elliott smith, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Happily Everly After

Happily Everly After. It sounds like a throwaway Stanley Unwin line. Perhaps something he’d have spokey-woke on the deeply joyous Small Faces’ Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album. Or perhaps not. In any case, I’m referring to Phil and Don, The Everly Brothers. But you knew that already.

everly brothers 1

The Everlys were so close to the front of the queue at the birth of rock ‘n roll they were practically the midwives. Little Richard might’ve been around pounding his piano to welcome this kicking and screaming new born thing into existence, and Chuck Berry would’ve been somewhere by his side, but it was the Everlys who sat by the bed mopping the fevered brow and shouting perfectly harmonised words of encouragement. A close-knit singing duo with a dual love of country music and a twangin’ guitar, they created a vocal style like no-one else. Big brother Don sang the low parts. Phil, two years his junior, did those keening highs. Added to a rattlin’, rollin’ skiffle rhythm, they suddenly had a sound and found themselves at the forefront of the late 50s music explosion. The Beatles were huge fans, approximating the vocal style of the Everlys’ Cathy’s Clown onto their own Please Please Me like the fanboys they undeniably were.

Paul McCartney’s love for the Everlys went as deep as writing On The Wings Of A Nightingale for them in the mid 80s, giving them a hit single long after they’d been confined to the dustbin of yesteryear and oldies radio.

The Everly’s legacy was cemented not by what they did well, but by what they failed at.  Between them, Phil and Don had six children and went through half a dozen divorces – five from actual matrimonial wives and one colossal split from one another. To say they didn’t really get on with one another would be something of an understatement, but nonetheless they muddled through for a good few years, their warm harmonies disguising the icy coldness each felt towards his sibling.

Like many acts of their era, they suffered the somewhat obligatory bad management/bad label deal in the late ’50s.  Their golden early 60s period was knocked off the rails, initially by the advent of Beatlemania and latterly through their failure to capture the mood of a nation during the Vietnam War. This led to drug and alcohol problems, which led on to other issues…..the loathing and hate that each felt for his brother reached its peak in 1973 when Phil threw his guitar down mid Cathy’s Clown and walked off stage. To paraphrase Don (I can’t find the actual quote)  – “The Everly Brothers are dead…..though we died 10 years ago.” Despite possessing fine musical skills and supreme singing voices, a lukewarm and half-arsed approach to what constituted their individual solo ‘careers’ meant that the Everlys became obsolete in the singer-songwriter-rich’70s. Save their father’s funeral, it would be a decade before they spoke again, brought together by Albert Lee who produced their Live At The Albert Hall comeback show, and a mediating McCartney and his gift of the hit single a year later.
ev bros

Proper musicians’ musicans, the Everlys have left an influence far and wide throughout popular (and not so popular) music.

Anthony Red Hot Chili Willi Kiedis named his son Everly. Thanks, Dad.

Paul McCartney (again) namechecks them on Wings’ Let ‘Em In; Sister Suzie, brother John, Martin Luther, Phil and Don…

Neil Young brazenly nicks the riff from Walk Right Back, slows it down a touch, and with the aid of some good ol’ homegrown, writes Harvest Moon and bags himself a proper critic-pleasing return to form in the process. Contrast and compare:

Walk Right Back:

Harvest Moon:

Elliott Smith‘s eye-wateringly perfect Waltz #2 opens with the couplet; First the mic, then a half cigarette, Singing “Cathy’s Clown”. 

And tucked away on the b-side of Lloyd, I’m ready To Be Heartbroken (in itself a we’re not worthy bow-down to Lloyd Cole), you’ll find Camera Obscura‘s lilting countryish ballad, Phil And Don, bathed in pathos and regret and sounding like the heartbreaker it really is.

*Bonus Track!

Here’s the Everlys doing When Will I Be Loved. A microcosm of all that is good about the Everly Brothers – twangin’ guitar riff, skiffley backbeat and harmonies like glue.


Now grab your coat and go and get yourself a copy of an Everly Brothers Greatest hits compilation. No home should be without one. And get yerself a Camera Obscura album while you’re there. You’d like them.

Everly-Brothers-Atlas-Sound(crop this image carefully and you’ve got a Smiths 7″ sleeve that never was)

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Live!

Baby What You Want Me To Do Quintruple Whammy

Baby What You Want Me To Do was written at the tail end of the 50s by blues guitarist Jimmy Reed.

Not that he’d have known at the time, but Reed penned something of a blues standard. In its 50+ years amongst the canon of popular song, Baby What You Want Me To Do  has been recorded in a whole range of styles by a whole range of artists. Here are some of the better ones.

elvis 68 comeback 2

Ol’ Elvis Himselvis was Jimmy Reed daft, and by the time of the ’68 Comeback Special, after he’d strapped on a guitar for the first time in ages, was intent on sneaking the Jimmy Reed riff into as many parts of the set as his band would allow. Every time rehearsals stopped, The King would find his sweaty fingers forming around the swampy tune. With quiff collapsed and lip curled high, he’d be off and running, his band of A-list sessioneers falling in behind him with a forced goofiness and much hootin’ and hollerin’.  “We’re goin’ up, we’re goin’ down…” and off they’d go once again….


The Live Show:

elvis 68 comeback 1

Elvis, dressed head to toe in Wild Ones leather and looking like a Texas oil slick played his guitar with a twanging punk ferocity not heard since Gene Vincent Raced With The Devil almost a decade earlier. That he and his band were playing inside a boxing ring rather than a stage only added to the pugilistic undertones eminating from the Presley 6 string. Terrific. There are a couple of ’68 Comeback albums worth looking out for – the edited essentials Tiger Man and the warts ‘n all Memories; The ’68 Comeback Special album, which features more versions of Baby What You Want Me To Do than you could possibly ever need. Or perhaps not. If you buy one record this month…etc etc…

dee clark

Delectus ‘DeeClark was a ten-a-penny soul/RnB singer. Most famous for having fronted Little Richard’s band after the real Richard had his calling from the Lord, Dee Clark would’ve romped the 1958 series of Stars In Their Eyes, such are the carbon-copy facsimiles of Little Richard in his earlier records.

But Dee could turn his vocals to many styles, and inbetween the high camp quiff Richardisms and duh-duh-duh-duh doo-wop stylings, he found time to cut a version (above) of Baby What You Want Me To Do that instantly conjures up lazy images of the deep south and makes me want to pour a decent measure of sour mash, fire up a crawfish gumbo and let the good times roll. Terrific too.

everly brothers

Everyone should clear 5 minutes a week to hear an Everly Brothers record – you’ll feel better for it. Battlin’ brothers Don and Phil cut a version that is classic Everlys – a polite country-ish rockin’ guitar, some barrelhouse piano and enough good time vibes that belies the fact that they hated one another with a passion. You can imagine them in the studio sharing the mike, just as Lennon & McCartney would do a few years later, their close-knit harmonies fusing together like honeyed glue, all the while angling for greater personal share of the spoils, Don doing the low parts, Phil the outrageous highs.

Likewise Dion. Not Celine, just Dion. Clear 5 minutes a week etc. No stranger to Plain Or Pan, Dion’s take comes from the suitably named Bronx In Blue LP, a somewhat laid-back affair, all twangin’ acoustics and groin-botherin’ bass. It was nominated for a Grammy, dontchaknow? Unusually for a Dion record, his version was cut in the mid 2000s, when he wasn’t smacked off his face on Class A’s, and he doesn’t quite break into that doo-wop falsetto of his, but don’t let that put you off.

dion dimucci