Austin Parish, Buddy Holly, Gareth Pearson, Glowbug, Grayson Gilmour, Jarvis, Late Cambrian, Lullaby Players, Nordloef, RIchard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine, Rockabye Baby, Scott Bradlee, Smothered and Covered, Soundass, Straight No Chaser, The Holophonics, TM Collective, Weezer
As the musical godfather of the genre this blog is based on, giving more attention to Buddy Holly should be a priority for me. Well, it’s unofficially Buddy Holly Week (September 7-13), so there’s no time like the present! Though, as with most things blog-wise, we take it up with a twist: an exploration of the many (many!) covers of Weezer’s iconic track from the Blue Album, “Buddy Holly.” There are an enormous number of covers of this song, most sounding like pale imitations of the original. I’m passing on most of those. I’m more drawn to the quirky, offbeat, creative re-inventions of the song. After all, a band as unique as Weezer deserves to be covered in style.
First up, Weezer of course. Their video for “Buddy Holly” deservedly earned praise from all quarters when it was released in September of 1994. I love how Ritchie Cunningham has more costume changes in this video than Cher in concert. As for covers, Weezer offers many choices, including the original Rivers Cuomo demo and various ‘live in the studio’ sessions for AOL and Spotify. Personally, I prefer the live acoustic version below from some unnamed 1990s TV appearance for its loose, wonderfully shambolic feel and in your face keyboard solos and background vocals.
Something about “Buddy Holly” has inspired people to take the song in all kinds of wacky stylistic directions. It can survive just about any treatment with its charm intact precisely because the bones of the song are so strong in terms of melody and structure. Parody band Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine mangle the hell out of the song with their hilarious, deep-lounge version, complete with swelling strings on the closing. Nordloef give the song a kooky computer games instrumental workout that somehow avoids being pure novelty. Possibly my favourite instrumental of the tune is Gareth Pearson’s tight Bruce Cockburn-esque acoustic guitar treatment. Move over McKinley High, Straight No Chaser offer up a Glee-worthy, menace free, candy-coated arrangement that would have aced the finals.
Now on to more recognizably rock and roll interpretations. The Holophonics give us a Madness-ska-like take, emphasis on the horn shots. Late Cambrian mine the same alt/indie vibe as Weezer but make some refreshing substitutions on the array of instruments soloing. Austin Parish slow things down in a breathy, Greenwich Village folky style. Extra bonus: their effort is part of a remake of the entire Blue Album from Midwest’s Finest, available for free download! Grayson Gilmour highlights the subtle, somewhat vulnerable side of the song with his mostly shy, solo piano rumination.
Ok, for something completely different, there’s Glowbug’s highly original and inventive remake of the song. It’s dissonant and over the top in a wonderful club-dancey sort of way. I’m including the Soundass brief instrumental excerpt because there’s something funny about the disastrous execution. The question mark added to the song title was the give-away, like the artist wasn’t sure if his efforts really warranted consideration as a cover proper. Scott Bradlee makes his piano keys jump on this jaunty instrumental ragtime performance. Whiskey Shivers give us a banjo-inflected country-ish take with particularly sweet harmonies in the chorus, a nice fiddle solo and apropos western whistling. Jarvis gets us back to basics with a stripped-down DIY acoustic vibe, fitted with a nice spacey keyboard solo.
But my undisputed fave cover is brand new from the TM Collective’s fabulous just-released tribute to BH, simply entitled Buddy Holly. TMC regularly release these sorts of tributes, so far covering the likes of Tom Petty, Wings, Nick Lowe, and many, many others. And they are all free, featuring performances from the crème de la crème of indie poprock darlings. This time they cover 16 different Holly tunes, sometimes twice. But some joker decided Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” should be added to the mix, done with an appropriately Buddy demeanor, featuring an “Everyday”-era celesta keyboard and Hollyesque vocal hiccups. Delightful! (“Buddy Holly” is track 19 on the album – just click through to the end, but check out all the great covers of Buddy Holly songs along the way!)
Let’s end on a light note. Ever since grungers starting having kids they’ve been Yellow Submarining their fave tunes to keep the tots (and themselves) entertained. Check out these two lullaby versions of “Buddy Holly” from Rockabye Baby and the Lullaby Players, the latter even retaining some of the tune’s darker melodic elements.
Given all the love for “Buddy Holly” it’s hard to believe that Weezer almost didn’t record it. Apparently producer Ric Ocasek had to convince Cuomo to cut it during the Blue sessions, suggesting they could make the decision about releasing it later. Good thing too or I would have had to come up with some other cleverism to celebrate Buddy Holly week.