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Monday, January 6, 2014

Buddy Holly: Buddy Holly

BUDDY HOLLY: BUDDY HOLLY (1958)

1) I'm Gonna Love You Too; 2) Peggy Sue; 3) Look At Me; 4) Listen To Me; 5) Valley Of Tears; 6) Ready Teddy; 7) Every Day; 8) Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues; 9) Words Of Love; 10) (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care; 11) Rave On; 12) Little Baby.

It so happened that, as little time as he had on this Earth, Buddy had enough of it for two formal careers — as the semi-anonymous leader of «The Crickets» and as a solo artist. The only real dif­ference, however, was that «The Crickets» worked together with «The Picks» and had this rather dippy tendency to drift off into doo-wop territory. Consequently, of the two full-fledged LPs re­leased by Buddy in his lifetime, the self-titled Buddy Holly is, on the whole, a better showcase for his songwriting talents and personal charisma — even if, as all pop LPs of the time, it neither succeeds in being totally filler-free, nor even tries to.

To be more precise, the inclusion of ʽReady Teddyʼ and ʽBaby I Don't Careʼ, two songs typically associated with Elvis (and Little Richard), has more of a symbolic nature to it — Buddy openly aligning himself with the «rockers» — than actual entertainment value: Buddy is not capable of outplaying the king and his backing band on the toughness-and-tightness field, nor is he trying to open up some new dimension in these songs (one could argue that they are way too proverbially one-dimensional to be openable up to anything else, but that is not true — Lennon, for instance, would later reinvent ʽReady Teddyʼ quite radically, if not, some would say, for the better). Same goes for Fats Domino's ʽValley Of Tearsʼ, which should really have been left to Fats; Buddy Holly and New Orleans were not meant for each other.

But I will take rock'n'roll filler over doo-wop filler any day, particularly if the filler in question is interspersed with the single largest number of indisputable original classics on a Buddy album. ʽPeggy Sueʼ, ʽI'm Gonna Love You Tooʼ, ʽWords Of Loveʼ, ʽRave Onʼ, ʽEvery Dayʼ — each of these is practically an instution in itself, at least if we judge objectively, on the basis of received accolades and tributary covers. As simple and natural as these melodies sound, most of them were actually written by Buddy — on a pre-existing basis of blues, folk, and country chord sequences, but with his own unique input that increased the catchiness value several dozen per cent.

ʽPeggy Sueʼ, in particular, had a strange kind of magic to it that won the hearts of both Lennon and McCartney — and it would be sad to think that it only had to do with the insane paradiddles of Jerry Allison, because the song works fine even without its percussive thunderstorm (look for a charming McCartney solo acoustic performance from 1975); actually, the vocal melody, replete with all the hiccups, pretty much sets the standard for «not-one-note-wasted catchy pop formula», and must have served as the guiding star for the Beatles throughout their career, and I am not tal­king solely about the early days, either. The lyrics, the subject, the mood — trivial to quasi-em­barrassment; the vocal movement is all that matters. (There is even a bit of playfully fake «dark­ness» as the bridge cuts in with an almost threatening «pretty pretty pretty pretty Peggy Sue...» before the sun comes out again — a musical red herring if there ever was one, within a two-minute pop song, that is).

Instrumental-wise, ʽWords Of Loveʼ is the winner, although I must sternly state that the song was brought to sonic perfection by the Beatles and George Martin — they saw the amazing potential of that sweetly-stinging guitar ring, only hinted at in Petty's original production, and realized all of it; I am almost sure that Buddy himself, had he had the chance, would have acknowledged the superiority of Harrison's playing and Martin's production. Nevertheless, this here is the original, and even if the vocal melody may seem too sappy, the guitar lines provide the very foundation of the «jangle-pop» skyscraper, to be erected by millions of Buddy's followers. This here was a man who was taking the art of sweet sentimental balladry away from professional hacks, armed with orchestras and crooning vocalists, and giving it to legions of kids with guitars, almost singlehan­dedly. Some of those kids would do it better; few, if any, would do it before.

Next to these two, Buddy's more rock'n'roll-oriented originals look a bit more pale, but still, ʽRave Onʼ and ʽI'm Gonna Love You Tooʼ combine the pop catchiness with a fast rock beat so well that both (especially the latter) could be considered as the blueprint for the Ramones' entirely career (well, almost) — dumb, catchy, unbeatable, unforgettable. In chronological terms, though, they represent no major improvements over ʽOh Boyʼ or ʽMaybe Babyʼ, and, generally, it was quite clear from this second album that crude «rock'n'roll» was not something that Buddy would be looking to in the future, saving his best songwriting ideas for calmer, less rowdy stuff. And, of course, as long as those would be smart ideas, there was nothing wrong with that. Filler or no fil­ler, Buddy Holly is an unquestionable thumbs up — and plus, if you get the original album, you get to see the man without the glasses for a change, and whaddaya know, he does not look any less pretty nor any less intelligent, even though he could probably hardly see the camera when they were clicking that shutter...

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that this is a huge improvement over his debut, but I actually consider "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" as a highlight, at least in the sense that Buddy's «nerdy» vocals are ironic in this condemnation of his girl's «squareness».

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