If there was a Mount Rushmore of Rock and Roll artists of the 1950s, I would probably offer up at least six names of significant stature for discussion. And after some difficult choices and intriguing debate, when I cut down to the final four, I’m pretty sure Buddy Holly would make the final list. In today’s album I look at album number 166 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, “20 Golden Greats”. As is the case with many of these early albums, I couldn’t find this exact album on my streaming service but did select a representative album chronicling the Buddy Holly catalog.
I always take extra pleasure in the artists of this age who composed a majority of their own music, and this singer-songwriter produced a remarkable string of hits in a very narrow window of time. Perhaps his most well-known song from that era is “Peggy Sue”, and this album also had the beautiful country rock ballad “Everyday”. Other released singles from this album included “I’m Gonna Love You Too” and “Rave On”, and the first single, my favorite Buddy Holly song, “Words of Love”. The guitar opening is a simple but stunning intro, reminiscent of 1960s folk rock bands like The Byrds. Somewhat unique to Buddy Holly is his ability to shift gears from an upbeat rocker like “Oh Boy” to a touching masterpiece like “Words of Love”. Among the 1950s icons, perhaps only Elvis has this same degree of versatility, but the authenticity Holly brings with his songwriting and every-man looks rings true for all of us.
For all of these artists like Buddy Holly, it is heartbreaking to think what could have been had he not perished in that tragic plane crash. He would 84 years old today, perhaps winding down what could have been a six-decade career of creating and performing. While this abrupt ending is a commonly discussed last chapter of his short life, I believe the long-reaching influence of his performance style and catalog of songs set the stage for generations of singer-songwriters to follow. If you listen closely to Tom Petty, Elvis Costello or a dozen other choices and you can see the Buddy Holly roots shining through as a permanent gift to all of us.