CD Review of Memorial Collection by Buddy Holly
Buddy Holly: Memorial Collection
Recommended if you like
Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry,
The Beatles
Label
Geffen/Decca
Buddy Holly:
Memorial Collection

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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I
t’s damn near impossible to overstate the importance of Buddy Holly to the very existence of rock as we know it. Even though he died well before "rock and roll" gave way to the artier, less swingin’ "rock," he has lived on in countless ways. Heck, it was a cover of Buddy’s own "Not Fade Away" that served as the Rolling Stones’ entrée to the American hit parade in 1964, not to mention his immeasurable impact on the music of the Beatles from their inception ("That’ll Be The Day" was the first song the nascent Quarrymen cut to wax in ‘57) to their dissolution (his songs figured prominently among the oldies that the Beatles’ jammed on during the tension-filled Get Back/Let it Be sessions in ’69). Even his clean-cut, thick-rimmed nerdy features became an iconic look, copied most famously by, among others, Elvis Costello and Marshall Crenshaw.

It’s also equally impossible to overstate the amount of times Holly’s catalog has been repackaged for mass consumption in ways that confuse and befuddle. Memorial Collection arrives just in time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The opportunity to finally clean up Holly’s catalog once and for all has been, predictably, wasted with the release of a three-disc collection that could have easily fit on two without omitting any songs. As if that weren’t enough, a dozen recordings in the set overlap with the simultaneously released rarities collection Down the Line, effectively diminishing their "rarity." Why not keep the final solo recordings of Holly playing tunes like "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" for the rarities set, and retain the more familiar, posthumously dubbed Crickets recordings for this set for the benefit of those who would like to hear the original hit versions?

Packaging and programming gripes aside though, the music can’t be faulted. Whether Holly was tearing loose on rockers like "Oh Boy!" or Chuck Berry’s "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," showing off his rockabilly chops on "Midnight Shift," weaving mesmerizing harmonies on "Words of Love," or piling on the lovelorn schmaltz with "True Love Ways," Buddy had nary a misstep in his criminally brief career.

If his love songs came across as intense and dramatic for someone so young – he died at age 22 – it’s because he lived those feelings in songs like "Well, All Right" – proposing to his wife Maaria Elena on their first date, in this day and age would probably be considered foolish in just about every corner of the Western world. Those untethered passions drove not just Holly’s music, but much of early rock and roll, and the songs still sound as urgent now as they did then. Thanks also in part to how well Holly was recorded in the studio, it’s his recordings that stand as some of the greatest rock and roll ever put to tape.

Memorial Collection may not be a perfect representation of Holly’s body of work – it’s still hard to top 1978’s out of print 20 Golden Greats as a concise, enjoyable sampler – and it’s a tad shy of comprehensive. But for the uninitiated, there’s more than enough here to give an enjoyable overview of the original geek rocker’s greatest.

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