Song 96: Buddy Holly, “Not Fade Away” (1957)

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As I get older, I’m increasingly aware of how old people were when they did impressive things. Brian Wilson when he wrote Pet Sounds? 23. Francis Ford Coppola when The Godfather was released? 32. Ronnie Spector when “Be My Baby” came out? 20.

Ugh.

The most impressive statistic of all may be that of Buddy Holly, who was only 22 when he died. Think about that for a second: Buddy Holly, one of the most influential and prolific musicians ever, was only 22 when it all came to an end. Before he died, he helped create rock ‘n’ roll and released “That’ll Be The Day”, “Peggy Sue”, “Oh Boy!”, “Rave On”, and others. When I was 22, I had written a thesis paper about Irish poetry that was 50% bullshit.

Even more incredibly, Buddy Holly was a month away from his 21st birthday when “Not Fade Away” was released. The song was not only among Holly’s biggest hits but an enormously influential song: it helped popularize the “Bo Diddley beat” that became a cornerstone for rock music for years to come, and it gave a band called the Rolling Stones one of their first hits.

It also happens to be a fantastic song. It’s lean and spare both in arrangement and composition (it doesn’t get more direct than “I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be”), and Holly is extremely confident in what he’s setting out to do. I also think the title “Not Fade Away” is brilliant. It’s a weird phrase, but by starting the title with “not,” Holly is immediately putting down some ground rules, and telling us what’s not going to happen. I wish I could write anything this concise.

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