Ah. Now, unlike Russ Conway’s Side Saddle, here is a number 1 that I can clearly understand. Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore is the first posthumous UK chart-topper. The infamous plane crash that tragically cut short the lives of Holly and fellow stars Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson, aka The Big Bopper, occurred on 3 February.
Before then, Holly was already well on the way to being a musical legend. Since The Crickets had their sole number 1 with That’ll Be the Day in late-1957, Holly had achieved success with the group and under his own name, thanks to Peggy Sue, backed with Everyday, and Rave On.
In early 1958, he joined the rest of The Crickets to tour the UK and Australia. Later that year he met and fell in love with María Elena Santiago. The romance was swift – he asked her out when they first met, and proposed on their first date. Producer and manager Normal Petty didn’t approve, and asked Holly to keep their wedding quiet to avoid upsetting his fans. She pretended to merely be his secretary, but the damage was done – there was dissension in the ranks, not helped by the other Crickets also having their doubts in trusting Petty with all the money they were earning.
Despite money troubles, Holly had various interesting ideas about the direction his career would go, including making an album with Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson. This suggests the 60s could have been a very different decade for pop had Holly not died.
He and Santiago settled in Greenwich Village, where he recorded acoustic songs including Crying, Waiting, Hoping. That October saw Holly’s final recording session take place. Four songs were recorded with an 18-piece orchestra, including It Doesn’t Matter Anymore and the B-side Raining in My Heart.
It Doesn’t Matter Anymore had been written by Paul Anka, whose Diana had been number 1 directly before That’ll Be the Day. Still a teenager, Anka was, like Holly, prodigiously talented. Obviously the song’s title became eerily prescient, but it actually concerned the end of a romance. Chirpy pizzicato strings belie the singer’s bitterness at the break-up, as do Holly’s occasional trademark vocal stutters (which can be irritating to modern ears, it has to be said), but its lush production hinted at the future direction of pop, and displays Holly’s desire to experiment with his sound. Also, is it just me, or does this sound very similar to John Kongos’s He’s Gonna Step On You Again – later known as Step On by Happy Mondays?
As 1958 drew to a close, Holly parted ways with Petty. Despite the rest of The Crickets’ concerns, they decided to stay with their manager, so Holly left the band.
Due to Petty withholding his royalties, Holly was forced to immediately form a new band (featuring Waylon Jennings) and get out on the road. They began their ‘Winter Dance Party’ tour’, joined by Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, but the tour was beset with problems, with buses breaking down and performers suffering from flu and even frostbite. Tired of being on the road, Holly decided to charter a plane to Fargo, North Dakota.
The story goes that The Big Bopper was suffering with flu, and asked Jennings if he would consider giving up his seat for him. When Holly found out his bassist wasn’t travelling with him, he quipped ‘Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up’. In a response that was to haunt Jennings for the rest of his life, he replied ‘Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes’. Valens used to be terrified of flying, but asked Holly’s guitarist to toss a coin to decide who got to fly, and Valens won. The plane took off safely in light snow, but five minutes later, contact was lost. The plane had somehow cartwheeled across a frozen field, and Holly, Valens and Richardson had been thrown from the craft, with the pilot caught in the wreckage. All four had died instantly.
The incident shocked the music world, and was later immortalised by Don McLean as ‘The Day the Music Died’ in American Pie. Anka kindly gave the royalties of his song to Holly’s widow, who suffered a miscarriage when she was told of her husband’s death.
It Doesn’t Matter Anymore proved posthumous singles offered music fans a way to mourn the heroes they had lost. It also showed record company bosses that it was a great way of making money out of dead artists.
Written by: Paul Anka
Producer: Norman Petty
Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 April-14 May)
Singer Sheena Easton – 27 April
Comedian Ben Elton – 3 May
Echo & the Bunnymen singer Ian McCulloch – 5 May
Director Deborah Warner – 12 May