On this day 50 years ago Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash. Whether that was as some say “the day the music died” depends on point of view, but it was, as The Guardian leader today suggests, defining moment in rock’n’roll history.
…Buddy Holly’s career was incredibly short. His first hit single, That’ll be the Day, was released in May 1957. Twenty months later, aged 22, he was dead, after a string of classics that shaped the music of the Beatles era and still enjoy iconic status. Today the music industry is an archipelago of specialist styles. In Holly’s day, there was still something close to a unified tradition. He became a rock singer after seeing Elvis Presley perform in Lubbock, Texas, where Holly was born and is buried. When Holly toured Britain in 1958, the schoolboy Keith Richards was in the audience for one of his London gigs. Two nights before Holly died, the 17-year-old Bob Dylan saw him perform in Duluth, Minnesota. Holly was a trailblazer in his own right, though: one of the first stars to write a lot of his own material – including Peggy Sue, Maybe Baby and Words of Love. When he played in New York he played, unusually for a white rock star, at the Apollo in Harlem. His early death set a grim sort of trend too. But it is hard to think of anyone in rock music who packed such quality, influence and immortality into such a short life.
Here is a songwriter I greatly admire talking about the effect a Holly song had on his musical education
Think It Over – Buddy Holly
For a lot of people music takes on special significance because of the events it’s associated with. For me it’s the other way around: moments of uniquely musical revelation have always created vivid snapshots of where I was at that often otherwise insignificant instant. For instance, in the 1950s, I was hardly aware of gramophone records at all; songs were seeping into my brain via the BBC, mostly in studio performances. Gramophone records then commanded roughly the same proportion of airtime as is occupied nowadays by poetry or angling programmes. But then one shiny Cambridge afternoon I was cycling home from school past a terrace of small grey-brick houses near the railway, and I heard what had to have been a record being played through an open window. I had no idea who or what it was, and I didn’t even stop to listen, but the sound of it lodged in my brain – I’d never heard anything like that odd style of singing and that jangling kind of guitar or that tune that didn’t end ‘properly’. It instantly activated my musical taste buds and moved all of my listening up a gear – for ever. I didn’t find out what it was until much later, when my friend Colin (who had a record player) bought an LP called The Buddy Holly Story. The instant this track began, I knew that it was the song I’d been waiting to hear again. I can still point out the window.
Extract from Pete Atkin‘s late summer of 1998 contribution to Bath & West Life
Think it Over Buddy Holly and The Crickets