Personally, I don’t find it makes sense to say “Happy 85th Birthday” to the eternally young man who never made it to his 23rd… So I chose this rather long and awkward title instead. But like I always say, I’m not the average fan.
Buddy Holly was certainly not the average musician. He was undeniably versatile, his style was unique and his performance was never boring. He did more in his short career than most musicians can do in an entire lifetime. His influence on music could quite possibly be one of the greatest of all time.
For his biography, please read here, otherwise, please have a look at the three songs I chose to honor him on what would have been his 85th Birthday.
“Rock Around With Ollie Vee” (1956)
This high-energy song is a favorite among those of us who love Rockabilly in its true and original form. The first time I heard it, I fell in love with it. Of course, the title begs the question, “Who is Ollie Vee?” This song was written by Buddy’s close friend, famed songwriter Sonny Curtis, who began making music with Buddy when they were teens. Ollie Vee was one of the employees on the Curtis Family Farm. The song alludes to rockin’ to the Rhythm n Blues and even mentions “Blue Suede Shoes” (inspired, no doubt, by the song written by Carl Perkins.)
In terms of getting down to the nitty-gritty of early Rock n Roll, it doesn’t get any better than Ollie Vee. While lesser known in comparison to Buddy Holly’s classic chart-toppers, “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” has a distinct place in Holly Fandom and beyond. It’s hard for me to believe that until 2016, I’d never even heard of this song.
This song was recorded twice by Buddy Holly. The “alternate sax” version is faster in tempo and what I’d call a “more sophisticated” version to its original counterpart, with the saxophone as its focal instrument. Here, however, is the first recording.
In my humble opinion, this song is simple in terms of what Buddy Holly was capable of. I’ve often jokingly described it as “Valentine’s Day at The Copacabana”. None-the-less, it’s a delightful song and I don’t love it any less than anything else that Buddy gifted the world with.
“Heartbeat” was written by Buddy’s High School classmate and dear friend Bob “Bobby” Montgomery (1937-2014). The two had their first band together and competed in talent contests at Lubbock High School, Class of 1955. On guitar we have Tommy Allsup, the talented musician who lost the infamous coin toss to Ritchie Valens on the early morning of February 3rd, 1959. After avoiding the fatal plane crash, Allsup went on to a long life, and passed away in 2017 at the age of 85.
Whenever I hear this song, I just wanna say “Aww.” It’s cute. And with Buddy’s vocals, I’d even call it beautiful. The bittersweet element is that this was the second-to-the-last song Buddy would see on the charts in his lifetime. (The last being Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”) In a promo he recorded just before he set out for the ill-fated Winter Dance Party of 1959, Buddy reminds fans to check out his new song “Heartbeat” on Coral Records.
“Heartbeat” reached Number 82 on The Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
“Well… All Right” (1958)
Flip over “Heartbeat” (aka CORAL record no. 9-62051) and you have “Well… Alright”.
If you’ve never heard this song, and I could only suggest ONE Buddy Holly song, it’d be this one. I call this song a “chronological paradox”, and a fine example of Buddy’s influence on artists to come. This song (to me at least) sounds like it should be played on the corner of Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967. Of course, it actually existed some ten years before the hippy-inspired folk songs that dominated the streets in The Summer of Love. I can only gather that Buddy was one of the first to come up with this sound which I associate so closely with music of the late 1960’s- an era in which the world seemed to take a turn in every way.
However! The paradox doesn’t end there. There are the lyrics, which are the antithesis of the Summer of Love: “Well all right so I’m going steady…” He ponders over how people think he and his sweetheart aren’t ready to be serious, yet they know they want a lifetime of commitment. It’s adorably odd, from my perspective at least. From a musical standpoint, it sounds like it came from the Sexual Revolution, but lyrically has the morals and values of the 1950’s era.
Again, what this really says is that Buddy Holly’s sound has been imitated again and again. The story of how this song came to be is outlined by bassist Joe B. Mauldin in the documentary The Music of Buddy Holly and The Crickets: The Definitive Story. Mr. Mauldin recalls that one day as Buddy was “doodling” on the guitar, he praised Buddy’s efforts and suggested that he should turn the tune into a song. This resulted in Mauldin getting songwriting credits. The title, “Well… All Right”, was inspired by the legendary Little Richard who was touring with The Crickets. Little Richard frequently used the phrase “Well, all right!” and the boys found it amusing, thus making it the inspiration for this song.
Another aspect, is the acoustic element. It’s “Buddy Holly Unplugged” in a sense, which of course never came to be, but this is the closest we’d get to it. There’s something about Buddy Holly, in particular, playing on an acoustic- just him and his guitar. In the grand scheme of things it was a fleeting moment in time and anything captured from that moment should be considered a treasure.
Well… all right. This concludes this year’s annual Birthday tribute to the Best Musician Ever. Thank you for reading and listening if you did.
And at the risk of repeating myself, I just want to add one thing: When you think of Buddy Holly and his untimely death, remember this:
The whole world lost Buddy Holly. Not just one person. His family, his many friends and his fans… some who were not even born yet when he died.
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