Peggy Sue (1957)
There’s no escaping “Peggy Sue.” It is one of a few songs that created the Big Bang of Rock-N-Roll, weaving together in 1957 every element found to this day in the better Rock and Pop songs.
It is doggedly up beat. It is about over-the-top love on shaky ground. Holly’s voice is joyously eccentric and sets the stage for a wide variety of Rock vocal stylings – anything goes in the song. It features a short, hard-bodied guitar break that carries Rock-A-Billy from its mountain creeks into the broad river of Rock-N-Roll. The simplicity and repetitiveness of thought speaks directly to minds adrift from pain, especially the teenage mind. The tom-tom beat is unforgiving in its persistence.
The timeless “Peggy Sue”
On top of all that, “Peggy Sue” has influenced, (along with many of Buddy Holly’s other creations), countless songs, artists and genres.
His guitar playing infused The Beatles, evidenced in songs starting with the early “All My Loving” and “Anytime At All” and moving to certain middle works like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Day Tripper.” “Peggy Sue” even appears at the dramatic close of The Beatles’ career in “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” where the Holly riffs blend superbly with Chuck Berry influences.
Lou Reed has acknowledged his debt to Holly and “Peggy Sue,” namely on his album Rave On: Buddy Holly.
Certainly without Holly, along with a few other founding fathers and mothers of Rock, the primal urge of Punk is not musically possible. Although the sentiments found in Punk and New Wave seem to be radically different, they often capture the manic heartsickness that begins with songs like “Peggy Sue.”
Cover versions of “Sue” are as plentiful as the locusts of biblical plague stories. Putting it bluntly, most stink. John Lennon (see third video at left) delivered the best rendition on his 1975 album Rock ‘N’ Roll, which also features his great cover of “Stand By Me.”
Coincidentally, right before the Phil-Spector-produced Wall-of-Sound guitar break, Lennon yells “Look out,” just as he does at the lead-in to “Bathroom Window,” a song that is closely connected to “Peggy,” as mentioned above.
One of the highlights of the Holly version is the fading in and out of the powerful drum lines, riding hard and close to the stand-up bass and Buddy’s hybrid rhythm/lead electric guitar. The technique gives the listener first a lulling sensation then a wake-up feeling as the drums fade back and forth. Having been supplanted by a thousand studio tricks since, the production tool seems old-fashioned now, but it was brand spanking new in ’57. It’s still impressive.
If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you’d know why I feel blue
About Peggy, my Peggy Sue ooo-oo, uh
Well I love you girl
And I want you Peggy Sue
A touch of the blue feeling, a good smattering of hope and optimism. Listeners have been loving “Peggy Sue” for close on to 60 years now, and when it is heard anew, it never disappoints. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the Early-Rock World.
- Buddy Holly was not listed as originally listed as a composer of what became his signature song. His name was added after his death in the famous plane crash in 1959.
- In 1962, Tommy Roe created a hit that was almost a direct lift of “Peggy Sue.” It was called “Sheila.” Drums, lead guitar, baseline and vocal tics of Holly are dramatically similar. “Sheila” was a slow but steady seller, taking seven years to go gold with a million in sales.