Buddy Holly, “Not Fade Away”

This week’s Lyric Of The Week presented by TuneSat.



What do you do with a song that was written by one of rock and roll’s founding fathers and has been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Jack White? If you’re the singer Florence Welch, of the British experimental soul band Florence And The Machine, you turn it into a New Orleans stomp on the new tribute album, Rave On, Buddy Holly.

Buddy Holly’s classic ode to love’s staying power (sadly, he died less than two years after penning it), stands as one of rock’s iconic blues numbers.

“Not Fade Away” was first recorded by Holly and his band The Crickets in Clovis, New Mexico, in May 1957, and released as the b-side to the single “Oh Boy!” in October 1957. Two months later, the song appeared on Holly’s debut LP, The “Chirping” Crickets.

The song was produced by Norman Petty (who shares a controversial writing credit with Holly under his real first and middle name “Charles Hardin”) and owes a widely-acknowledged debt to Bo Diddley, who popularized the syncopated five-beat rhythm that the song employs, a derivation of a West African rhythmic figure.

When Holly died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, it might have seemed like the song would be relegated to the middle rungs of rock history — if it weren’t for a little English band called The Rolling Stones.

The Stones cut “Not Fade Away” in January 1964 at Regent Sounds Studio — “a little room full of egg boxes and a Grundig tape recorder” remembers Keith Richards in his book Life — and released it in February of that year as a single backed with “Little By Little.” It was their first hit, reaching Number 3 on the UK charts, before hitting the U.S. as a single backed with “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The Stones included “Not Fade Away” as the opening track on their 1964 U.S. debut LP, and again on the 1966 compilation album, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass).

In Richards’ biography, he says, “Our first records were all covers. We were just playing American music to English people, and we could play it damn good, and some American people even heard.” Later in Richards’ book, the Lubbock, Texas-born Stones’ saxophone player Bobby Keys says — after admitting he initially thought the Stones were “pasty-faced, funny-talking, skinny-legged guys [cashing] in on Buddy’s song” — “they did ‘Not Fade Away’ actually better than Buddy ever did it.”

In the late ’60s, an American group would reclaim Holly’s classic. The Grateful Dead first began playing “Not Fade Away” in concert as a jam-out to “Turn On Your Lovelight” (another golden blues standard). The band included a live version of “Not Fade Away” on their seventh album, the self-titled double disc (often called Skull And Roses), released by Warner Brothers in 1971.

On Skull And Roses, recorded at New York’s Manhattan Center on April 5, 1971, the band segues “Not Fade Away” into the traditional folk song, “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad.” The nine-minute medley closes out the double-disc LP. According to deaddisc.com, a Grateful Dead appreciation and statistics website, the band played “Not Fade Away” over 550 times during concert, their second most-covered song.

Over the years, “Not Fade Away” has been recorded by or has entered the live repertoires of Rush, Tom Petty, The Everly Brothers, Stephen Stills, and countless others. More recently, James Taylor cut the song for his Grammy-nominated 2008 album, Covers.

With that list of notable interpretations, and Florence And The Machine proving there’s life yet in “Not Fade Away,” one can only guess what will be next for Charles Hardin Holley’s rock and roll classic.

“Not Fade Away”

I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
I’m gonna love you night and day
Love is love and not fade away
Well love is love and not fade away
And my love is bigger than a Cadillac
I’ll try to show it if you drive me back

Your love for me has got to be real
Before you’d have noticed how I feel
Love is real not fade away
Well love is real not fade away

I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be
You’re gonna give your love to me
Love that lasts more than one day
Well love is love and not fade away
Well love is love and not fade away
Well love is love and not fade away
Well love is love and not fade away
Not fade away
Not fade away

Written by Charles Hardin (Buddy Holly) and Norman Petty

Illustration by Jeremy Okai Davis