The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, were some of the most iconic figures of the 'Fifties rock'n'roll boom, two squeaky clean teen idols who sang some of the most irresistible pop songs ever recorded -- "Wake Up, Little Susie," "Bye Bye Love," "Bird Dog," "Claudette" and "Poor Jenny" all featured the Everly's trademark high harmonies and chunky, melodic guitar work. They also recorded some of the most moving and effective love songs of the era, tunes like "Let It Be Me," "Brand New Heartache" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream." The Everly's style was consciously linked back to the old country music "brother acts" of the 1930s and '40s, but unlike the stars of that style such as The Blue Sky Boys or the Delmore Brothers, the Everlys were seldom morose or despairing, they took the old harmony style and brightened it, placing it inside the irrational exuberance of the early rock scene. Their links to country music were more than just stylistic: for many years the Everly's parents had worked as popular hillbilly singers, and when Don and Phil broke into national fame, it was as clients of the powerful song publisher and entrepreneur Wesley Rose, a man who helped shape the face of modern Nashville.
When the Everly Brothers left the Cadence label in 1960, they were at the height of their fame, and they signed a massive, seven-year contract with a fledgling record company known as Warner Brothers... Their new contract gave the Everlys a great amount of creative control, but after an initial continuation of their immense popularity, the duo slowly slid down the charts. In some ways, the Everly Brothers may have been some of the first victims of rock'n'roll "indie cred..." They were actually part of the second wave of 'Fifties rock, when the wild cacophany of rockabilly gave way to a softer, more mainstream teenpop. At the end of the decade, the wild stuff was starting to seem like it had just been a fad, and the Everlys, who had always been highly professional, fit right in. When things started to get wild again, though, they were no longer innovators, and as much as they were able to stay current and produce fine music, they may simply have been too much of a big-name "pop" act to be seen as cutting edge. For whatever reasons, the Everly Brothers became commercially irrelevant in the 1960s, although they always retained the respect of diehard fans and fellow musicians in the worlds of rock and country. Here's a quick look at some of their records...
The Everly Brothers "The Everly Brothers" (Cadence, 1958)
A dazzling debut album, which mostly gathered their incredible string of hits singles that had begun in 1957 with "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie," two of the greatest classic rock songs ever recorded. The plaintiveness and purity of their vocals were buoyed by crisp, slashingly precise guitar arrangements; this was no-nonsense super-pop that still sounds as fresh and well-sculpted as the day it first hit the radio and sailed up to the top of the charts. Man, they were good.
The Everly Brothers "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us" (Cadence, 1958)
A wonderful record, where Don and Phil delve into the sentimental country music that they'd learned from their parents, including folk tunes like "Barbara Allen" and "The Roving Gambler..." When the Everly Brothers broke into the spotlight in the vanguard of the 'Fifties rock sound, no one expected that their second full-length album would be a low-key, traditionally-oriented country album reaching back not to the honkytonk style of the '40s, but rather to the hardcore mountain music of the 1920s, songs that were literally taught to them by their father, hillbilly singer Ike Everly. To fans of the style, this album has always held up as a masterpiece, packed with traditional Appalachian oldies and songs from the catalogs of old-timey singers such as Bradley Kincaid and Gene Autry, and perhaps more notably from "brother act" artists such as Bill and Charlie Monroe and the Bailes Brothers, sibling duos who set the vocal harmony template that the Everlys brought to new heights in the '50s and '60s. The songs are all delightful, with Don and Phil perfectly capturing the sweetness and simplicity of mountain music as sung by the Carter Family, et.al. with remarkably concise, understated acoustic performances... This has always stood out as one of their most "country" albums, and one of their best.
The Everly Brothers "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us" (Varese Sarabande, 1958/2014)
A new edition of a classic album, with six bonus tracks added... In this new edition, we are treated to a half-dozen outtakes -- two alternate versions of "Down In The Willow Garden" (one of them with electric guitar) and one each of "Barbara Allen," "Put My Little Shoes Away" and "Roving Gambler," and one false start of "Barbara Allen" which reveals a bit of their chemistry in the studio. These alternate versions are generally the first takes, and it's interesting to contrast them with the final album tracks: they all sound beautiful, with the main difference being that the early takes have a slightly more exuberant feel, which the Everlys carefully tweaked to add more gravity and maturity to the final versions. A true classic, with added depth from the extra tracks.
The Everly Brothers "The Fabulous Style Of The Everly Brothers" (Cadence, 1960)
Absolutely classic rock-pop recordings from the peak of their powers... Uptempo acoustic rock tunes like "Bird Dog," "Claudette," and "Problems" are intertwined with achingly sweet love songs such as "Since You Broke My Heart," "Let It Be Me," "Like Strangers" and "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and perky, bouncy pop tunes like "('Til) I Kissed You." This stuff is all so good... what more can be said? This is some of the finest pop music ever recorded.
The Everly Brothers "It's Everly Time!" (Warner Brothers, 1960)
In 1960, when the Everly Brothers were at the height of their fame, they switched labels over to the fledgling Warner Brothers label, which was looking to sign rock acts and gain a foothold in the teen pop market. The contract offered was almost unprecendented, signing them for a seven-year stint, as the Everlys were seen as one of the hottest rock properties this side of Elvis Presley. Their debut album for Warner was a typical Everly Brothers triumph, with their softened 'billy-pop sound polished to perfection. Before the album had come out, the Everlys topped the charts with their first WB single, "Cathy's Clown," which oddly enough was not included on this LP, despite having hit #1 on the charts. No matter, though: the album stands on its own, opening with Don Everly's aching ballad, "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)," one of their greatest songs, and includes other gems such as a cover of Terry Gilkyson's "Memories Are Made Of These" and "Carol Jane," written by the obscure (but Everly-licious) rocker, Dave Rich. Apparently given free reign to record whatever they wanted to, Phil and Don also dipped into the blues, with a Ray Charles tune, a cover of Dave Bartholemew's "I Want You To Know," and "Nashville Blues," a knockoff tune written by Felice and Boudeleaux Bryant that let the lads cut loose with some grungy, garage-y electric guitar riffs worthy of Link Wray or Dick Dale. All in all, a fine album, although it ends oh, so quickly. Recommended!
The Everly Brothers "A Date With The Everly Brothers" (Warner Brothers, 1960)
Another great rock-pop record, with a slew of Everly originals and well chosen covers, as well as the requisite Bryant compositions. The album opens with the bouncy, giddy teenpop of "Made To Love," an anthem for girl-crazy guys across the land, and also includes the original version of Boudeleaux Bryant's immortal melancholy masterpiece, "Love Hurts," one of the greatest and mopiest pop ballads of all time. They also finally put "Cathy's Clown" out on LP, though perversely they anchored it at the end of the album, inviting fans to listen to all the new stuff before getting to the big hit. Fortunately, the rest of the record easily lives up to the promise of the single, with one sparkling, perky song after another. This is the Everly sound at its best -- well-crafted songs buoyed by a smooth, warm, energetic and enthusiastic mix of pop, rock and a little bit of twang. Although still largely rooted in the acoustic-based sound of their classic early work on Cadence, the Everlys are experimenting with new styles and studio techniques, employing warmer, more nuanced electric guitar tones and increasingly ornate pop arrangements. On later records these elements would occasionally overwhelm their songs, but here they work completely to Phil and Don's advantage: this disc is a sweet record from start to finish, and is well worth tracking down. The only problem is it ends so quickly!
The Everly Brothers "Both Sides Of An Evening" (Warner Brothers, 1961)
This was the first album on which the Everly's pop juggernaut appeared to falter. For a variety of reasons, Phil and Don were in a jam when it came time to record a new album. Their main trouble was a falling-out with their manager, music publisher Wesley Rose, who also controlled the output of the fabled Bryant songwriting duo. Cut off from from their muse, and also unwilling to record their own compositions (because Rose also controlled any Everly Brothers material), the brothers decided to make an album of pop standards and old show tunes. This wasn't as weird back in '61 as it might sound today: "pop" music back then meant stuff we would now call easy listening, music meant for adults as opposed to the greasy kid's stuff called rock'n'roll. But by the end of the Eisenhower era, rock had retreated from its wild-child roots, morphing into bland, prefab teenpop and girlgroup music, and many teen idols began singing straight pop vocals, with very little backbeat. To their credit, the Everlys start this album out on the raucous side, with a chunky, guitar-heavy raveup of the old Al Jolson hit, "My Mammy," and keep things kinda twangy with a Merle Travis tune and some other upbeat numbers. The pace starts to slow, though, and the production becomes more staid, while at the same time the trademark Everlys harmony style gives way to increasingly strained attempts to sing "seriously" and hit some notes and phrasings that, well, honestly, maybe they shouldn't have attempted. Some of these revamped oldies had an original flair to them, but the album as a whole was a misfire... Oh well, ya can't win 'em all!
The Everly Brothers "Instant Party" (Warner Brothers, 1962)
The fallout from their split with Wesley Rose continued to trouble their career... This is one of their least inspired albums, a sloopy set of pop covers, with surprisingly slow, bland arrangements. Not a whole lot of "there" there...
The Everly Brothers "Christmas With The Everly Brothers & The Boys Town Choir" (Warner Brothers, 1962)
The Everly Brothers "The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits" (Warner Brothers, 1963)
A nice return to form, with the Brothers playing it safe on a subdued collection of country standards, mostly songs that had been hits in the late 'Fifties, when they were still over at Cadence. The album opens with a cover of Don Gibson's "Oh, Lonesome Me," a bouncy number that was probably based on the buoyant Everlys style to begin with, and also includes classics like "I Walk The Line" and Hank Locklin's whistful "Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On." This is a nice album; these cover versions don't have the same magic as the originals, but they reaffirm the Everly's deep country roots, and every performance on the album does justice to the material. Interestingly enough, while some of their "pop" recordings revealed traces of the Nashville studio sound, this seems like more of an LA-based take on the country canon. They don't rock out or tweak the guitars, but they aren't super-twangy, either. All in all, a solid set of slick hillbilly hits, delivered with calm professionalism and a sincere affection for the style. Definitely worth checking out.
The Everly Brothers "Gone, Gone Gone" (Warner Brothers, 1965)
In some ways, this is the first Warner album where the Everlys really started to assert themselves in a new, innovative rock style. With wild, heavy vibrato and tremelo and a heavier, more dynamic and textured production sound, the Brothers latch onto the new "beat" sound coming from Great Britain, and give it an all-American, LA-studio twist. A few of the experiments don't quite work, but it's consistently engaging and lively, and put the rock world on notice that the Everlys weren't just going to sleepwalk their way through the rest of their career, and they weren't going to get buried under a ton of label-made schmaltz, either. They were gonna keep current and try and turn a few ears -- and by golly, it worked! Recommended.
The Everly Brothers "Rock 'N' Soul" (Warner Brothers, 1965)
Mid-decade, the Everlys finally found their footing and started to have fun again... The two ...'N' Soul albums from 1965 are considered by many fans to be some of their best work on the Warner label, and while the choice of material wasn't exactly groundbreaking, the way they approached these classic 'Fifties rock and R&B hits was lighthearted and enjoyable. Superpicker James Burton helped fill out the sound on this goofy studio outing... Ths songs are all oldies -- "Hound Dog," "Maybelline," "Susie Q," "Kansas City," etc. -- including an offbeat cover of their own "Love Hurts." It's all given a swinging, gallumpfing "beat" sound meant to modernize the original sound and to appeal to fans in England, where the Everlys were enjoying more success, at the time, than they were in the States. It's not a profound artistic statement or anything, but it's nice, clean fun, and evokes the innocence of the early rock era, and gives Don and Phil a chance to let their hair down and rock out a little. Worth checking out.
The Everly Brothers "Beat 'N' Soul" (Warner Brothers, 1965)
This disc had the same basic concept as the Rock 'N' Soul album, but was a little wilder and more swinging, with more contemporary material. James Burton was still providing warm, lively guitar licks, while the rest of the studio crew was pretty impressive as well: Sonny Curtis (an old Everly's pal) and Glen Campbell played guitar, while newcomers Leon Russell and Billy Preston added keyboard licks... This is a pretty hip, slick offering, once again ceding ground to the younger bands that were setting the pace in 'Sixties rock, while also showing how the older generation could keep up with the kids, while having a little fun as well.
The Everly Brothers "In Our Image" (Warner Brothers, 1966)
Largely a collection of singles released during the previous year, with some fine pop tunes that, sadly, never gained much traction on the charts. The disc opens with "Leave My Girl Alone," with a big, sweeping drum beat similar to the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," wed to jangling guitars straight out of the Byrds playbook. These comparisons, of course, point out part of the reason the post-Cadence Everlys never really regained their glory or pop ascendancy -- by the mid-'Sixties, the British Invasion and the psychedelic revolution had changed the face of rock music, and the Everlys, though hip to the new sounds and perfectly willing to embrace them, simply were not innovative enough to be as relevant as other, younger bands. Their lyrical content was also kind of dated -- although these songs have some interesting angles, the predominant theme is still boy-girl, boy-girl stuff (albeit with a dark, bitter, post-breakup tone...). The outlandish free association and poetic strivings of the hippie-era songsmiths were foreign to the Everlys, as was the wailing, uninhibited abandon of the new psychedelic and garage rock scenes... In both their professionalism and their somewhat declarative vocal style, the Everlys seems a little sluggish and stiff alongside the moptops and longhaired freaks who were subverting the charts at the time... Which isn't to say that their records were weak or inferior -- on the contrary, this album has a lot of great material on it, with one nugget after another, and sounds particularly rich when heard through the rose-tinted filter of the modern "indie" scene of the last couple of decades. Still, you can see why they got sidelined at the time; the good thing is the music is still here for us to enjoy later, when we can hear it through new ears. This is certainly one of their strongest Warner albums -- highly recommended.
The Everly Brothers "Two Yanks In England" (Warner Brothers, 1966)
This is a pretty cool record. The early hits of the Everly Brothers had had a huge influence on the English rock scene, and in the Beatles-dominated '60s they returned the favor with their enduring interest in the "beat" sound emanating out from the other side of the Atlantic. It seemed natural enough for them to make a pilgrimage to London and hook up with some real-live Brits, and the choice of the harmony-drenched Hollies as their collaborators certainly made sense. With the Hollies backing them up (as well as Jimmy Page, apparently, as a session picker...) the Everlys plowed through a vibrant set of jingly, jangly, wah-wah'ed, reverby pop-psychedelia and beat rock... It's a nice, sharp, lively sound, well worth checking out, particularly for fans of either of these fine, craftsmanlike bands. Recommended!
The Everly Brothers "The Everly Brothers Sing" (Warner Brothers, 1967)
Pursuing a lighter, brighter, perkier pop sound akin to the Association or bands of that ilk, the Everlys sound a little desperate for a hit here, and indeed they were. The album's opener, a punchy reworking of "Bowling Green," cracked into the Top 40, but it was their last single that would rise that high on the charts... The rest of the album is a mish-mosh of styles, copping licks and production styles from numerous other bands. Some of it's kind of fun, like the wispy soft pop of "Talking To The Flowers," the fuzz-toned bounciness of "Finding It Rough," and the fresh-faced psychedelia of "Mary Jane." Some of the more overt plagiarism is less appealing, such as the Neil Diamond-y "Deliver Me," and their choice of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" as a cover tune is an almost-but-not-quite misfire. Although they sound palpably anxious and willing to latch onto something, anything that'll bring the fans back, there are still some interesting moments on here... The album is unsatisfying, but some of the songs are groovy.
The Everly Brothers "Roots" (Warner Brothers, 1967)
The Everly Brothers "The Everly Brothers Show" (Warner Brothers, 1970)
The Everly Brothers "Stories We Could Tell" (RCA, 1972)
The Everly Brothers "Pass The Chicken And Listen" (RCA, 1973)
The Everly Brothers "The New Album" (1977/Collector's Choice, 2005)
An odds'n'ends collection that sifts through the Warner vaults and was originally only released in the UK... But hey, songs that are toss-offs from the Everly Brothers are better than most work by a lot of other artists. Some fun, melodic material ranging from old-style teenpop to more ornate poppish and psychedelic-tinged "beat" music. The Everlys had officially called it quits in '73, so this album wasn't released here in the States for nearly three decades... Nice to have it around now!
The Everly Brothers "EB 84" (PolyGram-Mercury, 1984)
The Everly Brothers "Born Yesterday" (PolyGram-Mercury, 1986)
The Everly Brothers "Some Hearts" (PolyGram-Mercury, 1988)
The Everly Brothers "A Night At The Royal Albert Hall: The Complete Reunion Show" (Stardust, 2002)
Hick Music Index