I’ve been listening to Buddy Holly’s Apartment tapes. 12 songs, 6 written by him, recorded in the Greenwich village apartment where he lived with his new wife. The recordings, made between his last official recordings – ‘It Doesn’t Matter Any More’, and ‘Raining in my Heart’ in October 1958 – and his death in a plane crash on 3 Feb 1959, were his last. I’m writing a blog about them. In the meantime, this is a look at one of the songs, which I’ll call ‘Please Don’t Tell’.
It’s told in the breathless style of High school or shop girl tittle-tattle, beginning:
‘Please don’t tell, no, no, no, don’t say that I told you so, I just heard a rumour from a friend.’
‘I don’t say that it’s true – I’ll just leave that up to you; if you don’t believe, I’ll understand.’
Then it goes into the middle eight:
‘You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song? This is what I heard – of course, the story could be wrong.’
Then back to the verse:
She’s the one, I’ve been told, now she’s wearing a band of gold …’
And into the last line reveal.
Imagine the video, with each line, or half- or quarter-line mouthed by a different character from 50s America – the red-lipped waitress, the ponytail High School girl, the butterfly-glasses secretary, the taletelling cheerleader, the freckled kid with teeth-braces, the seen-it-all lady in the café, the shocked aspirational wife, the tight-jumpered ‘easy’ girl … ‘Please Don’t Tell’ is code for ‘pass it on!’ – and it becomes a satire on, and a dig at, the small-town gossip-mill Buddy has escaped.
The mystery, revealed in the last line is, ‘Peggy Sue got married not long ago!’
Ostensibly it’s about drummer Jerry Allison’s marriage. But it could just as well be about Holly’s sudden marriage to Maria Elena. He proposed to her on their first date, and she, according to Lubbock talk, has bewitched him away to New York, where she’ll control his life. He left, to much jealous rancour from the band members and friends he left behind.
It was released, after Holly’s death, with a banal backing added, and titled ‘Peggy Sue got Married’. Which of course wrecks the point of the song. It was crass post-mortem marketing, to grab the coat-tails of his number 3 hit, ‘Peggy Sue’ (a song originally credited to Allison). This is an infinitely superior song. Verbally sustained, this is Chuck Berry, Leiber and Stoller-quality storytelling. And excellent musically, its tune echoing the original, but with clever modulations that build the tension. It even has a proper middle eight! – ‘Peggy Sue’ had to make do with a stuttering repetition of five ‘prettys’. ‘Peggy Sue’ is boring and repetitive, given life and kept going by paradiddle drumming and artful performance. In it, Holly has to sing ‘Peggy’ 30 times; he even has to mock his own singing style on one repetition to sustain interest. Call this later song ‘Please don’t Tell’, add paradiddle drumming, and you have a masterpiece.
And the wedding? Oops, maybe the secret is that Peggy Sue had to get married! Not the grand white wedding, but they ‘went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest. / No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle,/ no flowers, no wedding dress’, as Bruce Springsteen puts it so poignantly a generation later. It’s Holly’s message that’s he’s left town, and all that tittle-tattle, having demonstrated how much he’s progressed as a writer and artist in 18 months, and is on his way to being a player in the big city.
Please Don’t Tell
Please don’t tell, no-no-no,
Don’t say that I told you so,
I just heard a rumour from a friend.
I don’t say that it’s true –
I’ll just leave that up to you;
If you don’t believe, I’ll understand.
You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song?
This is what I heard – of course, the story could be wrong.
She’s the one, I’ve been told,
Now, she’s wearing a band of gold …
Peggy Sue got married not long ago!