When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week The Black Keys take on Buddy Holly’s “(Ummm, Oh Yeah) Dearest.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
It’s well-known that the gravity of Buddy Holly’s influence far outweighs the short time he spent on the earth. In the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to present day blues/rock stars the Black Keys, Best Coast and, um, these guys, Holly’s legacy has made an indelible mark on popular music since his untimely passing in 1959, otherwise known as The Day The Music Died. Equally astounding is the sheer volume of work Holly recorded by the time he passed away at 22. In addition to the three albums he issued while alive, Holly tracked enough material to ensure that Norman Petty, his manager for the majority of his career, would be able to release new recordings for 10 years after Holly’s death, making him a sort-of Tupac before Tupac was Tupac.
“(Ummm, Oh Yeah) Dearest” arrived in 1969 on Giant, the last of the post-humonous collections released by Petty on Coral Records. A brief, breezy love song, it’s thought to have been recorded with producer Owen Bradley during Holly’s time in Nashville in 1956. But, as is the case with much of the post-1959 material, it’s difficult to say for sure. Most of these songs were demos or home recordings that were later overdubbed or pieced together by Petty and others to meet the high demand for Holly’s work in the wake of his death. Sadly, Holly wasn’t around long enough to approve the altered versions, which has been a point of contention over the years for some of his most devoted fans, who understandably harbor concerns about the integrity of the editing process and the motivations behind it. Despite Petty’s intentions, however, it’s quite possible that we would’ve never heard “Dearest” (as it’s come to be known) or any of the other great, but poorly recorded, tracks in Holly’s catalog, had the producer not endeavored to make public the unissued material (however tweaked).
The Black Keys’ seductive take on “Dearest” will be released on an upcoming tribute album called Rave On Buddy Holly alongside covers by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, Paul McCartney, Florence And The Machine, Cee Lo Green and several other worthy artists. And though I haven’t heard anything but the Keys track, if the others are as good as this, Rave On Buddy Holly might yet be the rare tribute album worth sinking your money into. Indeed, I’m personally still divided on which “Dearest” is better.