The kids in our mailroom have been on strike now for two days over the massive overload caused by my inadvertently broken promise. They’ve been climbing over the mailbags full of the letters pouring in demanding to know the answer to The Question That Has The World On The Edge Of Its Figurative Chair: the third and climactic final of that iconic triptych, Spookily Existential Posthumous Hit Records (SEPHR).
I apologize. There was a trip to the other side of the world, there was a war. Force majeure, darlings. But we’re back in the saddle, a promise is a promise, and this is one I’m pleased as punch to have the opportunity to keep.
We told you about how Otis Redding recorded ‘(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay’ three weeks before he died in a plane crash.
We told you about how Sam Cooke released ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ weeks before he was shot in a seedy motel in unsavory circumstances.
We’re going to skip all the SEPHR runners-up: Hank Williams’ ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’; Chuck Willis’ two-sided hit ‘Hang Up My Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes’ b/w ‘What Am I Living For’; and Eva Cassidy’s ‘What a Wonderful World’). We’ll skip right to the final member of our morbid trilogy. The envelope, please.
This week we’re going to share the story of Buddy Holly’s last recording session and the song ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, recorded in October 1958 and released in January 1959, exactly a month before ‘the day the music died’.
My admiration for Buddy Holly (1936-1959) is immeasurable. I’ve written about his influence on the Beatles and the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones (SoTW 70, ‘That’ll Be the Day’), about his originality (SoTW 122, ‘You’re The One’), and about his stunningly beautiful music (SoTW 2, ‘Learning the Game’). If I may quote myself, I wrote in one of them “Could be I invented Song of The Week just to have a platform to sing Buddy Holly’s praises.”
I think he’s one of the finest artists in popular music, period. I’m not alone in that appraisal. Bruce Springsteen: “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on – it keeps me honest.” Buddy Holly was the John Keats of rock and roll, a pure artist, with an innocent, disinterested aesthetic. Keats (1795-1820) lived to the age of 25, but was too sick with tuberculosis to write for the last year and a half of his life. Buddy Holly’s life was truncated at 23 in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.
Buddy Holly made his money travelling by bus on endless one-night Rock and Roll tours with the likes of Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Dion and the Belmonts, and wunderkind Paul Anka (b. 1941). By the age of 17 he already had a remarkable string of self-penned hits, including ‘Diana,’ ‘Puppy Love,’ ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder,’ and ‘You Are My Destiny.’ Okay, they’re not ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘All My Loving’, but give the kid credit; he was one of the first singers to write his own material.
But he was a pill. Nikki Sullivan, Buddy Holly’s rhythm guitarist: “Paul was a brat. All the time he was getting into trouble, or doing something wrong. He just couldn’t sit still–a thousand, billion volts of energy. We were onstage in St. Louis, and Paul was horsing around backstage when he kicked the microphone plug out of the floor and all the mikes went dead. We just stood there onstage, helpless. It was just a few minutes, but it seemed like three or four days until the microphones got plugged back in and we could start over. At this point, Buddy was boiling up inside, just ready to explode. When we walked off, the clapping stopped the minute we got offstage, into the curtains–it wasn’t a very long clap. So it’s totally quiet, and the MC is walking out on to the stage to introduce the next act, and Buddy yells, ‘Who in the hell kicked out the goddamn plug?’ It rang throughout the auditorium. He calmed down after a bit and went back to the room, and later Paul Anka came back and apologized. And in fact, from that incident, Buddy and Paul became very close, and even rehearsed a few songs together from then on.”
Anka asked Holly if he’d record a song he’d written. “Sure, why not, let me see it,” said Buddy. “Oh, but it’s not finished yet. I’ll bring it to you when I’m done with it,” said Paul.
Buddy Holly’s final recording session was his first and only with strings, October 21, 1958. Anka finally finished the song and brought it to Buddy on the very day of that session. Buddy quickly learned it from him and ran to Dick Jacobs, the arranger/producer. Holly played it on guitar and sang it, and Jacobs worked out a quick arrangement. Dick Jacobs: “I had no time to harmonize the violins or write intricate parts, so I wrote them all pizzicato. That was the most unplanned thing I have ever written in my life.” (Pizzicato means ‘plucked’, for all you who don’t speak Italian or Music.)
Four songs were recorded: the lightweight ‘Moondreams’; the lush ‘True Love Ways’ (a college friend said on hearing it for the first time, ‘A girl could get pregnant just listening to that’); the wondrous, heart-wrenching ‘Raining in My Heart’; and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.
Three weeks later, Buddy recorded ‘You’re the One’ in a radio studio back home in Lubbock, Texas. In December, he recorded six songs in his New York apartment, including his compositions ‘Learning the Game’, ‘What to Do’, and ‘That Makes it Tough’. Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded these songs. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Dylan had recorded one album of original material.
I can’t say ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ presents any earthshaking ontological or eschatological world view. After all, it was written by the 17-year old Paul Anka. But I think a case could be made to draw a line from it to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ via ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’: “With all due pain and regret, screw you, honey.”
But there isn’t much music that affects me as strongly as this song does. Back in the days when I played guitar, it brought me to tears more than once.
There are a number of noteworthy covers. Here’s Paul Anka telling the back-story and singing it at a Buddy Holly tribute. Here’s Linda Ronstadt singing it early on in her career, and here she is ten years later. I sure wish she’d kept those boom-chukka drums out of the arrangement, because it’s fine up till then. Eva Cassidy showed better taste in her impeccable treatment.
But of course we’ll always go back to the original, the utterly honest Buddy Holly version, with all its helplessness and hopelessness, regret and resignation, passion and pain.
There you go and baby here am I.
Well, you left me here so I could sit and cry
Golly gee, what have you done to me?
Well I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.
Do you remember baby, last September
How you held me tight each and every night?
Oh baby how you drove me crazy,
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.
There’s no use in me a-cryin’.
I’ve done everything
And now I’m sick of trying.
I’ve thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you.
Now you go your way baby and I’ll go mine
Now and forever ’till the end of time
And I’ll find somebody new and baby
We’ll say we’re through
And you won’t matter anymore.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’ 070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’ 122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’