Artist: The Everly Brothers
Album: The Songs Of The Everly Brothers
Release Date: 01/15/2016
Sundazed Records attractively designed double LP, The Songs of The Everly Brothers, is a feast of recordings that show Don and Phil Everly as highly skilled songwriters and masterful singers. This collection focuses on 36 home and studio demos made mostly for Cadence Records in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, though side four includes some nice solo material from Don in the early 70’s.
With extensive liner notes by Andrew Sandoval, the Grammy nominated producer and engineer who has chronicled the history of the Everly Brothers for more than 20 years, we get a strong sense of the stories behind each of the demos and their relevance to the arc of their career hits. Sandoval provides interesting information about how the development of early home recording equipment made creating demos like these possible for the Everlys and other musicians of the time. Often, there is a stark intimacy to these recordings as if the listener is right in the room with Don and Phil.
Each side contains nine tracks, the first focusing on recordings from the 1950’s. The first track, “Life Ain’t Worth Living” is stunning for its tight vocal arrangement and sweet, romantic style, for which the Everlys were well known. Only brothers could sing harmony this close and this perfect. The results are sublime. “Give Me A Future” foreshadows “Bye Bye Love” with its chunky acoustic guitar riff, or “chicken rhythm.” “I was really influenced by Bo Diddley at that time, guitar wise. I was trying to sound like that…” recalls Don.
“Maybe Tomorrow” is a standout track and wound up as the flip side to “Wake Up Little Susie.” At the time, only Buddy Holly compared in terms of craft. “I Didn’t Mean To Go This Far” shows their growing maturity as songwriters. “We were writing those heartfelt songs,” says Don. “It had a lot to do with being really romantics at heart.”
On side two, “All I ask Of Life” is sweet and yearning. “Dancing On My Feet” is a rocker that brings to mind some of the more lively cuts off of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, the boss having acknowledged the Everlys as major influences. The minor keyed “Since You Broke My Heart” has a dark feel with a rumba rhythm and captivating falsetto vocals. Phil’s solo cut “When Will I Be Loved” was apparently finished over a root beer at an A&W Root Beer stand and shows his evolution as a songwriter. “Phil came into his own as a songwriter shortly after the duo signed with Cadence, and his output soon outstripped Don’s in quantity,” notes Sandoval.
On side three, Phil’s solo demo “Who’s To Be The One” is a prime example of the intimacy of these home recordings. The “ghostly vocal echoes” transport the listener right back to 1958. “Her Love Was Meant For Me” is another excellent solo piece from Phil notable for the way he taps a beat on the body of his guitar. The chord changes of “Since You Broke My Heart” anticipates garage rock classics such as “Gloria.” Also appearing is another version of “Maybe Tomorrow” and it’s impossible to choose which is better.
The Everly’s influence stretched far and wide. One can easily imagine a young Pete Townshend picking up on the strumming styles of “You’re The One”, another minor key rocker. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones has acknowledged learning open D and E tunings from Don for wider chord voicings, which were instrumental in propelling the songs of both groups. Their incredible harmony work would influence the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty and many more.
Side Four mostly shows solo material from the early 1970’s just before Phil and Don separated as a working duo. By this time, their voices had changed and dropped in pitch. Gone are the teenage tones, now replaced by slightly deeper, more adult sounding voices, but the sense of plaintive longing remains. The Everly Brothers would not perform together again until 1984, officially retired in 2005, and Phil passed away in 2014.
The Songs of The Everly Brothers is not meant to be a starting point for getting to know their hits, but rather a fine collection of recordings that demonstrate their magisterial skills as songwriters. The Everly Brothers’ lyrics speak to timeless, universal themes of love and loss, and their awe inspiring vocal harmonies make this a collection well worth owning for anyone interested in the canon of American folk, pop and rock.
– Michael Cobb