Various Artists: The Great Tragedy, No. 2: …And The Show Must Go On (Bear Family)

The Great Tragedy

For The Winter Dance Party of 1959, “the show must go on” rings both as a powerful anthem of perseverance, as well as an unscrupulous—if not downright problematic—case of money mattering more than anything. For it was on the morning of February 3rd, 1959, that three of the package tour’s leading talents—Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens—lost their lives in an airplane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa. Amazingly, the tour did go on and did finish its tour dates. Bear Family’s newest compilation is the second volume in The Great Tragedy set, this time focusing on the acts that continued to appear on the tour, as well as the talent tapped to fill in for the deceased.

And among those main talents? .

Fabian. Frankie Avalon.

Amazingly mediocre fare.Rock & Roll, having had its first major death(s), suddenly lost its appeal. At least that’s what the powers that be behind the music industry seemed to decide. And what better a metaphor for the fickleness and the coldness of the music industry. Not even in the ground yet, and the long-needed excuse to wipe the slate clean from dirty rock fell out of the sky for them. Don’t think for a second that the industry hesitated to take that opportunity. Their material here is mostly bland, white bread pop, utterly forgettable. The exception is Avalon’s “Venus,” a beauty of a song that deserved to be a hit and still shines bright sixty years later.

But let’s not completely throw The Great Tragedy, No. 2 under the bus. After all, the rest of the story needs to be told. Although blandness literally took over the day the music died, that doesn’t mean all of the music here is terrible. To the promoters’ credit, Jimmy Clanton was a good addition; riding high with his hit “Just A Dream,” his style fit nicely with Dion & The Belmonts’ “Just You” and “Don’t Pity Me” and Frankie Sardo’s underrated Elvis Presley-ish “No Love Like Mine.”  Furthermore, Holly’s backing band quickly dubbed themselves The Crickets, with Waylon Jennings fronting the band.

Yet the hastily gathered local talent makes The Great Tragedy, No. 2 so compelling. A local 15-year-old Minnesotan, Robert Vellinem performed at the first show after the accident. He threw together a band and dubbed himself Bobby Vee and The Shadows, which in essence began a long and storied career for the young man. North Dakota-based Terry Lee & The Poorboys were also tapped to perform, and their two sides here, “Driftin’” and “My Little Sue,” are fine rockabilly from a one-single-and-done outfit. Bill Parsons, friend of Bobby Bare and co-writer of “All-American Boy,” also performed. The set offers up a rare recording of Parsons performing their hit song.

The Great Tragedy, No. 2 also contains a few loose ends. A news broadcast about the accident kicks off the set, as do a handful of maudlin tribute songs. The three deceased also appear here; Holly’s final single, “Raining In My Heart,” offers further evidence of his evolution as an arranger. The previously scheduled but unfortunately posthumous singles by Valens (“That’s My Little Suzie”) and The Big Bopper (“Walking Through My Dreams”) continue their individual trajectory as stars. Yet Richardson’s “Someone To Watch After You” feels ominously prophetic, as it offers the deceased offering comfort to a grieving lord one.

The show must indeed go on, and it’s amazing to know that this show did go on. The superb liner notes don’t offer insight as to why it continued on. That’s a shame–why would such a show go on? Greed on the part of the organizers? A cathartic experience for the artists and the teenagers who were heartbroken? Both make sense. And yes, rock quickly changed–and not for the better–the day the music died.

Purchase The Great Tragedy, No 2: …And The Show Must Go On: Bear Family / Amazon

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