The Swarb tribute tour featuring the Jason Wilson Band, Martin Carthy, John Kirkpatrick and another Swarbrick
Off to Cuba. Back soon ...

Cover Story (36): Rave On. Buddy Holly or Steeleye Span



March 2021: the only real updates are that you can still catch Steeleye Span's streamed 50th anniversary tour (and maybe look forward to seeing then live as a tour is optimistically billed from May) ...

Buddy - 1

Cover Story - same songs, different versions - has been running for a while now. This is a slightly unusual addition to the series ...
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step

My paper round days started after Don McLean's.

But I suspect I would have felt a little the same had the papers in my bag in the mid-1960s carried front-page news of Buddy Holly's death in an air crash. Holly's music was difficult to dislike for young lads and lasses growing up during his tragically short career and for a few years afterwards.

It was simple but irresistibly catchy; the lyrics expressed everyday emotions - ones we had or aspired to - and the tunes were memorable.

Rave On was among his best songs or rather one of the best songs he recorded since he didn't write it (Sonny West did*). I find no fault with it but - for the purposes of this, the 36th and latest edition of Cover Story - I do know of a version I like even more.


Step forward Steeleye Span.


This is the English electric folk band - they always preferred that description to folk-rock - that changed my life.

I had hitched or taken a cheap night bus to London and was browsing in the shop of Cecil Sharp House, home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, when someone put on Steeleye's ground-breaking album, Please To See The King. It was 1971 and I was there and then hooked on what I came to accept as, indeed, folk-rock. Rave On was part of Steeleye's repertoire at the time but not part of that album, or at least not until it was re-released 20 years later. It was one of the novelty songs the band liked to include.

Listening on YouTube, I noticed that Rave On was followed on the playlist by New York Girls, on which Peter Sellers played ukelele. Thinking back, there was also a version (which had David Bowie on sax and which I loved) of To Know Him Is To Love Him.

Here, Rave On is turned into an a capella piece with Maddy Prior ostensibly taking a back seat as Martin Carthy's stretched opening line "well, it's the little things you say and do ..." sets the tone. I say ostensibly because Prior's contributions in chorus and harmonies are sublime.

Not, I suspect for everyone. Purists, Holly fanatics and those who simply disagree with me can now feast on the original ... and I do not mind in the least if, unlike me, you still prefer it.







Steeleye in later life, courtesy of Roger Liptrot's


  • Sonny West, born in Lubbock, Texas, and still alive at 83 as I add these words in 2021 to an article originally posted in 2018,  wrote Rave On with Bill Tilghman and Norman Petty - they were also nominally the composers of Holly's Oh Boy though West would later claim he wrote it alone - and  recorded it for release in Feb 1958. The song was not a commercial success, however, until Holly's version appeared in April the same year. Even Holly was denied a smash hit in the USA, the single peaking at 37 though a more discerning British audience bought enough copies to take it into the UK top 10. Sonny_West_with_guitar_he_made_from_Texas_Mesquite_wood
  • Photo of Sonny West by Didi3515


Bill Taylor

There have been about a dozen covers of "Rave On," recorded by everyone from Cliff Richard to Bruce Springsteen. Buddy Holly's original remains, sublimely, the best.
Steeleye Span's version is tuneful and well-executed but just a little too self-conscious for my taste. It's clever but, alas, they know it. I've seen them do the song live a couple of times and they played to that; it was a nudge-and-a-wink kind of thing. And Martin Carthy couldn't get Holly's trademark "hiccup" right so perhaps he shouldn't have tried.

Colin Randall

New readers may find it helpful to know this. While Bill and I are big friends, and will cement that friendship by flying in opposite directions to meet in Havana next week, his role at Salut! Live is to disagree with each Cover Story preference of mine. I think Carthy gets the stuttering start perfectly, certainly on record.

Bill Taylor

It is, I should point out, a labour of love...


The Steeleye Span version is at least a different take of the song and not a straight cover of the Holly version. Of the many others I quite like the Jimmy Page rendition. Much as I liked Lou Reed his cover of Peggy Sue is awful.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)