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Try my love again.

February 4, 2010

Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson always get looked over on Feb. 3, don’t they? I mean, DJs will probably spin “Chantilly Lace” and “La Bamba” (and maybe “Donna”) at some point today, but when you stack up those two artists against the work of Buddy Holly, well how can you compare?

This post will do nothing to give Valens and the Big Bopper any extra love (although eternal credit to Ritchie for “Come On Let’s Go” and the Bopper for writing “Running Bear”).

Ah, but Buddy Holly. The true music fan’s unending source of wonderment. His professional recording career didn’t even last two years and yet the gulfs he jumped between “That’ll Be the Day” and “True Love Ways” are enough to make the Beatles’ progress in their seven-year recording career look like it unfolded at a snail’s pace. What if Buddy hadn’t chartered that flight 51 years ago tonight? What advances could he have made by the end of 1959, let alone into the 1960s? Honestly, the mind boggles.

But at the same time, Buddy was never immune to some of the same song writing traps that many popular artists fall into when they stumble upon (or hear) a chord structure they particularly like. Some time in 1957, Buddy probably heard Mickey & Sylvia’s top 40 hit “Love is Strange” and the humming and hawing over a moderate A-D-E progression. Now did Buddy plagiarize it and make all of his songs sound the same? No. But it popped up with as much frequency as one progression might in the course of a year and a half’s worth of songwriting.

The obvious song Holly mirrored “Love is Strange” with is “Words of Love.” Ah, but there were a few more…

Buddy Holly – Words of Love
“Words of Love” was recorded in 1957 and issued as a single on Coral records, but it also made Holly’s sophomore album, Buddy Holly, in 1958. Not only is the guitar pattern strikingly similar to “Love is Strange,” but Holly also injects his own brand of “Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm”s into the song. It’s more famous, of course, for being one of the first examples of double tracked vocals in pop music, but given how much historians knock other artists for pinching Buddy’s stuff, it’s always bemused me that few people stop to go, “Well, Buddy stole that idea, actually…”

Buddy Holly – Listen To Me
While “Words of Love” found its way on to Side 2 of Buddy Holly, “Listen To Me” actually made Side 1. Listeners could be forgiven for thinking they were hearing an alternate version of the same song — different lyrics and an altered melody, sure, but tempo and guitar-wise, “Listen To Me” is the direct spawn of “Words of Love,” which I guess makes it the niece of “Love is Strange.” Still a fabulously beautiful song in its own right and the middle section provides a gorgeous change of pace, but I have to wonder if Buddy was writing this going, “Can I use the same progression again? At this tempo? Well, why the hell not…”

Buddy Holly – Dearest (Fragment)
A few weeks before his death, Buddy committed a bunch of new song ideas to tape in his New York apartment, and “Dearest” was among them. The apartment demo made both my Autumn mix last year and (more famously) the “Juno” soundtrack, but last year’s Down the Line: Rarities compilation provided a fresh version version of it that, although incomplete, sounds a little clearer than the version that made its way to a million posthumous bootlegs and compilations. “Dearest” is a little different from “Words of Love” and “Listen to Me” — he’s stuck a capo a few frets higher on his guitar, but it’s still that moderate A-D-E progression driving the song. And even though the musical backbone is relatively unchanged, this is still somehow a unique and beautiful tune.

Buddy Holly – Love is Strange
Holly also recorded a home demo of the song that inspired so much of his own work, and this was included on the Down the Line compilation. Following his death, the song along with many of his apartment demos, got posthumous studio embellishment which kind of tainted its original charm. The original demo has a very nice, warm and intimate feel to it. I suppose I understand wanting to try making it more commercial, but this is such a precious little moment… why screw around with it?

The point of all this is not to look at Buddy’s catalogue and say, “Oh look, he just kept doing the same thing over and over.” I mean his genius is that he found new ways each time of doing the same thing — blatant though it may be. None of these songs are as good as “Maybe Baby” or “Well… All Right” in my humblest of opinions, but then again… I highly doubt I could ever write something as fabulous as “Words of Love” or “Dearest” or “Listen to Me” over the same three chords.

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4 comments

  1. “Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson always get looked over on Feb. 3, don’t they?”

    HA! Was this inspired by my email about “Buddy Holly, et al.,” or was that just coincidence? 🙂


  2. Coincidence. But it’s true.


  3. I found you! Now officially bookmarked.


  4. This was new for me though!

    Interesting.

    Albin Loan



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