All those times your parents played the oldies station in the car or put their records on to flood the entire house, you more than likely heard a song by Charles Hardin Holley among them. Called “Buddy” by his family, and after Decca Records misspelled his name as “Holly”, he became Buddy Holly to the masses. And even though his famed career only lasted 18 months before he tragically died in a plane crash, Holly’s voice is still, four decades later, one of the most recognizable.
Recently, a tribute album featuring big names both young and less young was released. I’m a big fan of Holly’s, so I was very excited to see just what it had to offer. Rave On certainly has the clout attached; with contributions from Sir Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and John Doe, but it also has the lures of the younger acts to attract new fans to Holly’s music. Both generations do their best to honor Buddy Holly in their own way, and there are some amazing covers from surprising names, but there are also some efforts that fizzle and fall flat.
Poking her head up in unexpected places, Fiona Apple covers “Everyday” with her trademark tremble and it works perfectly. And New York’s young Jenny O brings a bright flavor to “I’m Gonna Love You Too”. My Morning Jacket chose the errant “True Love Ways”, where Jim James’ voice sways in a light breeze with a string quartet backing.
And Modest Mouse strays far from Holly’s hoppy jaunt to pave “That’ll Be The Day” in their very own efficiently bleeding form. Of all the people I expected to sing “Rave On” (The Raveonettes for one), Julian Casablancas of The Strokes wasn’t one. But somehow, with testament to his hidden lighter side, he takes hold of it and leads the pack surprisingly well.
One of the biggest disappointments is Paul McCartney’s take on “It’s So Easy”. For someone who has a deep love of Holly’s catalogue and even witnessed Holly’s career, McCartney’s loose rendition shows a vast disrespect. The track might work well at a concert as a crowd pleaser, but here on a formal release, it’s ridiculously unprofessional with bad James Brown imitations and two false closings to the song. His ramblings at the end are simply cringe worthy.
Then there are some voices that just aren’t made to sing any Buddy Holly song. Lou Reed, the master of the morose, butchers “Peggy Sue”, leaving her curls and dress in tatters. Whining shards of guitar fly in the background and Reed’s voice seems to hit all the important notes without any kind of tone.
And with all due respect to Mr. Holly, his song “Peggy Sue Got Married” is terrible in a hastily prepared sequel kind of way. So when legend John Doe tries to showcase it, there’s simply nothing he can do.
In a purely objective manner, Rave On succeeds in what it attempts: in bringing much due attention to Buddy Holly’s exuberant career and distinct catalogue. But in the end it’s best used as a set piece; a place marker put in the corner to remind yourself every so often whenever your eyes might roam across it. Holly’s music is best left to him. He will always be one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable. Skip this collection and buy a collection done by the hiccupping man himself.
There are plenty more surprises from the unfamiliar and the unexpected throughout the rest of the album, which you can stream for free here.
(Rave On is available now from Fantasy Records)