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'Learning the Game,' Waylon Jennings With Mark Knopfler (1996)
To most, Jennings is the country outlaw who sang the 'Dukes of Hazard' theme song. But long before becoming a music legend, he played bass in Holly's band, the Crickets. (Had he not given up his plane seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper, who was feeling ill, he, too, would have perished.) So, of course, it made sense for Jennings to be included on the tribute album 'Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly).' Although the song is about lost romance, this mournful cover is inspired by an even greater loss.
'Rave On,'M. Ward (2009)
Matt Ward grew up listening to gospel and country, but on his latest album he gives a nod to early rock with this contemporary version. A favorite among critics, Ward achieved a fair amount of commercial success when he teamed up with actress Zooey Deschanel to form the duo She & Him. While this take on 'Rave On' appears on his latest solo record, Deschanel lends a hand with backing vocals. This version is a slowed-down, dreamy track with echoey vocals.
'Love's Made a Fool of You,' Lemmy, Slim Jim & Danny B (2000)
You would expect the lead singer of Motörhead -- those pioneers of loud, fast, throaty thrash metal -- to put a hard edge to a Buddy Holly classic. But here Lemmy Kilminster plays it straight, offering an unexpectedly gentle rendition, with '50s-style guitar leads and vocals that are more grace than grit. This eponymous covers album featured multiple Holly songs, proving that Lemmy isn't all badass biker.
'True Love Ways,' Erasure (2003)
This song seems to cry out for a haunting Elvis Presley interpretation. Unfortunately, the King never recorded it. But of the many others who have, few have done it like this synth-pop duo featuring ex-Depeche Mode member Vince Clark. The original, laden with orchestral strings, was a song even the anti-rockers could appreciate. This take, with high-pitched, theatrical vocals, is heavy on schmaltz, yet it couldn't be more appropriate.
'Peggy Sue,' John Lennon (1975)
While plenty of Holly covers represent bold interpretations, Lennon wouldn't dare mess with a classic. Given Lennon's admiration, altering a Holly song might have seemed like an insult. Here he replicates Holly's most famous number to a "T," complete with the rapid drums, loud guitar riffs and playful vocals, hiccups included.
'Heartbeat,' Humble Pie (1969)
Featuring Peter Frampton and ex-Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott, this band had a lot of potential when this song came out. However, at this point, Frampton's acoustic melodies defined the group. Still, this version had a definite Who feel -- a harbinger of things to come -- with a cranked-up bass, spastic drums and slightly off harmonies. Soon after, Humble Pie would take on a hard rock rep and Frampton would go solo.
'Maybe Baby,' Don McLean (2007)
It's no surprise that McLean is a Holly fan. It was McLean, after all, who coined the phrase "the day the music died' in his magnum opus, 'American Pie,' which he dedicated to Holly. While that song helped bolster Holly's legend -- as if it needed it -- McLean would continue to pay homage to Buddy, often performing his songs in concert. This version features a country-sounding guitar and deep male harmonies not commonly associated with McLean's music.
'Midnight Shift,' Los Lobos (1996)
In the movie 'La Bamba,' Los Lobos paid tribute to another artist who died in that crash -- Ritchie Valens -- performing several of his songs for the film. But here they honor the headline act from that infamous final show at the Surf Ballroom. Opting for a lesser-known Holly tune, they experimented with a Dr. John-like raspy vocal and a somewhat dark, bluesy feel -- and lots of cowbell, too.
'Crying, Waiting, Hoping,' Marshall Crenshaw (1987)
Of course, you can't have a movie about Ritchie Valens without Buddy Holly. And since Crenshaw was sort of a thin, bespectacled guy with acting experience -- he had played John Lennon in the touring company of the Broadway musical 'Beatlemania' -- when it came time to cast for 'La Bamba,' it made sense to offer him the part. Since it was for the movie, Crenshaw had to be pretty faithful to the original.
'Well All Right,'Blind Faith(1969)
You can't say this about many famous bands: Blind Faith's run was actually shorter than Holly's. With a cast that included Eric Clapton, his Cream drummer Ginger Baker and Steve Winwood, this supergroup was seemingly bound for great things. But after just one album -- a 40-minute record with six songs -- the band decided it just wasn't working out. But before they bolted, they covered this tune, giving it a loud, '60s-style bass and a nice Winwood solo on keys.
'Oh Boy,' Stray Cats (1993)
No shocker here. The Stray Cats rose to fame in the '80s by re-creating the sounds and looks of the '50s. This song was featured on the band's 'Original Cool' album -- which actually didn't feature any original songs. Their Holly cover was largely faithful to the original, with the band's signature rockabilly flair. After this album, frontman Brian Setzer would become a '40s-style big-band swinger.
'I'm Gonna Love You Too,' Blondie (1978)
Previously viewed as a New Wave and punk band, Blondie went mainstream with their album 'Parallel Lines.' In fact, the album's biggest hit, 'Heart of Glass,' even had a disco beat. While that song and 'One Way or Another' would become huge Blondie hits, the label chose to release this Holly cover as the lead single. The band made it sound like a Blondie record, but it failed to strike chart pay dirt like the others.
'Take Your Time,' The Hollies (1966)
No, it's not a coincidence. The Hollies did actually name themselves after Holly, whom they covered frequently. One of the most popular acts of the British Invasion, the band initially relied on many R&B and early rock songs before gradually shifting to psychedelia. This version, which came out around the time the Hollies hit it big in the US, features their signature three-part harmonies.
'Words of Love,' The Beatles (1964)
Of course, the Beatles' name -- along with so much of their sound -- was inspired by the Crickets, and this version repays the debt, and then some. John and Paul's vocal harmonies stand in for Holly's double tracked lead, and Ringo drums on a guitar case to give the gentle track an extra air of unforced intimacy.
'Everyday,' James Taylor (1985)
With his velvety smooth vocals and gentle acoustic guitar, Taylor could make a Motörhead song sound soothing. A first-rate songwriter himself -- his name is synonymous with the "singer/songwriter" label -- Taylor occasionally throws in a cover version or two. This charming take didn't fare well on the charts, but it remains popular in his live shows.
'Rave On,' John Mellencamp (1988)
After he was John Cougar and before he was John Mellencamp, John Cougar Mellencamp was undergoing a musical modification. As the '80s wound down, he was no longer the brash, rural rocker. Suddenly, he was adding accordion and fiddle to his music, which took on an Appalachian folk feel. This cover, featured on the 'Cocktail' soundtrack, was recorded around that time, as is clear by the back-porch, swampy party feel.
'Maybe Baby,' Paul McCartney (2001)
Through the years, McCartney's admiration of Holly has never waned. So he gladly recorded a version of this song for the Hugh Laurie-starring movie of the same name. Produced by Jeff Lynne, the song sounds a lot like something Lynne's old band, the Electric Light Orchestra, would have produced, with its layered vocals and a hoppy guitar rhythm.
'Not Fade Away,' The Rolling Stones (1964)
As would be the case for Rush a few years later, this was the Stones' first single released in the US. Featuring Charlie Watts doing his best Bo Diddley drum pattern and Brian Jones offering a convincing bluesy harmonica, this song set the tone for the kind of blues-influenced rock the Stones would become famous for. It was released five years after Holly performed the song live -- the last song he'd ever play -- at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.
'That'll Be the Day,' The Quarrymen (1958)
Before the facial hair, the acid and the sitar, three of the Beatles were in a ragtag skiffle group known as the Quarry Men. While Holly was still alive, the teenage John, Paul, George and two other members pooled together their money and recorded their first record, which featured this Holly tune on one side and an original, 'In Spite of All the Danger,' on the other. After it was pressed, the bandmates took turns passing the one and only copy around.
'It's So Easy,' Linda Ronstadt (1977)
Before she sang adult contemporary songs, Ronstadt used to rock. In the '70s, she was a superstar who once had two singles -- including this one -- simultaneously in the Billboard Top 5. Known for her interpretations of other people's songs, a younger Ronstadt could belt out a rocker or gently croon a soft ballad. Here she offers up Holly on the sassy side, growling for emphasis where necessary.