Holly had been kicking around his home town in Lubbock, Texas trying to write a hit song for his small Rockabilly band since he had attended an Elvis Presley gig at his High School some time in 1955. His band in those days consisted of him on lead vocals and guitar, Jerry Allison on the drums and Joe B. Maudlin on upright bass. He and Jerry decided to get together and go see The Searchers a Western movie staring John Wayne. In the movie, Wayne keeps replying "That'll be the day" every time another character in the film predicts or proclaims something will happen when he felt it was not likely to happen. The phrase stuck in Jerry's mind, and when they were hanging out at Jerry's house one night, Buddy looked at Jerry and said that it sure would be nice if they could record a hit song. Jerry replied with, "That'll be the day," mocking John Wayne in the western. (thanks, Tim - Costa Mesa, CA)
Holly and his band The Three Tunes recorded this in Nashville in 1956, but Decca records didn't like the result and refused to release it. A year later, Holly re-recorded it with The Crickets in a studio in Clovis, New Mexico owned by his new producer, Norman Petty. Backup vocalists were brought in and the key was lowered to fit Holly's voice a little better. This version became a huge hit and made Holly a star that summer.
Norman Petty took a writing credit on this because he produced it. This meant Holly and Allison had to share royalties with him.
This was Holly's first hit, but it was credited to The Crickets, Holly's band. They worked with 2 record labels, with one releasing Holly's songs as The Crickets and the other as Buddy Holly. Both labels were subsidiaries of Decca Records.
This inspired the British 1973 movie of the same name, about a young man with dreams of becoming a rock star.
This was the first song John Lennon learned to play on guitar. American Rock stars like Holly and Little Richard were a big influence on The Beatles.
The movie that inspired Holly and Allison to write this also provided the name for the British group The Searchers in 1964.
When this became a hit, Decca records released Holly's earlier version as well.
A cover version of this classic song was recorded by the Quarrymen in the spring of 1958. A single 78rpm disc was pressed, making it the very first demo recorded by the trio of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, plus pianist John Lowe and drummer Colin Hanton.
The Quarrymen's version was first played by McCartney during a 1985 documentary on Buddy Holly. It was eventually released in 1995 on the Anthology 1 collection.