"That'll Be The Day" is a song written by Garth Salisbury and Buddy Holly and performed by various artists including Buddy Holly and The Crickets and Linda Ronstadt. It is generally accepted that although Norman Petty was initially given a co-writing credit for the composition, he was never actually involved in the writing, but only in the production of this well-known recording. It was a common practice in the 50's for managers or producers to barter radio play or other commodities in exchange for a co-writing credit, which could pay huge dividends if the song in question was a hit.
The song as performed by The Crickets (with Buddy Holly on lead vocal) is considered a classic in the rock and roll genre and is listed at #39 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song had its genesis in a trip to the movies by Holly, Allison and Sonny Curtis in June 1956. The John Wayne film The Searchers was playing. Wayne's frequently-used, world-weary catchphrase, "That'll be the day!" inspired the young musicians.
Soon after, Holly along with Allison wrote a song centered on that phrase. They first recorded it on July 22, 1956, at the Decca studio in Nashville, Tennessee. The Decca studio had produced some good Holly efforts, but their recording of "That'll Be The Day" was not selected for release. After several singles failed, Decca dropped Buddy from the label. The 1956 Nashville recording of "That'll Be The Day" is different from the one most fans are familiar with. This is due to the producer's insistence that Holly sing it at the upper limit of his range while playing it slowly, seemingly dragging it out. This original can be heard in the vinyl collection produced in the 1980s, "The Complete Buddy Holly" (Volume 2, track 7) and also on the MCA reissue of the "That'll Be The Day" album, now known as "The Great Buddy Holly," which contains recordings from the Nashville sessions.
The version of this song that became a No. 1 hit on the 1957 "Best Sellers in Stores" chart in Billboard magazine was recorded eight months later, at the Norman Petty studios in Clovis, New Mexico, on February 25, 1957, and issued on the Brunswick Records label three months later.
Because Holly had signed a recording contract with Decca he was contractually prohibited from re-recording any of the songs recorded during the 1956 Nashville sessions for five years, even if Decca never released them. To dodge this, producer Norman Petty credited the artist for this new recording of "That'll Be The Day" as "The Crickets" to shield Buddy from possible legal action. Ironically, Brunswick Records was a subsidiary of Decca Records. Once the cat was out of the bag, Decca resigned Holly to another of its subsidiarys, Coral Records, so he ended up with two recording contracts. His group efforts would be issued by Brunswick, and his solo recordings would be on Coral Records.
As Holly's legend grew, more legal complications ensued. To distance himself from a hastily signed publishing contract in 1956, for a short time he credited his own compositions under his real first and middle name, Charles Hardin, until a settlement and release from the old contract could be sorted out, and he could sign exclusively with Norman Petty's publishing company, Nor-Va-Jak Music. Holly/Crickets hits recorded under the "Charles Hardin" pseudonym include Everyday, Not Fade Away, Maybe Baby, and Listen to Me. Petty sold the publishing rights to the Buddy Holly catalogue to Paul McCartney in 1979.
Holly split with manager/producer Petty in late 1958. Their split came over differences in Petty's wanting co-writer credit in Holly's songs, in exchange for his extra efforts in Holly's recordings. Eventually, Holly grew tired of Petty's management and felt he was being exploited. He moved to New York, and it was the ongoing litigation between Holly and Petty that led to Holly agreeing to go on the ill-fated Winter Dance Party Tour starting January 23, 1959.
The re-recorded version of "That'll Be The Day" was released by Brunswick Records on May 27, 1957, and is featured on the debut album by The Crickets, "The 'Chirping' Crickets," which was issued on November 27, 1957.
Featured on the track are:
Linda Ronstadt covered this song on 1976's Grammy award winning Hasten Down the Wind. The single made it to #11 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and #27 on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It is also included in her best-selling greatest hits album.
This song is connected with Don McLean's song "American Pie", which talks about the history of rock and roll music. In that song, McLean talks about the day the music died referring to February 3, 1959, when three popular rock'n roll singers of the time died together in a plane crash: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. McLean took the phrase "This'll be the day that I die" from the line in this song, "That'll be the day-ay-ay when I die".
In 1958 the song was recorded at the Kensington Custom Service in Liverpool by The Quarrymen, who were to become The Beatles, on their first ever recording. Their rendition would be issued officially on Anthology 1 in 1995.
That'll Be The Day was also the name of a film made in 1973 which starred David Essex and Ringo Starr and used a lot of recorded music on the soundtrack. They were unable to obtain the rights to use original Holly recordings and had to make do with Bobby Vee's covers.
The song was included on the list of songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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