Review: Buddy Holly – Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings & More
Last Wednesday, the 51st anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death slipped by without much fanfare. That’s not too surprising, given the recent recognition of the half-century since Holly’s plane crash death (Feb. 3, 1959). What’s more surprising is that there hasn’t been much recognition that one of the great gaping holes in the CD era — a comprehensive survey of Buddy Holly’s recorded work — has recently been filled.
The online-only label Hip-O-Select quietly released last November a six-disc set entitled Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings & More, which draws together 203 tracks on a beautifully presented yearbook-sized format. The tracks range from teenage Buddy’s earliest home recordings through his formative studio work to his best known hits. There’s rehearsals, false starts, multiple takes, mono and stereo mixes and recordings made in locations as diverse as the Holley family home and garage in Lubbock to Clovis, New Mexico, Nashville and New York (both in the studio and in Holly’s Greenwich Village apartment).
The best-known material is presented in shimmering fidelity. The rare stuff is occasionally raw but of such significance that the fuzziness should be forgiven. It’s not the first time someone has attempted, either through a major label or via bootlegging, to convey the breadth of Holly’s achievement during his short life, but this will deservedly be the go-to collection for anyone looking to account for Holly’s rightful stature as one of the great originators and practitioners of rock ‘n’ roll.
The material is presented in a roughly chronological order based around sessions. That’s important, because it helps sort through the complexities of Holly’s vault. Posthumous releases topped up Holly’s originals with superfluous studio sweetening. Being able to compare the raw originals with the overdubbed makeovers here within one set affirms the errors (however well-intentioned or not) of trying to polish Holly’s diamonds. As a rule, Buddy got it right the first go-round, case closed.
As alluded earlier, the set contains the very last recordings Holly made before his death, in his New York apartment. With just his tape recorder whirring and an acoustic or winningly tremolo-heavy electric guitar chiming and throbbing behind Holly’s distinctive hiccuping voice, these are quite simply some of my favorite recordings of all time presented in the highest-fidelity I’ve yet heard. Whether converting Little Richard’s “Slipin’ & Slidin'” into a low-down, slowed down blues crawl or resurrecting the Tin Pan Alley ditty “Wait Til The Suns Shines, Nellie” or sketching out what would have been his final masterpieces “Peggy Sue Got Married” or “That Makes It Tough,” there’s an intimacy and immediacy to these recordings that is rare.
It’s also rare that compilations of this sort are assembled with so much care. The details, from the nicely reproduced graphics to the quality of the binding right down to the reproduction of the original Coral and Decca labels on the CDs, are evidence that this is a labor of love from people who cared enough to do justice to their subject.