Well, all my best sources tell me that Buddy Holly would be 75 this year if a plane crash hadn’t killed him and inspired the most overrated tribute song in all of American music (sorry kids, but I don’t see the appeal of “American Pie.” I realize that I’m in the minority here, but this is my damn blog). So someone somewhere decided to cobble together a tribute album to honor that fact. Why not, right?
Holly’s would-be 75th is the stated raison d’etre for Rave On Buddy Holly, a 19-track extravaganza (of sorts) of Holly hits re-imagined, for better or worse, by some of today’s… well… what are they, exactly? The roster ranges from relative unknowns Karen Elson (you might know her as Jack White’s most recent ex, but she’s actually in a group called The Citizens Band) and Jenny O. (I didn’t know who she was before I got this album) to chart-topping superstars Paul McCartney and Kid Rock. Might lead a critical thinker to wonder who exactly Rave On is aimed at (or if it’s aimed at all, considering the buck-shot lineup of performers).
The answer is staring me in the face as I listen to it for the fifth or sixth time now. For some reason, when I ripped the disc to Songbird, that otherwise excellent media player refused to sort the tracks in order. So fuck it, I’m listening to the album on random. And you know what? It makes absolutely no difference. This is the consummate album for the iTunes generation – people will buy the songs by artists they like (and some of these tracks are very much worth your 99 cents – we’ll get to them in a second) and consign the rest to the dustbin of internet history. Unfortunately, I suspect Kid Rock’s rendering of “Well All Right” will sell a lot more than it deserves to.
This seems like a good time to admit that, while I have enjoyed the original versions of many of these songs, I’ve never been super into Buddy Holly. I get why other people are, but there are no sacred cows on Rave On Buddy Holly to be slaughtered by the contributors, at least not to my ears.
So let’s start with the good news. There are a handful of pretty awesome renditions on this here tribute record, including Cee Lo Green’s playful take on “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care,” which is one of the more inspired choices on the album, although it’s awfully brief at a minute and a half. Fiona Apple and Jon Brion turn in a lovely version of “Every Day,” and Jim James casually asserts himself as the finest male vocalist in rock music on My Morning Jacket’s gorgeous entry, “True Love Ways.” Modest Mouse does a menacing take on “That’ll Be the Day,” Lou Reed sounds like a dirty old man on “Peggy Sue,” and X’s John Doe sounds like a sad old man on “Peggy Sue Got Married.” I’m leaving one dirty old man out here, but we’ll deal with him a little later.
There are a bunch of middling tracks here too – Julian Casablancas does okay on “Rave On,” She & Him’s “Oh Boy” is predictably satisfying, if not stunning (“stunning” would adequately describe the version of “I Put a Spell On You” that they did when I saw them live a couple years ago) and the Black Keys open things well enough with “Dearest.” See what’s happening here? You don’t really need Rave On Buddy Holly to exist as an album; every one of these artists (I use the term loosely in a few cases here) could just as easily have recorded these tracks as one-off charity singles. I’m not sure what could have made this album feel more cohesive; perhaps its whole purpose is to remind us that Buddy Holly was pretty cool and maybe lead a few new people to his music.
There are a couple of missteps here and, sadly, Florence and the Machine make one of them. I kinda get the early 80s Tom Waits vibe they were going for on “Not Fade Away,” but Rave On Buddy Holly would be way, way better if the producers had just stuck the Rolling Stones version on here instead. Kid Rock, on “Well All Right,” is continuing his apparently life-long mission to become the retarded offspring of Bob Seger and Ted Nugent and so it’s hardly surprising that he turns in – by far – the most insipid track on the album. I guess I don’t have a huge problem with Graham Nash’s take on “Raining in My Heart,” but I do think it would’ve been better if they just had Kermit the Frog sing it. What can I say? I’m not a big Graham Nash fan.
And then there’s Paul McCartney’s version of “It’s So Easy.” It’s not bad per se (it’s actually pretty good), but the parts where he stops and barks/speaks things like, “I’m gonna getchu, baby” followed by, “Yeah, we’re gonna do it,” I get really nervous. He says it like a guy who wants to fuck the shit out of every living thing and he’s not gonna take no for an answer. I should add that it sounds like he really wants to do all that stuff (and by “all that stuff,” I mean “embark on a rape spree of epic proportions”) but he’s never actually understood how his sex parts work. It’s like he’s trying to psych himself up for something he’s never actually done when he bellows, “‘Cause it’s so easy, baby/ so easy for me/ so easy for you!” If it’s that easy, what’s all the shouting about? To me, McCartney’s shouts carry a readily detectable subtext of, “Okay, Paul. You can do this. You take your pointy thing, you get it nice and big, and you go rape all the stars right out of the sky. Because it is so easy.” Lest I stand accused of ageism, I am not against old men being raging fuckin’ horn-dogs; but I am against hearing about their raging fuckin’ horn-dog exploits. Paul McCartney’s “It’s So Easy” simultaneously makes me fear him and hate sex and that’s a position that is undignified to say the least. Worse – I just looked up McCartney on the Wikipedia and he’s 69 years old. The universe is playing a cruel joke on me.
Getting back to Rave On Buddy Holly for a second, if only to cleanse your mind of the image of old people having awkward, shouty sex, I don’t find the album very satisfying as an album. I think I would have preferred it if someone had started a website with a snappy-but-serious name like The Buddy Holly Project where they feature maybe five different covers of Buddy Holly tunes each month and you can just wait for artists you like to do awesome versions of Buddy Holly tunes.
In conclusion: Paul McCartney’s wang!