The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "That'll Be the Day"

Monday, August 11: 12 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall

Buddy Holly "That'll Be the Day" original recording and Buddy Holly exhibit at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

Buddy Holly embodied the well-mannered, first-generation rock and roll star. He aroused hysteria among teenagers, charting seven Top 10 singles in 1957 and 1958, but with his horn-rimmed glasses, bow tie, conservative haircut and winning smile, he wasn’t reviled by disapproving parents. He changed the definition of exactly who could become a rock star. Holly melded his love of country music and rockabilly into likable, catchy rock and roll tunes that stand as classics. Yet success wasn't just handed to Buddy Holly.

"That'll Be the Day," his first hit, was a chart-topping million seller. But it was slow to catch on, and Holly had been struggling professionally for well over a year beforehand. The unlikely inspiration for the song was actor John Wayne, who used the title phrase repeatedly in the 1956 western The Searchers. Holly and drummer Jerry Allison wrote the tune with producer Norman Petty, and then recorded it in Nashville during Holly's aborted stint as a Decca recording artist. Decca released two Holly singles, neither of them were "That'll Be the Day."

Seven months later Holly and Allison recorded the song again, as members of the newly formed Crickets. This time the style was full-blown Texas rockabilly, nurtured in the sympathetic confines of Norman Petty's recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico (across the border from Holly's hometown of Lubbock). Placing the recording with the Brunswick label, Holly temporarily hid himself as a Cricket, lest Decca should discover he had remade his own song. The single built slowly, apparently while people decided if they liked the high-pitched, hiccupping singer. It entered the national charts on August 12, 1957 and on September 23, 1957 peaked at Number One on Billboard where it stayed for one week before getting bumped by Jimmie Rodgers' "Honeycomb."

Buddy Holly was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first year in 1986, and he is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland's "Rave On" exhibit (pictured above). See rock history for yourself!

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