally as Buddy Holly, was an American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll. Although his success lasted only a year and a half before his death in an airplane crash, Holly is described by critic Bruce Eder as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” His works and innovations inspired and influenced contemporary and later musicians, notably The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, and exerted a profound influence on popular music.

And on his death:

On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, killed three American rock and roll pioneers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean, in his song “American Pie”.

Holly on an album cover, in one of the least geeky-looking photos of him:

And in performance in 1958:

He was almost exactly four years older than me (off by one day) — just enough older that his music made the background for my senior year in high school. What did we know then? It was teen music, sweeter than Bill Haley and His Comets but just as full of energy. (We wouldn’t have been prepared then for something like Lou Reed’s version of “Peggy Sue”. But the Velvet Underground came along in a few years.)

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