Monday 13 January 2014

A Tribute To Phil Everly: An Everly Brothers Top Ten (News, Views and Music 228)

There are some groups and artists that we don't technically cover on this website, but whose influence on those we do are so monumentally important that we can't let their passing go without mention. The Everly Brothers might not have sung together that often since their spectacular on-stage split in 1973 and may have released their last album as long ago as 1988, but the occasional reunion (notably opening for Simon and Garfunkel on their 'Old Friends' tour a few years back) gave hope that the world would get more music. Now, sadly, that will never be. For Phil Everly, the youngest member of the duo with the soaring falsetto voice, died last week at 74. Without his and his brother's influence Graham Nash and Allan Clarke would never have been inspired to form The Hollies (and CSN would have been a member short), The Beatles, The Searchers, The Grateful Dead and The Beach Boys would have been robbed of some of their best loved covers, The Wings single 'Let 'Em In' would have been a couple of visitors short ('Whose that knocking at the door? Phil and Don!) one of the best cover versions of a Dire Straits song would never have existed ('Why Worry?') and Simon and Garfunkel might have been a forgotten doo-wop duo who never quite mastered harmonies. Certainly the world would have been worse off without those classy harmonies, those Brydlant Brothers-written pop songs quite unlike anything else around in the 1950s and the template of classy harmonies (and family feuds!) that inspired so many of the bands to come. I have to say, too, that even though I seem to have worked backwards to the 1950s from the 1960s the Everly Brothers have long been my favourite of that decade's run of influential stars, beating Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley and Elvis as that decade's greatest talent (though the under-rated Arthur Alexander would have come close had he released more material). Here, then, is our tribute to our top ten Everly Brothers moments and a singer whose golden voice will live on forever:

10) The Ferris Wheel (B Side of 'Don't Forget To Cry' 1964)

A haunting melodrama about losing a girl to another boy at the fairground, all the usual delights of the Everly Brothers (soaring harmonies and sunshine) are turned inward on this doom-laden track that's taken at such a crawl it seems as if good times will never come again. The narrator can't even walk by that way anymore, being taunted and dazzled by the ferris wheel's bright lights (and oh what a line that is, when the brothers hold on to the line 'lights' for what seems like half an hour). Astonishingly, this classic track was not only relegated to a B-side, it ended up on the back of one of the duo's sappiest, silliest responses to Beatlemania (had the brothers released this song as the 'A' side their run of hits might have lasted much longer). A sort of retrospective hit (the song even ended up on the superb '50 Years Of Hits' compilation in 2008, beating several better known A sides to make it to the running order).

9) Wings Of A Nightingale (from the album 'EB84' 1984)

Paul McCartney was such a fan he even gave the Everly Brothers one of his unreleased songs for their first album in eleven years - a rarity for a Beatle in the 1980s, which shows just how much love was in the room when the duo began working together again. 'Nightingale' was a cute acoustic demo which lost a little something when the Everlys decided to make it a full-blown production complete with 80s gloss and an unnecessary synthesiser. But no matter: The Everlys are still on great vocal form and the song is well suited to them, with a mixture of the bounce and innocence of their early songs. Beatles fans might be interested to note, too, that it's the first time Macca had written about a 'bird' since 'Bluebird' in 1974.

8) Love Is Strange (from the EP 'Love Is Strange' 1966)

For some reason this gorgeous song seems to have fallen right out of favour nowadays, with most cover versions of it 'rubbished' as being a 'bad idea' (Wings alone get so much grief for covering this song you'd think they'd have written 'Spice Up Your Life' or something). True, Mickey and Sylvia's 1956 original is awfully twee and about as cutesy-pie as you'd expect from a husband-and-wife team in the 1950s, but the Everly's re-working of the song a decade later is nothing short of fabulous. Bringing out the charming innocence of the song, the duo rarely sang better than they do on the song's verses and then flip the song on its head by repeating the all-too-cute spoken word section of the original ('How would you call for your baby?') by taking it tongue-in-cheek (check out Phil's sarcastic 'Yeah, that ought to bring her home Don!' at the end). Together with yet more excellent guitar work and a riff that isn't there in the original and you can see why this recording of what was then a forgotten song was so influential. Quote what inspired Wings to re-arrange the song yet again for reggae is another matter, but even that version of the song has a swing and joi de vivre that makes it one of the better McCartney covers around.

7) When Will I Be Loved? (Single, 1960)

A rarity this, a hit song that was actually written by Phil Everly himself (the duo generally get a song each per album in the 1960s, though rarely write the singles). This song proves how well Phil had learned his craft, even if it stalled at #8 in America (back in the days when most Everly singles made the top 5). No matter: with its jaunty defiance, gorgeous drawn out lines (that sound like sobbing more than singing) and all too identifiable desperation, this is one of those golden Everly Brothers songs. This song was also the end of an era: recorded for the brother's original album label Cadence in 1959, just before the duo left for a poppier career on Warner Brothers, it was the last hit single the Everlys had for the label and a last return to the rockabilly 'sound' that most people associate with them.

6) Hard Hard Year (from the album 'Two Yanks In England' 1966)

Back in 1966 Graham Nash was overjoyed to get a call from his favourite musical idols in the world, ever, who announced that they were coming to England to record an album and wanted a bit of help from The Hollies (he's still talking about it as his proudest musical moment as recently as last year's autobiography). No matter that by 1966 The Everly Brothers' career was all but over and they were trying to jump on the bandwagon of a current 'hit band'; no matter too that they'd actually rung the Beatles first (who declined). Arguably the duo's last really good album is chock full of period songs and has a more 'modern' sound than most of their other records, with nine songs written by The Hollies (two of them then-unreleased) and with the band backing them on all twelve songs (yep, even the cover of Manfredd Mann's 'Pretty Flamingo', which has to be heard to be believed). Closing song 'Hard Hard Year' is our pick of the recordings: it's the Clarke-Hicks-Nash composition that's most obviously suited to the duo and perfect for their harmonic blend and it's also the best of the re-arrangements made for this album complete with doomy organ and repetitive percussion (Tony Hicks' blistering guitar solo might not match what he did on the original - which made our top ten solos ever a few hundred issues back - but it's still one of the greatest sounds ever committed to record and better yet there's a reprise of it not on the Hollies original). The song is a great one too, battling to overcome difficult times before a sudden resolution at the end solves all the problems and shows the world in a whole new light. The album is well worth seeking out by curious Hollies fans - unavailable for years, it finally came out on CD in 2005.

5) Devoted To You (Single, 1958)

Sweet and heartfelt without being treacly, one of the loveliest melodies the Everly Brothers ever sang was a popular one for cover versions and is easily my favourite of the 'poppier' material the Brydlant Brothers wrote for the Everlys. AAA fans might know this song better from the 'Beach Boys Party' version for instance, where even the rest of the band are startled at how gorgeous Brian Wilson sounds on this track (fans should head straight to the 'Hawthorne CA' rarities set, however, where they can hear the song as it was recorded, without the 'party sound effects' the band added later). What the Beach Boys version is missing, however, is the classy shimmering guitar work that would have been startlingly new back in 1958 and makes the song sound very much like a 60s rather than 50s song (that's a compliment, by the way). Shockingly this song was originally a mere B side, released on the back of the fun but frivolous 'Bird Dog', but so many fans were asking for it by name that this song made the top ten in its own right.

4) (So How Come) No One Loves Me (from the album 'A Date With The Everly Brothers' 1961)

One of the most overlooked reasons The Beatles were as big as they were is that compared to their contemporaries they covered the obscurest songs they could find and so their set-lists were quite unlike anyone elses (till the band found fame and everyone began copying them anyway). 'So How Come No One Loves Me' is one of their better discoveries: about as obscure a song as The Everly Brothers had released in their hey day, a mere album track back in the days when singles were king. Sadly the fab four only ever covered this song on a BBC session (see 'Live at the BBC Volume One' as we now have to start calling it), but it's actually more deserving than most of their cover choices that made it to record. Another jaunty Brydlant Brothers composition it sounds musically like a comedy record but there's no doubting the truth in the lyrics as the lonely narrator(s) pours out their heart to the listener, wondering why if there's a person made for everyone out there they can't find the right girl ('If you're wondering who the loneliest creatures in the world can be, they're the ugly duckling, the little black sheep and me!')

3) Since You Broke My Heart (B Side of 'Let It Be Me' 1960)

For my money the single best Searchers cover version sounds almost as good in the Everly's original. The B Side of the better known 'Let It Be Me' , this is a masterpiece in melancholia, with an absolute battle being fought between the drums and acoustic guitar while a lead guitar sobs it's heart out on top. Above it all sit the Everly's superb harmonies, ashamed of their tears but too moved by a recent split with their girl not to cry, the perfect match to the sad but frustrated backing track. The lyrics about doing things solo after years together (playing solitaire, reading, studying art) are one of the best lyrics the duo ever sang and the perfect fit for the sadness in their voices. This song deserves to be far better known, even with The Searchers covering it for their first album.

2)Temptation (Single, 1961)

I've always loved this old standard but hated the rather dull arrangements for it that everyone was given. So full marks to the Everlys and everyone involved for finally letting 'Temptation' rip instead of canter and to at last sound like the full blooded cry of lust that it always cried out to be. The guitar re-arrangement is a masterpiece, two guitars answering back and forth like two lovers who can't keep their hands off each other, while the 'woah woah woah woah's are a 60s touch that works surpringly well. The Everlys were never this funky again, which is an awful shame, and the sudden switch to upbeat, uptempo exhilaration suits their voices well, especially Phils who positively soars on this one. Most Everly fans know this one as the duo's last real hit after a short spell away from the charts: frankly it should have been their biggest, a superb re-imagining of a classy song that ought to be as well known as their greatest hits.

1) The Air That I Breathe (from the Phil Everly album 'Star Spangled Springer' 1973)

The Hollies continued to be huge fans of The Everly Brothers long after the hits dried up and guitarist Tony Hicks was one of the very few who actually bought Phil's first solo album, the meandering and mixed but occasionally marvellous 'Star Spangled Springer'. Among the cover songs on the album he heard the first ever cover of this classy Phil Hammond song and realised what a masterpiece it might be with - ironically enough - some Everly Brothers harmonies attached (the brothers weren't talking at this point and both brothers decided to sing solo rather than replace each other). This song is 'special' for many 1970s couples for a reason: it's simple but profound, deeply moving but not saccharine and sentimental and is perfectly judged. Yes The Hollies' version is better still, replacing a rather irritating choir with an impeccable guitar solo and with harmonies to die for, but it took Phil Everly's talent to discover the song in the first place and without his version of such a powerful song we AAA fans might have been robbed of one of our all-time favourites.

We could go on as there are plenty more stunning songs in the Everly's back catalogue (the quirky 'Muskrat', the cute 'Wake Up Little Suzie', the aching 'Love Hurts', the rocky 'Claudette', the Merseybeat template 'Leave My Woman Alone', the other 11 songs on 'Two Yanks In England'...) but we'll leave those as treasures for you to discover on your own. Till next week we say Rest In Peace Phil Everly and thankyou both Phil and Don, both for the superb music of your own making and the huge influence you cast over the bands we write about. Thanks and farewell!

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