(#471: 20 February 1993, 1 week)
Track listing: Words Of Love/That’ll Be The Day/Peggy Sue/Think It Over/True Love Ways/What To Do/Crying, Waiting, Hoping/Well…All Right/Love’s Made A Fool Of You/Peggy Sue Got Married/Valley Of Tears/Wishing/Raining In My Heart/Oh, Boy!/Rave On/Brown Eyed Handsome Man/Bo Diddley/It’s So Easy/It Doesn’t Matter Anymore/Maybe Baby/Early In The Morning/Love Is Strange/Listen To Me/I’m Gonna Love You Too/Learning The Game/Baby I Don’t Care/Heartbeat/Everyday
Listening to the song “Words Of Love” in a 1993 context, it is striking how indie and lo-fi it sounds; the recording could pass as an outtake from Bleach, and indeed the Lemonheads covered “Learning The Game” for a single B-side (“Into Your Arms”) in that year. I am also cognisant that a few weeks after this compilation’s appearance, the first Beck album, Golden Feelings, was released to little acknowledgement. Moreover, it was only a year before Weezer hit big with their song “Buddy Holly.” Perhaps the man’s importance lies partly with the notion that his art and being permitted the chimera of the indie geek to flourish.
I am unsure why Words Of Love hit so hugely, or at any rate to a degree; the album went gold and only stayed on our charts for nine weeks. It was advertised on television and the tie-in with the cosy sixties police drama Heartbeat cannot be evaded – that series’ then-star Nick Berry had made number two with his rendition of the Holly song in the previous year. The series was remarkable for lasting much longer than the sixties ever did – it ran for 372 episodes, from April 1992 to September 2010 – and for avoiding entirely the gritty and none-too-pleasing nature of police dramas broadcast during the actual sixties, including Z-Cars, Softly, Softly and No Hiding Place. Perhaps its producers had in mind the cheerfully-reassuring Dixon Of Dock Green, which starred Jack Warner and remained on air as late as 1976 (by which time its star had become an octogenarian – and the seventies episodes were markedly tougher than their predecessors had been). In addition, of course, the series documented the comings and goings of a decade which Buddy Holly did not live to see.
Anyway, enough of feelgood Sunday evening television – I looked up what I previously had to say about Holly here, and have not changed my views in any meaningful way. Nineteen songs from 20 Golden Greats reappear here – for some reason, “Not Fade Away” did not make the cut – and a liner note and song-by-song commentary by Jerry Allison himself certainly mark an improvement on the over-excitable sleevenote of 1978. The extra songs are intriguing, though largely not really necessary – “Valley Of Tears” is an engaging, piano-heavy take on the Fats Domino template, “I’m Gonna Love You Too” displays a rare and not particularly palatable aggression on Holly’s part, and his “Early In The Morning” was perhaps too anxious to compete with co-author Bobby Darin’s contemporaneous reading.
On the other hand, “Learning The Game” is a simple but very profound song whose gradual waves of influence slowly spread throughout the history which succeeded it, and Holly’s interpretation of “Baby I Don’t Care” may pinpoint his appeal; whereas Elvis’ famous recording engenders growls of unanswerable hipness, the implication here is that Holly is as much of a square and a nerd as the girl he idolises.
Most extraordinary is Holly’s “Love Is Strange”; if, as Allison attests, “Words Of Love” is evidence of a huge Mickey and Sylvia influence, this version, largely because the analogue synthesiser overdubs which Norman Petty added to Holly’s basic home demo in 1968, points directly to the future. It still sounds strikingly radical, not simply because in the synthesiser’s event horizon we can glimpse visions of Jimmy Webb and “Wichita Lineman” in particular, but because it anticipates, with nearly deadly precision, “Atmosphere” by Joy Division (same tempo and, largely, same key). It provides a beyond-eerie snapshot of a future which Holly (or for that matter Joe Meek) never lived to experience but unwittingly predicated.
Otherwise, noting in passing the “UN-DER-STA-HA-AND!” staccato backing vocals on “Peggy Sue Got Married,” a song which espies and underlines the potential impermanence of this thing called pop music – life, people and art move on whether you want them to or not (even if Buddy Holly didn’t) – the endurance of the Holly myth in Britain (much holier and more holistic than it ever was in his homeland - the cover shot to Words Of Love was provided by the Victoria and Albert Museum) is perhaps enclosed in his incomplete completeness; here is somebody who was never spoiled by misguided forays into psychedelia or even disco, whose body of work is imperfectly perfect, who was at home with domestic demos (Lindsey Buckingham, anyone?) as with huge studio orchestras, who was entirely comfortable within a two-minute span but whose work suggested that he might struggle with three minutes. And yet, if you wish an unlikely but fitting monument to Holly, look around you now – think of the minimalist simplicity of the younger Neil Diamond, for instance, but also of another pop star of already incalculable influence and who, though coming from West Reading, Pennsylvania, rather than Lubbock, Texas, has firmly demonstrated how apt and creative they can be when dealing with country, pop and folk and how unfailingly they have similarly kept their own being at their music’s epicentre.
Yes, Buddy Holly would certainly have been old enough to have been Taylor Swift’s grandfather.