Music

Buddy Holly: Down the Line: Rarities

One could easily create a wonderful 20-track compilation of the best tunes from these two discs that would turn into an apathetic listener into a Holly enthusiast.


Buddy Holly

Down the Line: Rarities

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2009-01-27
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Outsiders best know Iowa musically for three things: the Broadway show The Music Man, those mask-wearing devils Slipknot, and as the place where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richards (the Big Bopper) died. Of these three, the last item is by far the most famous. Here it is five decades after the event, and reporters from around the world again descend to the Hawkeye State to question locals about what happened. The Surf Ballroom (where Holly last played) hosts another tribute concert, and the nearby cornfields are filled with tourists gawking in the snow at the barren fields where the fatal plane crash took place.

What is it about Buddy Holly that inspires such devotion? He wasn't the first rock 'n' roller. He didn't have very many hits during his less than two-year recording career. He wasn't particularly sexy or charismatic. Critics have long pondered Holly's legend, and usually attribute his celebrity to a combination of Holly’s innocent charm, his commonplace appearance, the fact that he wrote his own songs, and his early, tragic death. He was the first rock and roller to die before this time.

This is why Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie”, with its lyric about “the day the music died”, resonated with so many people. This is why the Beatles named themselves in tribute to Holly’s band, the Crickets. This is why Hollywood movies, Broadway plays, numerous books, and musicians born way after Holly’s death (re: Weezer) continue to examine Holly’s life in search of the magical, mysterious essence of the man.

Now, 50 years after Holly’s death, a new double-CD set of unreleased material has come out on a major label. The 59 songs here on Down the Line: Rarities are meant primarily for diehard fans. The two CDs are too full of ephemera, outtakes, and low fidelity early recordings to be of interest to casual listeners. However, in this age of computer downloading, MP3 players, and playlists, one could easily create a wonderful 20-track compilation of the best tunes from the two discs that would turn into an apathetic listener into a Holly enthusiast.

Down the Line: Rarities begins with a scratchy 1949 recording by a 14-year-old Holly singing Hank Snow’s “My Two-Timin’ Woman”. His high-pitched voice suggests he has either not reached puberty or was embarrassed to sing in his real voice. He does play the guitar energetically, but if Holly hadn't become famous this song would be of little interest to most listeners. The same could be said for the next eight tracks that follow, recorded with Bob Montgomery as Buddy and Bob. Three of these cuts are released here for the first time, but they are conventional-sounding country and western compositions.

But then, in 1955, Holly discovered rock and roll. Elvis Presley came to Holly’s hometown of Lubbock. Buddy and Bob even opened for the King at a couple of gigs. Presley’s influence takes hold immediately. Holly records Arthur Gunter’s “Baby, Let’s Play House” the way Presley did and really cooks. He shouts out instructions to his band (“Go around again boys!”) and seems to be having a ball. He writes four rockers of his own. The poor fidelity of the recordings can’t hide the fact that something special was happening.

These are followed by “The Garage Tapes”, a baker’s dozen of current rock hits by Elvis (“Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Blue Suede Shoes”), Chuck Berry (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), Little Richard (“Rip it Up”), and such, recorded informally in Holly's family’s garage. Producer Norman Petty cleaned up these tracks, added instrumentation, and released them after Holly’s death, but they appear here in their original, unvarnished form. Holly, drummer Jerry Allison, and Joe Mauldin on bass, rip through these songs like a Texas tornado. Holly’s not afraid to howl the lyrics or play these songs faster than the original artists, because he is clearly enthused. The disc ends with a self-penned Holly composition, the rockabilly instrumental “Holly Hop”.

The second disc begins with a batch of alternate takes and undubbed versions of more familiar Holly compositions, including “Not Fade Away”, “Peggy Sue”, and “Oh Boy”, recorded in late 1957/early 1958 with the Crickets at Petty‘s Clovis, New Mexico, studio. These three cuts in particular are revelatory. Holly’s voice is rich and full, and he knows how to use it for maximum effect. His guitar picking is clear and crisp. The Crickets do themselves proud, keeping the rhythm flowing and the beat hard and steady. There’s a lot of filler here, too. Holly and the Crickets taped greetings to friends and business associates, and there are several recordings of the same songs here with false starts or abrupt endings as they work things out.

The best stuff comes last: the "Apartment Tapes". Holly taped working drafts of his new material while living in New York City. It’s just him singing and playing acoustic guitar. These are Holly’s last recordings and include 14 full songs. After Holly’s death, the original tapes were overdubbed with a full band for commercial reasons, and some became hits. However, the original recordings have never been officially released until now. The raw versions of “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Crying, Waiting, and Hoping” are especially fresh and beautiful in their unadorned state. He also does some wonderful covers, including a slow and sultry version of Little Richard’s “Slippin’ and Slidin’” (as well as a fast rendition), a romantic interpretation of Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange”, and an emotive take on the Coasters’ “Smokey Joe’s Café”.

There is an Iowa legend that when the weather is very cold and the air is still, you can hear the last song Holly ever wrote -- the one he composed on the way down as the plane is crashing. It’s not one of the gentle ballads. Holly rages against death, “Rave On”-style. Long before Neil Young and Kurt Cobain, Holly understood the importance of not fading away. That’s why his music remains with us.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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