The Crickets: The “Chirping” Crickets
Number 994, of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before you Die.
Here’s another artist that was played a lot around my childhood home, although the name Buddy Holly was more familiar than his band “The Crickets”. I hadn’t heard any of these songs properly in years, but on listening to them recently I was immediately struck by how unusual Buddy Holly was, and still is, in the canon of rock and pop music.
These are tight pop songs. Succinct and no frills. But that’s not to say they aren’t intricate or interesting.
Holly’s voice is the first thing that grabs me. It’s varied and textured. His fallback is a just-in-tune swoon, limited in range but comfortingly familiar. He accessorises this with with a growl, the sound of his voice accumulating enough energy to reach the notes he’s striving for. Then there’s the vocal squeaks, sudden falsettos and hiccups that create tension in his performance. You may laugh, but I’m reminded of Michael Jackson.
I’m also struck by the guitar work. They’re spikey and anxious. Listen to a track like Not Fade Away and tell me the interplay between tribal rhythms and jangly fret-work doesn’t anticipate post-punk by some 30 years. Meanwhile, faster tracks like Tell me How and Rock me my Baby were an obvious influence on the likes of The Ramones. The Crickets were way ahead of their time.
Ultimately, though, Buddy Holly sounds innocent. He was only 21 when he wrote these songs. It was the late fifties and this sounds like an episode of Happy Days, where even the ballads have a bright and sunny vibe. Everything’s a metaphor for losing one’s virginity. Poor Buddy just wants to convince his girl to let him become a man. I’d normally scoff at this sort of stuff, but Buddy is also an endearing nerd. His black rimmed glasses have come to signify that, even if his look has been co-opted by Hipsters everywhere. And there’s something incredibly cool about nerds who know how to rock, isn’t there? We might not have had Weezer or Elvis Costello if Buddy Holly hadn’t done the nerd thing first.