Buddy Holly at 81: A Re-Introduction

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Photo of Buddy Holly courtesy of Universal Music Group

Photo of Buddy Holly courtesy of Universal Music Group

It’s almost impossible to gauge the shock waves that followed the death of Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959, in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly—who perished along with Ritchie Valens (“La Bamba”) and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”)—was the first major rock ’n’ roll star to die, just 22 years old. His passing triggered a reality check of epic proportions—rock itself, less than a decade old, had always been about youth, vitality and rebellion. Now cold reality had intruded. In the coming decades, we’d become accustomed to losing our heroes, from Jimi and Janis to Bowie and Prince. But in 1959, the very concept of death visiting upon rock ’n’ roll was still an alien one, numbing and inconceivably unfair.

Buddy Holly would have turned 81 on September 7, and what hurts most now is the knowledge that he was only getting started. We hear his influence on everyone from the Beatles and Rolling Stones, both of whom covered his songs (“Words of Love” and “Not Fade Away,” respectively), to more contemporary artists, but what we mourn more than anything is what might have been. Holly was not just another kid with a guitar: He was a trendsetter. He wrote and produced his own music, led his own band (one of the first to use the now-standard two guitars, bass and drums configuration), experimented in the studio with instrumentation, technology and so much more. We have to wonder: Where would he have gone musically? And what pains us is that we’ll never know.

Related: Looking back at Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day”

Fortunately, Holly left behind a significant body of work considering he was only active for a handful of years. Much of it sounds as fresh today as it did more than a half-century ago and all of it is still available to us.

In 2016, Universal Music Enterprises (UMe), which holds the Holly catalog, made available a special 80th birthday “Best of Buddy Holly” Spotify playlist, 30 all-time classics that together define one of classic rock’s most durable and important bodies of work. The playlist can be accessed below.

You can also stream or download Buddy Holly essentials on your choice of several digital music providers here or order physical copies via the links below.

Gone but not forgotten, Buddy Holly!

Watch Buddy Holly and the Crickets on The Ed Sullivan Show

Well all right!

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Rusty
    #1 Rusty 3 February, 2017, 18:22

    The best 2 minute songs ever written–original, distinctive, simple arrangements and hooks that that yank you out of the water and into the boat before you know it. And best of all, they sound as fresh and appealing as the day he recorded them.

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