Not only was he one of the most instantly recognisable musicians of all time, but one of the most important, Buddy Holly’s decorated legacy makes him one of the founding fathers of modern rock ‘n’ roll. Born in Lubbock, Texas to a musical family in 1936, in the midst of ‘The Great Depression’, Holly went on to grow out of the strife and become a central figure in the mid-’50s rock ‘n’ roll boom.
Given the time, and the area he hailed from, his musical style was informed by gospel, country and rhythm and blues. He started out playing in bands with school friends, before making his first local television appearance in 1952. A year later, he formed the duo ‘Buddy and Bob’ with friend Bob Montgomery. His career progressed quickly and by 1955, he had opened for the ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ himself, Elvis Presley. This set the precedent for the rest of Holly’s short, but significant career.
He would end up supporting Elvis and his band three times in 1955, and owing to the King’s influence, his style shifted from country and western to full-blown rock ‘n’ roll. In October that year, he opened for the iconic Bill Haley & His Comets, and that was to be the moment he flourished. He was spotted by ubiquitous Nashville A&R man Eddie Crandall, who helped the young Holly secure a contract with the hallowed Decca Records.
After experimenting with different producers, fast forward to September 1957, and Holly and his band, The Crickets’ single ‘That’ll Be The Day’ was top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as their album, 1957’s The “Chirping” Crickets, Holly would release two other studio records. Both came in 1958 and they were Buddy Holly and That’ll Be the Day. Other classics Holly gave us classics included ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Everyday’ and ‘It’s so Easy’ and his cover of ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ is an underrated gem.
He penned many hits in his lifetime and would have certainly carried on his stratospheric trajectory, but tragically his life was cut short on February 3, 1959. The plane crash also claimed the lives of Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and pilot Roger Peterson. Thanks to Don McLean’s 1971 hit ‘American Pie’, this tragic day has since become known as ‘The Day the Music Died’.
Holly was only 22. That speaks volumes of his talent and is a testament to his massive legacy. Without his work, there would have been no Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, nor punk legends The Clash, who cited Holly as an influence and directly referenced him in their song ‘If Music Could Talk’ from 1980’s Sandinista!. He even gave his name to Weezer’s 1994 breakout hit ‘Buddy Holly’.
In his short life and career, Holly left an unmistakable legacy. So this got us thinking, what are the six best covers of his songs? Join us as we list, in no particular order, the best versions of his work that honour his musical contributions.
Six best covers of Buddy Holly songs:
‘Words of Love’ – The Beatles (1964)
Recorded for their fourth album, Beatles for Sale, the ‘Fab Four’ did a brilliant job at paying respects to one of their guitar heroes. Jangly, and featuring plenty of slides, The Beatles’ version does a good job of taking the original’s ideas and fleshing them out. The warm vocal harmonies of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, especially, are good for the soul.
The Beatles were such a fan of the tune, that in the early days they covered it numerous times live between 1958 and 1962, with Harrison and Lennon taking the vocal duties before McCartney finally lent a hand for the recorded version.
‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’ – Blondie (1978)
The lead single from New York icons, Blondie’s hit 1978 album, Parallel Lines, Blondie inject a load of sunny energy into the original. Featuring fuller production, given the twenty-year gap between versions, Blondie’s also features an organ in the background and a distorted guitar solo.
This rework does a fine job of dragging the original into a more modern setting. It up’s the tempo and features that classic drive that makes most Blondie numbers pop.
‘Not Fade Away’ – The Rolling Stones (1964)
It seems 1964 was a big year for Buddy Holly covers. Just with their Liverpudlian counterparts, the Stones owed a lot to Buddy Holly. So much so, that this swaggering cover of ‘Not Fade Away’ was one of their earliest hits. It reached number three in the UK and was recorded by an uncredited Phil Spector and Gene Pitney.
Featuring Brian Jones’ iconic harmonica line, one would posit this version is better than the original. It has a funky, Bo Diddley-esque beat that makes you wanna move. And, for most of those who heard it back in 1964, it did exactly that.
‘Dearest’ – The Black Keys (2011)
The original version is best known for being part of the soundtrack for 2007’s classic coming-of-age comedy-drama, Juno. The original, which is plainly a ballad, features Holly and his electric guitar with no added instrumentation; and this adds to the honesty of the song’s chorus, “I’m gonna treat you right”.
The Black Keys’ 2011 version taken from the covers compilation, Rave On Buddy Holly, is drenched in reverb and brings the song into the 21st century. Featuring Dan Auerbach’s signature vocals, their cover adds a doo-wop dimension to the cover, giving it a fresh makeover for modern ears.
‘Crying, Waiting, Hoping’ – Cat Power (2007)
Released in 1959 as the B-side to ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’, the original actually had three separate versions released. The single versions are classics. They feature an upbeat, swinging rhythm and the iconic, clean upstrokes of his Fender Stratocaster. Cat Power’s 2007 version is typical Cat Power.
It is a slower, emotional take on the original. Featuring her warm vocals, rather than making you dance like the original, this version is like a bedtime lullaby. It’s a beautiful acoustic number that needs more credit.
‘Everyday’ – Fiona Apple and Jon Brion (2011)
Taken from 2011 covers compilation album, Rave On Buddy Holly, Fiona Apple and Jon Brion’s cover is a mellow take on the original. Instrumentally similar to the Holly’s, Apple and Brion take ‘Everyday’ into the 21st century via digital production and some expert use of compression and reverb.
This cover should be used in a Christmas advert. It’s got that warm autumnal feel that makes you want to have a squirt of cinnamon in your coffee and begin to light those crackling log fires.