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"WORDS OF LOVE"

(Buddy Holly)

"Buddy Holly was great and he wore glasses, which I liked," John Lennon stated in a 1975 interview.  "Buddy Holly was the first one that we were really aware of in England who could play and sing at the same time - not just strum, but actually play the licks."  The Beatles could relate to him more because of having similar backgrounds.  "Up until then all rock'n'rollers, basically, had been black and poor:  rural South, city slums," Lennon stated in 1980.  "And the white had been truckers, like Elvis.  Buddy Holly was apparently more of our ilk, a suburban boy who had learnt to read and write and knew a little more."

That being the case, The Beatles connection with Buddy Holly runs very deep.  One of the first songs John learned to play on the guitar was Holly's "That'll Be The Day," which they proceeded to record at their first-ever recording session in mid-1958 at Phillips Sound Recording Service in Liverpool resulting in a single 78 rpm disc to be passed around among the young Quarry Men (as they were then known).

In fact, there probably wouldn't have been a Lennon/McCartney songwriting team if it wasn't for Buddy Holly.  "One of the main things about The Beatles is that we started out writing our own material," explains Paul McCartney.  "People these days take it for granted that you do, but nobody used to then.  John and I started to write because of Buddy Holly.  It was like, 'Wow!  He writes and is a musician.'"

Paul also explains how John came to actually take on Holly's persona.  "John was very short-sighted.  He wore glasses, but he would only wear them in private.  Until Buddy Holly arrived on the scene he would never get them out because he felt like an idiot, with his big horn-rimmed glasses...But when Buddy came out, the glasses came out too.  John could go on stage and see who he was playing to.  In our imaginations back then, John was Buddy and I was Little Richard or Elvis.  You're always somebody when you start."

Although the actual name the group was using began changing and evolving throughout different bookings they would get, they eventually stuck with the name "Beatles" as inspired by Buddy Holly's band The Crickets.  Although John famously explained the names origin as coming from a vision with a man "on a flaming pie," he seriously explained the inspiration in a 1964 interview.  "I was looking for a name like The Crickets that meant two things, and from crickets I got to beetles.  And I changed the BEA, because 'beetles' didn't mean two things on its own.  When you said it, people thought of crawly things; and when you read it, it was beat music."

It was only natural, then, that The Beatles would pay homage to someone so responsible for their existence by covering one of his songs on an album.  "Words Of Love," written by Holly alone, turned out to be the choice, rather than one of his better known classics like "Peggy Sue" (which John Lennon eventually recorded for his 1975 album "Rock And Roll").  In the process, like intended, The Beatles introduced the world to another gem in the Buddy Holly catalog.

 

Buddy Holly

Songwriting History

Buddy Holly was born as Charles Hardin Holley on September 7th, 1936 in Lubbock, Texas.  His mother, who suggested he go by the name Buddy, introduced him to proper musical training through piano lessons when he was eleven years old, but became obsessed with the guitar by the time he was twelve.  He formed a duo in junior high school with friend Bob Montgomery which became a trio shortly afterward when bass player Larry Welbourn was added.  After performing as a support act for Bill Haley and The Comets, a Nashville agent named Eddie Crandall pulled some strings to get Buddy signed to Haley's record label Decca Records.

His stint with Decca in 1956 was short-lived and didn't bear any fruit for Holly.  They even refused to release his song "That'll Be The Day" because they didn't think it would be successful.  When his contract with the label expired in January of 1957, he hooked up with producer Norman Petty and recorded a demo of "That'll Be The Day" to shop around to other record labels.  After many rejections, Coral/Brunswick Records (ironically a subsidiary of Decca) liked what they heard and singed Buddy to a contract in mid-1957.

His first single on Brunswick Records was "That'll Be The Day," which raced to number one on the Billboard pop charts in September of 1957.  Since Decca Records actually owned the song, it had to be released under the name The Crickets, which was the name of his backup band.  Buddy continued to release singles throughout the next couple of years as The Crickets on Brunswick Records while he simultaneously released singles under his name on Coral Records.

An early single he released under his own name on the Coral label was his own composition "Words Of Love."  It was recorded on April 8th, 1957 and included a revolutionary gimmick for its time.  He recorded his vocals twice and combined the results, thereby harmonizing with himself in the fashion of The Everly Brothers.  This was the first released pop record to feature vocal overdubbing.  Although the single did not chart, it was quickly released by the Canadian quartet The Diamonds as a successful follow-up to their #2 hit "Little Darlin'."  Their version of "Words Of Love" peaked at #13 in July of 1957.

By the end of 1957, though, Buddy was riding high on the charts with two singles simultaneously, "Peggy Sue" on the Coral label and "Oh, Boy!" on the Brunswick label, both eventually making the top ten on the Billboard pop chart.  1958 also proved to be a good year for Buddy on both record labels.

Much has been written about the tragic death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the "Big Bopper") on February 3rd, 1959, dubbed by Don McLean as "the day the music died" in his 1972 hit song "American Pie."  The 1978 movie "The Buddy Holly Story" famously portrayed his life and death, resulting in an Oscar nomination for actor Gary Busey who vividly played Buddy.

By the age of 22 and within a short span of three years, Buddy Holly has produced an impressive body of work that has influenced countless artists throughout many decades.  His songwriting and recording innovations have propelled him into the ranks of the many pioneers of rock and roll.  Not surprisingly, Buddy was in the very first group to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986.

 

The Beatles in EMI Studio Two, late 1964

Recording History

On October 18th, 1964, The Beatles met in EMI Studio Two for a marathon recording session to knock out as many songs as possible for their next album and single.  Within nine hours (from 2:30 to 11:30 pm) they brought a total of eight songs to completion.  They then got up early the next morning to travel to Edinburgh to begin three consecutive performance days in Scotland.

In the final half hour of this recording day they recorded the last of these eight songs, Buddy Holly's "Words Of Love."  Although they were no doubt tired by this time, you can't tell by the results.  They recorded the song live, vocals and all, in two takes.  'Take two" was the keeper and onto this they decided to add some overdubs to sweeten it up, this making the result 'take three.'

The overdubs included double-tracking their vocals, double-tracking George's 12-string guitar work to create a rich chiming guitar sound, and Ringo performing an unusual percussion overdub.  As attested to in Derek Taylor's liner notes for the "Beatles For Sale" album, "Ringo plays a packing case."  Upon listening, this odd percussive sound is unidentifiable but resembles more than just thumps on a suitcase.  Musicologist Ian MacDonald, in his authoritative book "Revolution In The Head," adds a satisfying explanation:  "Ringo slaps a packing case with a loose fastening, a noise resembling out-of-time clapping."  This overdub was probably performed as a tribute to Buddy Holly's use of a similar effect in his classic song "Everyday."

Another matter that needs to be examined is the identity of the vocalists on the track.  As one of the twelve Buddy Holly songs The Beatles performed in their formative years, "Words Of Love" was originally sung on stage by Lennon and Harrison.  Most sources, including the liner notes of the "Beatles For Sale" album, suggest that McCartney nudged George out and sang the song with John for the recording session.  The keen ears of Ian MacDonald (in the above mentioned book) still hear Harrison's voice.  Beatlemaniacs need to know!

The answer can apparently be cleared up by an eyewitness to the day's events.  Geoff Emerick was the 2nd engineer on that October session and in his book "Here, There and Everywhere," he gives this account of the recording of the song:  "They were clearly flagging by the time they got around to it, yet John, Paul and George sang beautiful three-part harmony, gathered around a single mic.  Their vocals really imbued the track with warmth and love.  It was a fitting tribute to one of the group's musical idols and the perfect way to end the evening, just short of midnight."

The mono mix of the song was performed on October 26th, 1964 in the control room of EMI Studio Two by producer George Martin and engineers Norman Smith and Tony Clark with The Beatles in attendance.  George's lead guitar was quite loud in the mix during the instrumental passages of the song and turned down slightly when the vocals kick in when they needed to be highlighted.

November 4th, 1964 was the date the stereo mix was made in the control room of EMI Studio Two by George Martin, Norman Smith and 2nd engineer Mike Stone, but without The Beatles being there.  Ringo's squeaky drum pedal can be heard pretty well in the left channel of this mix, while the fade out comes a full nine seconds earlier than on the mono mix.

 

Song Structure and Style

The Beatles kept the arrangement and elements, such as vocal harmonies and guitar licks, almost identical to the original Buddy Holly version.  The difference would be them dropping the Latin sounding drum rolls of the original, replacing it with a standard 4/4 rock beat from Ringo heard buried in the mix.  The structure is also very simple, only consisting in verses with some of them played instrumentally.  No bridges or choruses are present, the only emphasis being the characteristic vocal harmonies and distinctive guitar passages.

The first thing we actually hear on the song is the up-beat stroke of Lennon's Rickenbacker just before the one-beat of the first measure.  We are then taken directly into the first eight-measure verse, which is fully instrumental featuring George's fluid lead guitar work.  The seventh and eighth measures consist of a full band 'break' with only George's lead guitar ringing through.

Both the second and third verses are vocal with double-tracked harmonies providing a rich distinctive tone.  Like the original, The Beatles extend the last word of each phrase, as in "tell me how you feeeellllla, tell me love is reeeeealllla."  The last two measures of each verse consist of harmonized hums as the band continues to go through the three-chord changes, unlike the break in the instrumental section before it.

The hums quickly disolve as the next of two instrumental verses appear.  The guitar phrases in this verse consist of ascending and descending triads played mostly on the quarter notes but end with the distinctive riff as heard in the final measures of the first verse as the band cuts out once again.  The next instrumental verse features George playing the rhythm part that he usually plays during the vocal verses but, since its melodic anyway, sounds as if it's a lead guitar part.  This verse also features a band 'break' in measures seven and eight to feature the primary guitar phrase as heard at the end of each instrumental verse.

Two more eight-measure vocal verses are then heard (which would be verses six and seven), the second of which is a repeat of the second vocal verse (or third actual verse of the song).  The only difference here is the repeat of the hums at the end of the last verse, which extend to eighteen measures in the mono mix (fourteen measures in the stereo mix).  Adding to the effect of the fade-out is how the harmonized hums gradually turn into wider-mouthed "aahs" as it goes off into the sunset.

Performance wise, George Harrison turns out to be the focal point of the song, with his perfectly-executed well-rehearsed guitar work in tribute to his hero.  Even after eight-and-a-half hours or so of recording that day, this song was so ingrained in his memory from five full years of performing the song with The Beatles that he could nail it without even thinking about it.  His harmonized vocals, probably performed while playing, are also spot-on.

John Lennon, though, is the most prominent vocalist on the track, his characteristic voice holding down the low notes throughout.  His rhythm guitar part is nicely handled as well, wisely choosing electric instead of acoustic as heard mostly on this British album.  Paul puts in his usual great job with harmonies along with some nice bass guitar runs, which were easy to adlib within the song's three-chord range.  Ringo gets off easy as a drummer on the track, having only to keep a steady 4/4 beat and 'break' at the right time with only slight drum fills to bring the next verse in afterward.  And, of course, his cooperation to play the "packing case" adds a unique sound to the track.

While the lyrics don't convey much of a story, it consists primarily of words of endearment to encourage reassurance of the girl's love for the singer.  Lines like "Let me hear you say the words I long to heeearrrrra" and "tell me how you feeelllla, tell me love is reeeealllla" subtly depict the insecurities that someone in love feels.  While the song is celebrating the innocence of new romance, we all can relate to the need to hear that our partner feels the same way that we do, especially when it's whispered "soft and truuuuea."

 

American Releases

As it turned out, America didn't get to hear The Beatles rendition of "Words Of Love" until over six months after Britain, as it was originally contained on the British "Beatles For Sale" album, which was released on December 4th, 1964.  By June 14th, 1965, the song was old news in The Beatles home country, but that was the release date for the Capitol US album "Beatles VI," which contained the song.  Having spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard album charts, it was a highlight of the album as it closed out side two.  This album was then released on compact disc on January 21st, 2014, both the mono and stereo versions of the album contained on one CD.

Sometime in 1967, Capitol released Beatles music on a brand new but short-lived format called "Playtapes."  These tape cartidges did not have the capability to include entire albums, so two seperate truncated four-song versions of "Beatles VI" were released in this portable format, "Words Of Love" being on one of them.  These "Playtapes" are highly collectable today.

The next release of the song didn't come until October 21st, 1977 with the compilation album "Love Songs."  Its inclusion here is unique because it is the only cover song contained on this two-album set, all others being written by either Lennon/McCartney or Harrison.  But with a title like "Words Of Love," I guess they couldn't resist including it.

On February 26th, 1987, the compact disc era was finally here and with it came the release of the first four British Beatles albums (in mono) for the first time on CD.  "Beatles For Sale," which included "Words Of Love," was then re-released in stereo on September 9th, 2009 when their entire catalog was re-mastered.

Another mono release in the US was on June 30th, 1992.  The box set “Compact Disc EP Collection” came out on this date, “Words Of Love” being included therein because of it appearing on the EP entitled “Beatles For Sale No. 2,” which was originally released on vinyl in Britain on June 4th, 1965.

The box set “The Capitol Albums, Vol. 2” was released on April 11th, 2006 which contained the entire “Beatles VI” album in stereo and mono.  Early buyers of this box set may have been disappointed by the mono mix of “Words Of Love” that was contained therein.  Beatles enthusiasts may very well have been expecting to hear the extended fade-out of the song that originally appeared on the mono version of “Beatles VI,” but Capitol mistakenly substituted a “fold-down” mono mix which was constructed simply by combining both the left and right channels of the stereo mix, thereby having the shorter fade-out.  Later copies corrected this error, so procrastination paid off in this case.

For those in the US who want to own the original mono mix of the song on compact disc, you need to either have an older copy of the mono CD released in 1987, the "Compact Disc EP Collection" listed above, or own the box set "The Beatles In Mono," which contains the entire Beatles catalog that was originally mixed in mono.  This re-mastered box set was released on September 9th, 2009.

On November 11th, 2013, the album "On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2" was released which features an unheard version of "Words Of Love" recorded on July 16th, 1963 for the radio program "Pop Go The Beatles," a full 15 months before their released studio version.  This performance was nearly identical to what they recorded for "Beatles For Sale," showing that they were well acquainted with the song for some time.  Subtle differences are George's iconic guitar introduction and the somewhat stiffer harmony vocal work.

Also released around this time was a limited edition five-song sampler for the above mentioned "BBC Volume 2" set which was made available for promotional use, "Words Of Love" being one of the five songs featured.

 

The Quarry Men at the Casbah, 1959

Live Performances

Even as The Quarry Men, they began performing "Words Of Love" at gigs as early as 1958.  They continued playing the song on stage from 1959 through 1962, so they were very well acquainted with it by the time they recorded it at EMI.  When their fame increased and the demand grew large for them to perform their hits, the song was dropped from their stage act.

They did resurrect the song one time for BBC radio, performing an excellent version for "Pop Go The Beatles" on July 16th, 1963, which was broadcast on August 20th of that year.

Paul McCartney also filmed an acoustic version of himself performing the song for a 1985 film entitled "The Real Buddy Holly Story."  This film has been released on October 26th, 2004 on DVD.  However, neither Paul nor any of the other Beatles have included "Words Of Love" in any live solo performances throughout their career.

 

"Holly Days" album by Denny Laine

Conclusion

To show how instrumental Buddy Holly was to The Beatles career, and as a tribute to him as a fan, Paul McCartney purchased the publishing rights to his catalog in 1976.  Also that year, Paul, Linda and Wings guitarist Denny Laine recorded an entire album of Buddy Holly songs (very primitively recorded to capture the style of the original recordings) which was released on May 6th, 1977 as a Denny Laine solo album entitled "Holly Days."  So goes the impact that Buddy Holly had on the career of the biggest rock group of all time.  And the excellent Beatles rendition of "Words Of Love" stands forever as their tribute to who was their biggest influence.

 Song Summary

 "Words Of Love"

Written by:  Buddy Holly

  • Song Written:  March, 1957 (approx.)
  • Song Recorded: October 18, 1964
  • First US Release Date: June 14, 1965
  • First US Album Release:Capitol #ST-2358 "Beatles VI"
  • US Single Release: n/a
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS 3062 "Beatles For Sale"
  • Length: 2:10 (stereo), 2:19 (mono)
  • Key: A major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineers: Norman Smith, Geoff Emerick

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • John Lennon - Harmony Vocals, Rhythm Guitar (1964 Rickenbacker 325)
  • George Harrison - Harmony Vocals, Lead Guitar (1963 Rickenbacker 360-12 Fireglo)
  • Paul McCartney - Harmony Vocals, Bass Guitar (1963 Hofner 500/1)
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl), packing case

 Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski

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