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Monday, January 13, 2014

Buddy Holly: That'll Be The Day

BUDDY HOLLY: THAT'LL BE THE DAY (1958)

1) You Are My One Desire; 2) Blue Days, Black Nights; 3) Modern Don Juan; 4) Rock Around With Ollie Vee; 5) Ting A Ling; 6) Girl On My Mind; 7) That'll Be The Day; 8) Love Me; 9) Changing All Those Changes; 10) Don't Come Back Knockin'; 11) Midnight Shift.

Technically, this album should have been listed as Buddy's first: all of the songs here are taken from his first recording sessions for Decca, held at various dates throughout 1956, approximately one year prior to finding success with Brunswick. The story goes that, since Buddy's first singles with Decca flopped and the label was not quite sure what to make of him, they simply did not re­new his contract — but as time went by and he eventually started treading the road to stardom, all these early tunes, including all the flop singles as well as a number of outtakes, were hastily cob­bled together for an LP; easily done since Decca still held the rights to all of them.

In retrospect, the Decca decision was just another silly Decca decision, for which the label is so well-known — but, to be perfectly honest, these earliest recordings are rather suspicious. First and foremost, Side A is almost entirely devoid of originals. Three of the songs are credited to Don Guess, Buddy's buddy and original bass fiddle player, and are little more than average doo-wop (ʽGirl On My Mindʼ) or second-hand rockabilly (ʽModern Don Juanʼ). Much better and gut­sier is ʽRock Around With Ollie Veeʼ, credited to Buddy's original lead guitarist Sonny Curtis — the players get into this one with an almost unexpected ferocity, although flat production and Buddy's vocal limitations remain inescapable curses in this style.

Following Elvis' love for old and recent Atlantic hits, Buddy, too, tried to follow suit by choosing The Clovers' ʽTing-A-Lingʼ, one of the greatest odes to teenage libido of its time, and this time, he even managed well enough to slip into character, with a suitably hysterical vocal tone, but here as well, the attempt to transform professionally synthesized R&B into snappy rockabilly is alto­gether half-hearted — neither the musicians nor the technicians were quite up to the task.

The second half of the album is dominated by the title track, which is the original recording of ʽThat'll Be The Dayʼ — slower, looser, without vocal harmonies, operating at about half the po­tential of the re-recorded version and very well illustrating the difference between early tentative Buddy and later, more self-assured and goal-oriented Buddy. The originals that surround it are decent (the B-side ʽLove Meʼ and ʽChanging All Those Changesʼ in particular), but still do not advance far beyond standard rockabilly or sped-up country-western.

In other words, one would have to be really mean to blame Decca for not spotting the future genius of ʽPeggy Sueʼ or ʽWords Of Loveʼ in these cautious first moves at playing with one's own artistic identity — and, considering that Buddy got his new contract with Brunswick, which was legally under Decca anyway, the industry bosses cannot be said to have treated the boy too cruelly. It does, however, show that Buddy's beginnings were humble; he seems to have had limi­ted aspirations as a songwriter, being quite content with sharing songwriting duties with his fellow bandmates, and only gradually came to realise where his major strength resided. To that end, That'll Be The Day is more of a historical document than a «success» or «failure», and it is also an early precursor to the dark tendency of stuffing way more Buddy Holly down our throats than it would be useful for his posthumous reputation — but, on the other hand, at least these are authentic studio recordings that properly bear the artist's signature: since the album was released while Buddy was still alive, nobody had the nerve to tamper with the tracks.

1 comment:

  1. Now, to be fair, in the 50s the UK Decca and the US Decca were two different companies (which is why UK Decca recordings were released in America under London Records). In any case, Decca's place in history will be forever granted by the classical music division.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decca_Records

    To add to the confusion, apparently there was a time when RCA recordings in the UK were distributed by Decca, but of course without the dog-and-gramophone picture, which in the UK belonged to EMI. A mess.

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