Our Crack Tongue & Groove
Pop music’s biggest loss
There have been plenty of early deaths in pop music but perhaps the most tragic – purely from a fan’s point of view – came in 1959 when Buddy Holly died in a plane crash aged just 22. This February marks the 60th anniversary of that tragedy.
I’m sure Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, who also died with Buddy Holly in Iowa in 1959, still had much to give to the world, but it was the death of Holly that was most keenly felt among fans.
Making the switch from country music to rock and roll he became one of the first singer songwriters to move away from the Tin Pan Alley factory line and in the process tore down the barrier that existed between himself and his fans by dint of the fact that he actually wrote his own material. And what material! Songs such as ‘That’ll Be the Day’, ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Oh, Boy!’, Rave On’ and ‘Maybe Baby’ are all stone cold classics and even b-sides such as ‘Not Fade Away’, with its variant on the famous Bo Diddley beat, would go on to stand the test of time.
Holly was forever pushing the medium. He could pare a song down to its most basic components – the most prominent bit of instrumentation on ‘Everyday’, another b-side which would later make Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The Greatest Songs Of All Time, is the sound of drummer Jerry Allison slapping his knee – but he was equally adept at deploying an 18-piece orchestra. Indeed, he took an increasing interest in the production side of things and it’s easy to believe that he could have gone on to become a Brian Wilson type figure as technology improved throughout the 1960s. But despite the fact that he was only 22 when he died, and just getting started, his influence would still undoubtedly change the face of music.
The Beatles revered him (when they first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, John Lennon asked if they were playing on the same stage that their hero had performed on) and would go on to cover Holly’s ‘Words of Love’ on their ‘Beatles For Sale’ album. Keith Richards modelled his early guitar playing style on Holly’s, and a young Bob Dylan would see him live in 1959, just two days before the plane crash (a fact he acknowledged in a Grammy award acceptance speech in 1998: “When I was sixteen or seventeen years old, I went to see Buddy Holly play at Duluth National Guard Armory and I was three feet away from him – and he looked at me. I have some sort of feeling that he was with us all the time we were making this record [Time Out Of Mind] in some kind of way.”).
Holly even provided, with his band, The Crickets, the template for the classic rock and roll set up: two guitars, bass and drums.
Music didn’t die on February 3, 1959 – as Don McLean had it on his 1971 classic ‘American Pie’ – but we were undoubtedly robbed of the Buddy Holly classics still to come, the kind of which we can now only dream of.