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77) Tommy Roe – “Sheila”

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There’s the meme in music criticism, or at least in rock criticism, that the original trumps the reproduction.  Why even bother listening to Band X when Band Y did the same thing 20 years ago (and, presumably, better)? Or, if the innovator is of a more recent vintage, the follower is accused of bandwagon-jumping.  At any rate, the reproduction is dismissed as nothing but a shoddy mimeograph, and any discussion of the music itself is neglected.  Sometimes, this is a fair shortcut.  If an artist didn’t even bother to invent their own sound, then maybe they’re equally as lazy with their songs.

Sometimes, though, this way of thinking overlooks some genuinely good music.  Case in point: Tommy Roe’s “Sheila,” which thieves mercilessly and thoroughly from Buddy Holly’s still-warm corpse.  There’s no mistaking the shuffling guitars, the muffled clod of the drums, the shift into pinched nasality for special effect.  He even hiccups, for God’s sake.  This is not a sound that Roe stumbled across by accident or happened to develop through parallel evolution.  Yet the song itself works.  If you’re going to borrow from someone, you could do a whole lot worse than Buddy Holly.  Holly’s aesthetic was so tightly focused that it would be nearly impossible to follow his blueprint and not come up with something decent, at the very least.

But all reproductions, no matter how faithful, still are no replacement for the original.  OK, so maybe I’m guilty of buying into the critical cliché I just dismissed.  But Buddy Holly is a legend and Tommy Roe isn’t, and sometimes it’s hard to explain why that is. I can talk about “energy,” or “magic,” or “spark,” but vague terms won’t convince anyone.  Suffice to say, it’s the difference between designing a cake and following a recipe.  Both cakes may taste good and look beautiful, but only one was created by a master drawing on a personal store of creativity.  It’s a subtle difference, and one that may be lost on most people.  But while “Sheila” may not have the timelessness of, say, “Everyday” or “That’ll Be the Day,” it’s still a pretty good pop song.   7

Hit #1 on September 1, 1962; total of 2 weeks at #1
77 of 975 #1’s reviewed; 7.90% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 07, 1962