Remembering The Everly Brothers

I wasn’t going to mark the sad death of Don Everly on Saturday… because I was under the mistaken impression that his brother Phil was still with us. When I realised that Phil had died in 2014 it became clear that they needed a ‘Remembering’.

When you can count The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel among the many acts you’ve influenced, then you must have had something special going on. (Keith Richards called Don one of the finest ever rhythm guitarists, while John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to pull girls as teenagers by claiming that they were the ‘British Everly Brothers’.) Their country-ish harmonies were a huge part of the rock ‘n’ roll years – go on, listen to them combine on ‘Cathy’s Clown’ below! Being brothers was a blessing – those harmonies – and a curse – they spend decades not recording, or touring, or even talking to one another…

The duo scored four UK number ones between 1958-’61, and I won’t repeat myself by talking about them again. You can read the original posts here:

‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’

‘Cathy’s Clown’

‘Walk Right Back’ / ‘Ebony Eyes’

‘Temptation’

Here are some great, non-chart toppers from the brothers… (Because I’m hastily throwing this together, I won’t follow my usual rules of the songs having to have charted in the UK. Let’s be crazy for an evening!)

‘Bye Bye Love’, 1957

Chosen for self-indulgent reasons… This was one of the very first – and very few – songs I mastered on the keyboard as a child. A simple tune (that’s probably why it was book one, song one of ‘Keyboards for Dummies’) beautifully rendered.

Bird Dog’, 1958

The tale of Johnny: who is the funniest, cheekiest, coolest dude in school – making him a bird – but who is also hitting on the singer’s girl – thus a dog. I picked this over the pair’s other, more-famous tale of high school woe, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ (which is also great) because this one rocks just that bit more.

‘When Will I Be Loved’, 1960

Some good ol’ fashioned rockabilly. I love the heavy, deliberate guitars, and the insistent, almost tribal drums. They re-recorded it when they moved labels, to RCA, but the original was the one released. The newer version is bluesier – here’s a link.

‘Don’t Blame Me’, 1961

The Everlys loved a ballad… ‘Love Hurts’, ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Crying in the Rain’… But I picked this cover of a ’30s standard for some of their greatest harmonies, the guitar work (not actually from Don or Phil, but Hank Garland), and the bridge where Don really lets loose…

‘I’m Not Angry’, 1962

Not a hit, I don’t think, coming at the end of their glory days. But how filthy and scratchy is the guitar here, in this tale of pettiness? The boys hope that the girl who just dumped them doesn’t get letters, or phone-calls, that her dress rips and her car won’t start, but they’re not angry… just sad. Whatever…

20 thoughts on “Remembering The Everly Brothers

  1. Nice write up. It’s a shame that they couldn’t get along. They just barely did in later years. After Phil’s death, Don sued in court in 2018 and had Phil’s name removed from all songwriting credits, effectively stealing all royalties from Phil’s descendants. What a peach of a guy…

    1. Oh dear. I’ve heard of the saying ‘where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’, but if that doesn’t sadly tarnish the memory of all those classic hits, I’d like to know what does. Whichever of the Davies brothers from The Kinks or which Gallagher from Oasis goes first, I hope the survivor doesn’t do the same.

      1. Still a mess, and a sad situation for two brothers to find themselves in… I did read that most of their original songwriting was done by Don, though all their earlier hits were written by The Bryants

      2. Yeah they wrote a lot of their big fifties hits. Once they moved record labels they weren’t allowed to work with The Bryants, and that’s perhaps one of the reasons the hits dried up…

    2. Oh dear, I did not know that. I also read that Don had Phil’s ashes, and said ‘good morning’ to them every day… Seems a complicated relationship, caused by the fact that they were very different, with very different views on the world, and simply didn’t like one another very much. No artistic differences or anything like that.

      1. John Van der Kiste

        Glad I came back to read this, and thanks for clarifying in detail. It puts me in mind of Steve Marriott later asserting that he wrote several of the Small Faces’ hits completely himself and Ronnie Lane did not collaborate despite being given a co-writing credit, so all things considered, maybe just as well Steve went first – especially bearing in mind Ronnie’s tragic physical decline. As you say, a very complicated story.

  2. I’m planning to write my review of “Cathy’s Clown,” their only Hot 100 #1 soon so I won’t give away too much of my thoughts but unfortunately the Hot 100 starting in August 1958 means I can’t discuss a lot of the early rock and roll hits like the Everly Brothers as “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” went to #1 on Billboard’s various pre-Hot 100 charts just before the big chart was established. Even with all the big artists like the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel who note the Everly Brothers as a major influence, I feel like they’re a little under the radar among the ‘50s rock and roll pioneers which may have to do with their clean cut image and music amid the more raucous sounds and artists they were competing with.

    In regards to Don Everly, one fun chart fact I like is that the first ever Hot 100 #1 “Poor Little Fool” was written by Don’s former mistress Sharon Sheeley about their affair who then gave it to Ricky Nelson to sing. And 30 years later, Don Everly’s daughter Erin was the subject of Guns N’ Roses’ only #1 “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

    1. I love ‘Cathy’s Clown’ – I’d have it in my top 10 perfect pop songs. I think you’re right – the Everly Brothers are never really mentioned alongside Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, maybe because they came along that little bit later and were a bit gentler, a bit more country. And I did not know that’s who ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was about… that’s my fact for the day!

      1. Yeah Axl Rose was dating Erin Everly when the band got big and wrote their biggest hit about her. And in regards to “When Will I Be Loved,” I tend to prefer Linda Ronstadt’s take which outcharted the Everly Brothers’ original in the US to peak at #2 in 1975 mainly for its more updated ‘70s rock feel and performance. For me, a lot of the pre-Beatles pop music never really does much for me. I obviously like and respect a lot of the original rock and roll but it’s never music I go out of my way to listen to or have much of an attachment with. Plus, a lot of the big music outside of rock and roll in that time are either dull as a rock or extremely gimmicky.

      2. I dunno. I can listen to Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry etc and they still stand the test of time. Little Richard still sounds electrifying. You can still hear why a young Elvis terrified the Bible belt. The 2nd tier stuff could, yes, get a little samey and gimmicky – there was a ‘sound’ and acts stuck with it relentlessly – even Berry spun the same basic riff out fifty different ways. But there’s a reason why The Beatles and the Stones filled their earlier albums with covers of rock ‘n’ roll hits.

      3. I do enjoy those artists and understand what made it stand out at the time. Plus, hearing those Beatles covers growing up did bring me exposure to those songs that I wouldn’t have had much otherwise though I remember learning about Elvis alongside the Beatles in elementary school music class. For me, it’s more or less that a lot of the early rock and roll music listening in 2021 can sound pretty soft compared to what’s come out since. A lot of it isn’t bad but not my thing most of the time.

      4. I can see what you mean… I feel a similar with old films, more so than old music. Even classic films from the 40s-60s can feel overacted and, sadly, special effects never age well.

  3. NIce tribute. I can’t say I was a huge fan, but the harmonies were great and songs like Cathy’s Clown were great – and if the Fabs rate you, there’s no bigger compliment! And when you get covered by acts like Bryan Ferry – The Price Of Love is fab – Glen Campbell & Bobbie Gentry, Roy Orbison, Nazereth, Jim Capaldi, crossing genres is always a good sign…

  4. badfinger20 (Max)

    They had troubles but without them…the bands you mentioned would not be the same at all. Them and Buddy Holly influenced the same kind of bands. I think more than Elvis…the Brothers and Holly’s influence is still heard.

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