Sunday, April 5, 2009

Buddy Holly -- Down The Line Rarities

Buddy Holly -- Down The Line Rarities (Geffen/Decca):

This 2 CD set is really a four LP set. The first album consists of the earliest recordings of the great Buddy Holly. The second album features Buddy and the Crickets woodshedding on (then) contemporary rock songs. The third album is comprised of alternate takes or undubbed mixes of classic Holly tunes. And the fourth album is Buddy in his apartment, accompanied only with his guitar, demoing songs.

The first and third LPs are interesting historical material. But the second and fourth LPs are essential music from one of the towering figures of early rock ‘n’ roll.

The collection starts with a 13-year old Holley (before he dropped the ‘e’ that would have certainly hampered his future success) warbling a country tune, “My Two-Timin’ Woman”. This is followed by a number of decent country songs when the young Buddy was the front half of Buddy & Bob. This portion of the compilation closes out with some 1955 recordings where Buddy Holly becomes...Buddy Holly. His version of “Baby, Let’s Play House” is the first tune to showcase his trademark hiccupping vocals. Yep, it’s starting to get interesting.

Then the Crickets proceed to rock out. Unfortunately, the best performance on here, a version of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, is cut off at the 80 second mark. But this version is a bit faster and more urgent than the well known versions by Big Joe and Bill Haley & The Comets. Holly’s vibrato laden voice is extra shaky and the whole thing crackles with excitement. And the drums really swing.

But most of the other numbers are just about as good. They tear up “Rip It Up”, do a swell “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (which was subsequently committed to wax), do a version of “Blue Monday” that Buddy really puts his stamp on, and play an early version of “Holly Hop”. Fun stuff.

If you’re not a true Buddy-ophile, some of the charms of the first half of disc two will be elusive. At times, like on “Not Fade Away”, I recognize that stuff has been stripped away. I can’t really say if it’s for the better. But a great tune is a great tune, right?

There are two alternate takes on the disc. First, a version of “Peggy Sue” where Buddy’s voice is a bit more upfront, due to the lack of any Norman Petty sweetening. The other alternate take is “Think It Over”, and I really like his lead vocal.
All of this is a prelude for the acoustic demos he recorded in his New York City apartment. Kudos to Erick Labson for the remastering. These demos sound intimate and immediate. To hear these versions of “Peggy Sue Got Married”, “Crying, Waiting, Hoping”, and “Love Is Strange” (the Mickey and Sylvia hit that was written, under an alias, by Bo Diddley), is to hear the greatness of Buddy Holly in an entirely new way. I wish there were four discs of these performances, which are so warm and personal.

One track really got to me. It’s not a song. It’s about three and a half minutes of Buddy talking to his young wife, Maria Elena. At one point, they are joking around and laughing, and it’s so playful, making it all the more poignant that Buddy would die in a plane crash only weeks later.

Despite the tragedy, we’re fortunate to have his recorded legacy. This collection isn’t quite essential, but it has enough on it to add further to that legacy.

1 comment:

anna b said...

Thanks for this, Mike!