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Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More

Buddy Holly

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Album Review

In 1979, The Complete Buddy Holly gathered up all known Buddy Holly recordings in a six-LP box set, setting the standard for archival rock & roll reissues in the pre-CD era. Perhaps if this box never existed, the wait for a CD incarnation of Holly’s complete recordings wouldn’t have seemed quite so long, but chances are it would: as the CD revolution waned in the early days of the new millennium, every one of his peers saw their work boxed up in complete sets, leaving Buddy to the bootleggers, notably Purple Chick, who delivered an exhaustive set that covered the same ground as the 1979 box, adding fragments, overdubs, demos, and live performances for good measure, plumping up the collection to nine discs — just enough arcane material to make it of interest only to fanatics. The same can’t be said about Not Fade Away: The Complete Studio Recordings and More, the six-CD box Universal released in 2009, just after they managed to clear away whatever legal and logistical hurdles were standing in their way. To a certain extent, the excitement generated by this long-anticipated item is undercut slightly by Universal’s two previous 2009 releases, Memorial Collection and Down the Line: Rarities, which together offered five discs and 109 tracks of Buddy, including all major items, but as an overall experience, Not Fade Away easily eclipses any other Buddy Holly collection, offering the best presentation and sound, its bound hardcover book packaging lending it stature.

Of course, at 203 tracks it’s also complete, nearly 100 tracks longer than either the 1979 box or the combined two 2009s collections, offering all the masters, alternate takes, early recordings, demos, and apartment tapes presented in chronological order, which means the posthumous overdubs are featured last. Some items on the Purple Chick collection are missing, but they’re mainly fragments and live cuts of rough fidelity, things that are no great loss and of interest only to obsessives, as this tells the entirety of Holly’s story. Sometimes, the detail may be too great for some listeners, particularly in the first act, which is filled with scratchy audio, tentative hillbilly, and formative rockabilly. Holly had a prehistory longer than any early rock & roller — only Eddie Cochran, another tragic loss, came close to cutting so much music before his first hits — which means that there are no well-known tunes on the entire 35-cut first disc, but when Buddy’s prime starts on disc two, the momentum increases considerably, as he starts to pile up classic songs and innovations at a rapid pace. Without a doubt, it’s easier to appreciate Holly’s overall impact in a condensed set like Memorial Collection, as it doesn’t bog down in the details, but the details are naturally the things that make Not Fade Away so valuable to hardcore fans and scholars. Those details reveal the extent of Holly’s vision — how he absorbed Elvis, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry, creating some of the hardest early rock & roll; how he pointed the way toward folk-rock and the Beatles’ pop — and they give this box weight by providing the connective thread in his music, which in turn illustrates just how monumental his too-short career was. It’s a career that needed a testament like this, and although it’s taken too long to arrive, Not Fade Away is almost more valuable because of it, with the years only adding a greater perspective on the accomplishments of this true pioneer of American music., Rovi


Born: 07 September 1936 in Lubbock, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '50s

Buddy Holly is perhaps the most anomalous legend of '50s rock & roll — he had his share of hits, and he achieved major rock & roll stardom, but his importance transcends any sales figures or even the particulars of any one song (or group of songs) that he wrote or recorded. Holly was unique, his legendary status and his impact on popular music all the more extraordinary for having been achieved in barely 18 months. Among his rivals, Bill Haley was there first and established rock &...
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