Buddy Holly Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

One of popular music’s most innovative and inspired artists.

Sean Egan 2009

The 1979 six-LP collection The Complete Buddy Holly was arguably the music industry’s first ever box set. Until now, however, legal obstacles have prevented a comprehensive CD overview of the output of the Texas-born 1950s rocker who released material both under his own name and that of The Crickets.

Universal’s deluxe label Hip-O Select have exploited the extra capacity of the CD to the max in this six-disc, six-hour, 203-track extravaganza handsomely formatted like an American high school yearbook. Naturally all previously issued studio recordings – contemporaneous and posthumous – are included. In addition, we have tapes going as far back as Holly’s 14th year, rehearsals, demos, alternate takes and unvarnished versions of material previously only issued with unauthorised overdubs. In some cases, this material is newly unearthed.

As a listening experience, the set is schizophrenic. The juvenilia is predictably gauche and the fidelity of that and at least two of the demos is shockingly musty. And while one is reasonably happy to hear the multiple versions of the timeless Think It Over, four consecutive fumbles through a two-man Mona are patience-fraying even after factoring in the defence of historical interest.

But when one gets to the surprisingly large body of work issued in Holly’s three-year recording career, one is reminded all over again why he inspires the kind of devotion that makes this spotty, sprawling set commercially viable: the rip-roaring Rave On, the swaggering That’ll Be the Day, the guileless Everyday, the brawny Not Fade Away, the thrumming Peggy Sue, the swelling, sweeping True Love Ways – these and numerous other classics (the vast majority self-composed) pour out of the speakers with a freshness and vitality that utterly belie their half-century vintage. In any event, the main point of this collection is not listenabliity. It is what it is – the works – and in that sense is unimpeachable.

It’s almost too late: that many will be obtaining this set via RapidShare despite its reasonable £60 price tag indicates how time and technology have left the feet-dragging record company and their lawyers behind. Belatedness aside, in their passion and comprehensiveness Hip-O Select have done Holly proud – no mean feat when we are talking about one of popular music’s most innovative and inspired artists.

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