Fifty years may not seem like a long time but in musical terms it is an eternity. Buddy Holly died just after midnight on February 3, 1959 when the small plane in which he was flying slammed into the ground at an estimated 170 miles per hour. The pilot, The Big Bopper who at the last minute talked future country superstar Waylon Jennings into giving him his seat, and Ritchie Valens who won a coin toss with Tommy Allsup for the last seat on the plane were also killed.
Buddy Holly recorded his first songs in 1955 and achieved chart success and popularity from 1957-1959. In that short period of time, he amassed a huge and lasting body of work. His studio techniques, staccato guitar sound, and unique vocal phrasing combined to make his sound very different and tremendously influential.
Buddy Holly recorded a vast amount of material in four years. At the time of his death he had enough unreleased songs to last seven years. Today his entire catalogue has been released in a number of forms and formats. So do we need another Buddy Holly compilation? I am going to say yes!
Memorial Collection is a three disc, sixty song compilation that spans the length and breadth of his career. The material is presented chronologically and each track is notated in the accompanying booklet. The producers have wisely chosen to combine some of his lesser known material with his most popular hits. They have wisely left the songs as they were recorded and resisted a common urge to tinker and change which would have harmed their original intent.
All of his most famous songs are present. “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” “Rave On,” and “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” should be turned up loud as they blast out of the speakers. Lesser known but superior tracks such as “True Love Ways,” “Not Fade Away,” “Brown-Eyes Handsome Man,” and “Love’s Made A Fool Of You” all show his versatility and inventiveness.
For the collector and the Buddy Holly aficionado it will be the first and the last series of tracks that will be the most important; four have never been released in the United States and one other is a rare and possibly last unreleased track.
His undubbed tracks from 1955 that are credited to Buddy & Bob include “Soft Place In My Heart” which had never seen the light of day. Holly and Bob Montgomery (vocal-guitar) are backed by Sonny Curtis (fiddle), and Don Guess (bass). “Down The Line” and “You and I Are Through,” from the same time period and also credited to Buddy & Bob had never been released in the USA. They may have a primitive feel but show Holly at the beginning of his musical journey and hint at his future. They also provide an invaluable look into the early formation of rock ‘n’ roll.
Just before his death he would record several tracks at his apartment in New York City using only an acoustic guitar to support his vocal. Over the years these tracks were filled out by other musicians and dramatically changed. Memorial Album has returned “Peggy Sue Got Married,” “Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” “Learning The Game,” and “What To Do” to their original state and they provide an intimate glimpse of a relaxed Holly just doing what he likes to do best.
Buddy Holly, the man and his music, have been frozen in time for half a century. There is always the theoretical question of what would have happened to him if he had lived? Would he have continued to be a superstar or faded from the scene as did many of his contemporaries? Would he be a producer or playing the oldies circuit? These are questions that will never be answered.
Buddy Holly did not have the charisma of Elvis Presley and probably did not define a part of the rock ‘n’ roll sound as did Chuck Berry. While he was extremely talented I feel that his greatest and most memorable strength was that he was able to make music that resonated with the masses. He never appeared to be above it all.
Memorial Album is the most fitting kind of remembrance of Buddy Holly as it presents his music and that was the lasting legacy of his life cut short fifty years ago.