Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3: Buddy Holly, "That'll Be The Day"

Artist: Buddy Holly
Song: "That'll Be The Day"
Album: That'll Be The Day (single)/The "Chirping" Crickets
Year: 1957

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If there is one thing that history has proven, it is that over the decades, regardless of the changes in trends in popular music, the truly great songs persevere without any difficulty. From the most innovative jazz performances to the seminal works of the classical style, time clearly has little negative impact on the music that shaped the artists that followed. Along with this trend, the early foundations of the rock and roll genre remain today some of the most beloved songs in history, and there overall impact has faded very little over the decades. From Little Richard to Elvis and everyone in between, the trailblazers of rock music are still just as enjoyable and intriguing more than half a century after they first appeared on the music scene. Among these seminal artists, there are few that carry the weight and instant recognition as one of the victims of what stands today as one of the most infamous moments in music history: Buddy Holly. As one of the three music icons who lost their life in the well documented plane crash on February 3, 1959, Holly's amazing music became even more legendary, and his image has also become a major part of popular culture across the decades. Though he recorded a number of amazing songs throughout his brief career, there is perhaps none he is more well known for then the truly iconic 1957 single, "That'll Be The Day."

Truth be told, there are actually a handful of different recordings of the song by Holly, and this is largely due to the realities of his contract at the time. The song was actually originally written and recorded by Holly in 1956, taking the title from the catch-phrase of John Wayne in the movie The Searchers. Due to his recording contract with Decca Records, Holly was prohibited re-recording any material from the 1956 sessions for five years. Therefore, when he was looking to re-record the song a year later, producer Norman Petty credited the song to his band, The Crickets, and this "new" recording was released in May of 1957. With a small change in the musical lineup, as well as a crucial change in the key of the song from "D" to "A" (much more in Holly's vocal range), this new version perfectly captured the sound of early rock and roll. It is this second version that became well-known, as it topped the charts and remains one of the most important songs in music history. With its unmistakable guitar lead-in, Holly and The Crickets perfectly crafted an absolutely perfect rock and roll song, and the simplicity of the song is very much the key to its perseverance over time. With a light swing, and a wonderfully bouncy rockabilly beat, "That'll Be The Day" is just as enjoyable and fresh today as it was more than five decades ago.

Along with the change in musical key, Holly himself was able to lower the octave of his singing, and this proved to be one of the most important changes, as the true power and beauty of his voice easily captured the hearts of teenagers across the country. With a voice and delivery style that was unique, yet still sounded enough like Elvis that he was an instant teen-heartthrob, Holly's vocal work on "That'll Be The Day" remain nothing short of iconic, and they have been imitated and sampled across genres in the decades following the recording. The light backing vocals and harmonies further add to the overall smooth and fantastic sound and mood of the song, and there are few recordings that so perfectly capture the essence of rock and roll as perfectly as one finds on this song. Similarly, there are few songs anywhere in the history of music that have as simple, yet as memorable a lyric as on "That'll Be The Day," and it remains one of the finest love songs ever penned. There are very few lyrics that so directly capture the emotion of love as are found here, as the song is a bit of tongue-in-cheek from one lover to another, joking on the idea of "you'll never leave me." Holly gives the lyrics a fantastic swinging sound throughout the song, and his pure, strong voice rarely sounded better, making "That'll Be The Day" one of the most truly perfect recordings in music history.

In an era when music has become overly synthetic, there is perhaps no more important a time to remember and experience the early days of rock music, when the craft was pure and relied on true talent from the performers. This level of "real" talent, combined with their pioneering sounds is the key to why many of these early performers remain so revealed more than half a century after they first recorded. Among these legendary names, few carry the weight and respect of Buddy Holly, and his sound and style have influenced artists across genres, though he was only a part of the music scene for a few short years. Quickly gaining him massive amounts of fame and fortune, there are few songs of the early rock and roll era that are as iconic as his 1957 single, "That'll Be The Day." Fusing together the rockabilly sound with a bit of a country "twang," the song as been covered countless times over the decades from artists ranging from The Beatles to Linda Rondstadt to Foghat, further solidifying its impact across the musical spectrum. From the iconic lead riff and perfectly toned guitar solo to the pure and honest sound of Holly's voice, there are few songs that so accurately captured the sound of an era as one finds in the seminal 1957 recording from Buddy Holly And The Crickets, the timeless classic, "That'll Be The Day."

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