Friday Five: Plane Crashes

Ken Morton, Jr. | February 3rd, 2012

On February 3, 1959, exactly 53 years ago today, a small plane carrying three of America’s biggest music artists went down in bad weather just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson all would perish in what would become known as The Day the Music Died.  By all accounts, country star Waylon Jennings should have also been aboard. Richardson asked for Jennings’ seat because of a bad case of the flu. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” and Jennings teased back, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Those close to Jennings said those words would haunt the legend for the rest of his days.  With today’s Friday Five, we share five songs inspired by or about plane crashes.

5. Dusty Drake – “One Last Time”

This 2003 release made it to the middle of the charts and was about one last phone call a husband is able to make to his wife from an airplane that’s going down. It was largely interpreted as a reflection of a September 11 plane crash.


4. Highwaymen – “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)”

This old Woody Guthrie song details the 1948 California plane crash that killed 32, including 28 Mexican migrant workers that were being deported back to their homeland. Old Crow Medicine Show also recorded the song for the box set Song of America.


3. Mark Wills – “Wish You Were Here”

This story about love after death was the title track of Wills’ 1999 album. The song would become Wills’ first Number One single of his career.


2. Reba McEntire – “If I Had Only Known”

McEntire tragically lost eight member of her road band in a California plane crash in March of 1991 and this song, on her For My Broken Heart album released late that same year, was dedicated in their honor.


1. Don McLean – “American Pie”

If we’re honoring those that perished on this date back in 1959, we probably need to do it with the song that celebrated them and named the day. Don McLean’s classic has been long listed as one of the most influential songs of the last century and although the lyrics are poetic puzzlement to some (the lyrics lend themselves to several different interpretations, as Valens, Holly, and the Big Bopper are never named in the song), it will forever be tied to that fateful plane crash.

  1. Ben Foster
    February 3, 2012 at 9:45 am

    “Deportee” is great. I particularly like Dolly Parton’s version from the album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. I didn’t expect “If I Had Only Known,” since the lyrics don’t specifically mention a plane crash, but I would have to agree that it’s a fitting choice considering what inspired it.

  2. bob
    February 3, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Love “American Pie”.

    I have an LP, “The Golden Hits of the Everly Brothers” (1962), which includes a song about a plane crash called “Ebony Eyes”. Written by John D. Loudermilk, it’s a real tear-jerker with a spoken part in the middle.

  3. luckyoldsun
    February 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    “Deportee”, on the original “Highwayman” album, is actually sung by Johnny Cash, Johnny Rodriguez and Willie Nelson. I think when that track was recorded, the idea of “the Highwaywmen” as a continuing, touring “supergroup” and brand name of Cash, Willie, Waylon and Kristofferson had not taken shape.

    Also, while “Deportee” is an old Woody Guthrie song, in a sense, I don’t think he ever sang it. I remember searching for Guthrie’s version at the time. Turns out, I believe, the song was created after he died, that someone else adapted from some lyrics Guthrie left behind in one of his notebooks.

  4. Barry Mazor
    February 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Yes; Woody Guthrie never recorded that one and likely never sang it; he’d written the lyric as a poem, in the late 40s, and when it got put to music a decade later, he was in pretty bad shape with Huntington’s, though he still had a decade beyond that to live.

  5. luckyoldsun
    February 4, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Funny that, as far as I know, Pete Seeger never recorded it either–since he did a lot of Woody’s material and he’s kept on recording a lot longer–maybe even to this day.

    That Highwayman record was the first I heard of Johnny Rodriguez. Too bad that cut couldn’t have been a hit. Johnny later did a killer version of REK’s “Corpus Christi Bay.”

  6. luckyoldsun
    February 4, 2012 at 12:56 am

    Actually, according to Wikipedia, Seeger did one of the first versions of the song.

  7. Bobby Peacock
    February 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    One Last Time is a favorite of mine.

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