TERRY GROSS, host:
Buddy Holly would have turned 75 in September of this year. He died in a 1959 plane crash when he was 22. Over the course of about three years, he wrote and recorded an exceptional number of songs that have helped define the sound of rock and roll. A tribute album was released today called "Rave On Buddy Holly." It features musicians as varied as Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, My Morning Jacket, and Cee Lo Green, covering his songs.
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song, "Every Day")
Ms. FIONA APPLE and JON BRION (Singer-songwriters): (Singing) Every day it's a getting closer, going faster than a roller coaster. Love like yours will surely come my way. Hey-hey. Hey-hey-hey. Every day...
KEN TUCKER: Tribute albums tend to be terrible. Whether well-intentioned or cynical exploitations, they skate by on the idea that the musicians participating transcend criticism because they're doing it from the heart -when in fact they often mangle the songs they profess to adore, inflating them with self-regard.
I'm pleased to report that "Rave On Buddy Holly" is the rare tribute album that by and large succeeds artistically. I led off with Fiona Apple's fairly straightforward, pretty version of Holly's "Every Day," her collaboration with producer-singer Jon Brion. But the album teems with more idiosyncratic versions of Holly's songs, such as Cee Lo Green's stripped-down, sped-up version of "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care," a Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller song that both Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley had hits with.
(Soundbite of song, (You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care)
Mr. CEE LO GREEN (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) You don't like crazy music. You don't like rockin' bands. You just wanna go to a movie show and sit there and holding hands. You're so square. But I don't care.
I don't know why my heart flips. I only know it does. I wonder why I love you baby. I guess it's just because you're so square. But I don't care.
TUCKER: At once both predictable and surprising is Paul McCartney's presence on the album. The Beatles were deeply influenced by Holly's music - it's often been said that the group's name was a playful nod to Holly's band The Crickets. But the raw, rave-on version McCartney gives of "It's So Easy" is almost shocking.
(Soundbite of song, "It's So Easy")
Sir PAUL MCCARTNEY (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Well, it's so easy to fall in love. It's so easy to fall in love. Well, people tell me love's for fools. So here I go, I'm breaking all the rules.
It seems so easy. Seems so easy, seems so easy, seems so easy. Yeah, so doggone easy. Doggone easy, doggone easy, doggone easy. Oh it's so easy. Seems so easy, seems so easy, seems so easy. Well where you're concerned my heart has learned.
Now, it's so easy to fall in love...
TUCKER: Inevitably on a 19-cut album, there are duds here and there. It's too bad that Julian Casablancas of The Strokes does a version of "Rave On" that is worthless - an example of the self-absorbed performance that dooms so many tribute albums. And Modest Mouse's version of one of Holly's biggest hits, "That'll Be the Day," is reduced to exactly the sort of indie-rock mopiness avoided by Holly's own, more elegant melancholy. At least Florence and the Machine's take on "Not Fade Away" is a charming chunk of clatteration.
(Soundbite of song, "Not Fade Away")
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE (Rock Band): (Singing) I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be. You're gonna give your love to me. I wanna love you night and day. You know my lover not fade away. You know my lover not fade away. My love is bigger than a Cadillac.
TUCKER: Lou Reed takes on nothing less than "Peggy Sue." I would never say that Reed improves upon Holly's version in any way, but if you're going to drastically rearrange a song and then give it your all, Reed, like Paul McCartney, provides a lesson in full-bore reinterpretation to some of the album's other performers on this album.
(Soundbite of song, "Peggy Sue")
Mr. LOU REED (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) If you knew, Peggy Sue, then you'd know why I feel blue without Peggy, my Peggy Sue. Oh well, I love you, gal. I love you Peggy Sue.
Peggy Sue, my Peggy Sue, oh how my heart yearns for you. Oh Peggy, my Peggy Sue. Oh, well, I love you gal, yes I love you Peggy Sue.
KEITH: Buddy Holly was at once one of the most revolutionary and most comforting of rock artists. He was the first to double-track his voice and use a string section on some of his songs. His band The Crickets instituted the iconic rock-band line-up of lead, rhythm, bass guitar and drums. His displays of dreamy sensitivity were captivating, with his quiet but urgent insistence on "True Love Ways," a love "So True and Rare," and the romantic supplication of "Crying, Waiting, Hoping." Beneath the horn rim glasses and the beseeching voice was a core of toughness, the soul of an artist striving to cut across the conventions of his nascent form. At its best, the variety of "Rave On Buddy Holly" captures many of the man's marvelous contradictions.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Rave On Buddy Holly," which was released today. The entire album will be streaming today only at nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song, "True Love Ways")
Mr. BUDDY HOLLY (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Just you know why, why you and I will by and by. Know true love ways. Sometimes we'll sigh. Sometimes we'll cry...