Buddy Holly’s first hit was released 60 years ago today
With its title famously taken from the John Wayne line in the 1956 movie, The Searchers, That’ll Be The Day marks, for me, the point where the various undercover strands of blues, gospel, C&W, bluegrass and rockabilly emerged from the segregated, black and white South as fully evolved, quality, multi-coloured mainstream pop.
Inevitably derided then (and now) by purists of those genres, Holly and the Crickets nevertheless became the blueprint for thousands of bands. That’ll Be The Day – their second single – was the first song recorded by The Beatles (then The Quarrymen), effectively kicking off a new sound and the subsequent “British Invasion”. This softening – this whitening – of the edgy, pained harshness of blues offered a template for The Stones and The Beatles and others (The Stones’ first big hit a few years later was Holly’s Not Fade Away) to sell themselves to a bigger audience – and to flog the blues back to white America, to begin the complex, tense processes of appropriation, bartering, merging, partnering, stealing, hostage-taking and illicit affairs that set rock and pop music on their wobbly, winding, joyous paths.
It’s easy, of course, to mock Holly’s apparent lack of cool, the misleading niceness of his voice, the band’s stiffness. But watch and listen – the blues is still here, its drive and agony hasn’t completely disappeared, and there’s a real unease in the lyrics – this isn’t quite a love song. And – though Holly’s clearly no Elvis – there’s a visceral aspect to his voice and his movement, to his presence, that was always going to attract the rough and ready Yankophile kids in London and Liverpool.
Buddy Holly was 22 when he died.