HuffPost Review: Buddy Holly -- Down The Line/Rarities

02/02/2009 12:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

For fans and music efficianados, February 3rd, 1959, always will be remembered as The Day the Music Died, when the Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft carrying Buddy Holly (born Charles Hardin Holley), Ritchie Valens (of "Donna" and "La Bamba" fame), and a popular disc jockey, Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. (aka "The Big Bopper") crashed in a Clear Lake, Iowa, cornfield while navigating a dangerous snowstorm. For those uninitiated in Buddy Holly lore beyond Weezer's pop hit that cleverly utilized his moniker, this texas-centric trend-setter, with and without his back-up band, The Crickets, is revered by most pundits for adding kick, some rockabilly, and an unintended fashion statement to what was the rockier side of '50s rock 'n' roll while balancing it with an emotional honesty. As a songwriter, he wrote and recorded reels and reels of familiar originals such as "Peggy Sue," "That'll Be The Day," "Oh Boy," and "Maybe Baby," and influenced everyone from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello. (Listen to Don McLean's "American Pie" with its line "the day the music died" for some poetic, post-Holly apocalyptic reflections.)

This particular Febuary 3rd has been memorialized by a very special CD, released last week on Geffen Records, that finally ripped the door off the artist's archival vault. With the double disc arrival of Buddy Holly's Down The Line/Rarities collection, for many of his devotees and for the world of music in general, this is like opening the box in which the government stored the Ark of the Covenant (any Indy fans left out there?). Over the years, awful sounding bootlegs that portioned this material circulated, and a more thoroughly mapped overview was next to impossible to release because of estate and legal concerns. And though there might have been more critical raves, public celebration, and marketplace success for this collection had it been released five to ten years earlier, its appearance, right now, might serve better since its content--even with sonic limitations due to the various methods of recording these pieces at the time--is a personable, stark contrast to what seems like decades of generic, assembly line sounds that has moved further and further from the heart of the art.

The first disc starts off with one of Holly's first swings at recording in his youthful, high-pitched cover of Hank Snow's "My Two-Timin' Woman," and then takes us through eight duets recorded with junior high school pal, Bob Montgomery, when they performed as "Buddy & Bob." The pair's Texan take on a sound originally credited to Charlie & Ira Louvin, and, eventually, The Everly Brothers, is showcased perfectly on the track "Flower Of My Heart." On that song, along with "Gotta Get Me Near You Blues" (with Sonny Curtis on fiddle) and their take on bluegrass' Bill Monroe's "Footprints In The Snow," the harmony's the thing until we get to "Down The Line," the prototype for what would become the Buddy Holly sound. But the matrix wasn't complete until, as one can hear in Holly's cover of Elvis Presley's "Baby Let's Play House," he absorbed the concept of "swagger" and Hollified it for his own recordings from that point forward. In '55, backed by Sonny Curtis on guitar, Don Guess on bass, and Jerry "J.I." Allison on drums, Holly's more refined sound graced a batch of demos in Nashville for Decca Records that included "Baby Won't You Come Out Tonight," "I Guess I Was Just A Fool," "Don't Come Back Knockin'" (just begging for a Dave Edmunds cover), and "Love Me." Signed to the label but not scoring a hit in any of his '56 releases, Holly retreated to the garage in November and December and, with Allison and a revamped band, energized his approach by practicing that period's rock 'n' roll hits such as Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," Bo Diddley's self-titled homage, and Fats Domino's "Blue Monday."

The second disc leads with early and alternate tracks of Buddy Holly and his Crickets, documenting a time when producer Norman Petty, through his Clovis, New Mexico, studio, oversaw the band's sonic duties for both the Brunswick and Coral record labels (on which Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison, J.B. Mauldin, and initially, Niki Sullivan, released recordings as "The Crickets" and "Buddy Holly" respectively and simultaneously). Some of the usual suspects are re-introduced, such as "Not Fade Away" (with a partial overdub), "Peggy Sue" (same--trivia: originally titled "Cindy Lou"), and a non-dubbed version of "Oh Boy," as well as variants of "Fool's Paradise" and "Think It Over," plus humorous "promo" shoutout versions of "That'll Be The Day" to music executives, Bob Thiele and Murray Deutsch. The rest of the CD visits Holly's legendary "apartment tapes," recorded by him with guitar in his Manhattan home in late '58 and early '59 (strings were added later to fill-in the blanks). Of these, the most magnificent recordings are "Learning The Game" (fyi Andrew Gold's version is one of the best interpretations out there), and "Peggy Sue Got Married," a sweetly sentimental sequel to "Peggy Sue" whose title inspired the Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage '86 time-travel comedy. Though not written by Holly, his personal, almost moody reads of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and The Robins' "Smokey Joe's Café," together with his banter with wife Maria Elena, invite us into the living room of the last recorded moments of a legend.

This double disc collection marks the first official release of the bulk of the non-dubbed garage recordings and apartment tapes, and it doubles as an education in music, our teacher here being the music business' reigning reissue king, Andy McKaie. Over the years, he brought us some of the best and most respectful assemblies of this artist's catalog as well as those by Etta James, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and everyone whose vinyl bore the Chess, Brunswick or Decca Records logos. Down The Line/Rarities' mastering was sculpted warmly and lovingly by engineer Erick Labson, its liner notes handled by Bill Dahl with his usual, fly-on-the-wall perspective, and its art direction was protected by Vartan who maintained the spirit of Buddy Holly's simple visuals without splashing gaudy graphics across the album's elegant design and eco-friendly packaging. And with all this attention to detail, Down The Line/Rarities is still an easily digestible, 59-track assembly of some of the coolest, musically historical moments you can invite into your home as well as yours and your children's hearts. If that's not enough, there is a complete overview of Buddy Holly's career, including tracks from Down The Line/Rarities, on the brand new, three disc set titled, Memorial Collection, that will be available nationwide a week from Tuesday.

Disc One
1. My Two-Timin' Woman
2. Footprints In The Snow - Buddy & Bob
3. Flower Of My Heart - Buddy & Bob
4. Door To My Heart - Buddy & Bob
5. Soft Place In My Heart - Buddy & Bob
6. Gotta Get You Near Me Blues - Buddy & Bob
7. I Gambled My Heart - Buddy & Bob
8. You And I Are Through - Buddy & Bob
9. Down The Line - Buddy & Bob
10. Baby, Let's Play House
11. Moonlight Baby (aka "Baby, Won't You Come Out Tonight")
12. I Guess I Was Just A Fool
13. Don't Come Back Knockin'
14. Love Me
15. Gone
16. Gone (alternate take)
17. Have You Ever Been Lonely (alternate take)
18. Have You Ever Been Lonely
19. Brown-Eyed Handsome Man
20. Good Rockin' Tonight
21. Rip It Up
22. Blue Monday
23. Honky Tonk
24. Blue Suede Shoes
25. Shake, Rattle And Roll (partial)
26. Bo Diddley
27. Ain't Got No Home
28. Holly Hop

Tracks 15 - 28 non-dubbed garage tapes

Disc Two
1. Last Night (non-dubbed)
2. Not Fade Away (partial, alternate overdubbed)
3. Peggy Sue (alternate take)
4. Oh Boy (non-dubbed)
5. That's My Desire (two false starts, non-dubbed, master take)
6. Take Your Time (false start, partially non-dubbed)
7. Fool's Paradise (non-dubbed, alternate take)
8. Fool's Paradise (non-dubbed, master take)
9. Fool's Paradise (non-dubbed, alternate second take)
10. Think It Over (false start, rehearsal take)
11. Think It Over (non-dubbed alternate second take)
12. Think It Over (non-dubbed third take, master take)
13. Love's Made A Fool Of You (non-dubbed)
14. That'll Be The Day (Bob Thiele shoutout version)
15. That'll Be The Day (Murray Deutsch shoutout version)
16. That's What They Say (fragment)
17. What To Do
18. Peggy Sue Got Married
19. That Makes It Tough
20. Crying, Waiting, Hoping
21. Learning The Game
22. Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie
23. Slippin' And Slidin' (slow version 1)
24. Slippin' And Slidin' (slow version 2)
25. Slippin' And Slidin' (fast version)
26. Buddy & Maria Elena talking in apartment
27. Dearest (fragment)
28. Dearest
29. Untitled Instrumental (aka "Buddy's Guitar," also listed as "Tremlo Instrumental")
30. Love Is Strange
31. Smokey Joe's Café

Tracks 16 - 31 non-dubbed versions