Line Out Music & the City at Night

Monday, January 6, 2014

RE: Goodnight, Sweet Subversive Everly

Posted by on Mon, Jan 6, 2014 at 5:38 PM

As Mr. Brendan Kiley posted earlier today, Phil Everly, one half of the rock and roll pair the Everly Brothers, died this past Friday. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as a result of being a lifelong cigarette smoker.

Phil was born in Kentucky into a music family, a country music family. His father even had a radio show on which he and older brother Don would regularly perform. The family eventually settled in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they continued to perform. This eventually led to them meeting Chet Atkins. With Atkins' help, the brothers struck out on their own and recorded a single for Columbia, "Keep'a Lovin' Me" b/w "The Sun Keeps Shining." Their formula was there, but the song was straight country; it went nowhere. However, they didn't give up and finally hit HUGE the following year when they recorded "Bye Bye Love." The song even charted on the R&B charts! For the next few years, after "Bye Bye Love," the fellers were more or less unstoppable. Eventually, military service, dalliances with speed, and music-industry bullshit slowed them down; by the time of the "British Invasion" their newer recordings were out of favor. Which is insane, dig this 1965 side - "The Price of Love"! Still, the brothers pressed on through the '60s, with few American chart hits, but with a run of amazing albums. Seriously, they were still killin' in 1967 with songs like "A Voice Within"! For their 1968 concept album, Roots, the brothers reintroduced proper country back into their...thing. It was a great album, but didn't yield a comeback. They survived into the early '70s with a couple more pop/country albums and then split. Phil went solo and settled into playing country-ish pop. In 1983 the brothers got back together and up through the '00s they were still performing.

Along with all '50s rock, the Everly Brothers were a pointed voice. In the context of 1950s Nashville, from where they sprang, there was slight unease when these boys embraced rock and roll, but then rock was just kids music, right? Listening to them now, it's easy to understand how their sweet and unique sound was perhaps more accepted than the frantic antics of some rock and roller. Good-looking white fellers which sang well could reach white kids somewhat safely. Like, they were disarming boys who could lull listeners into romance with a proper pop ballad like "All I Have To Do Is Dream," but then lay down some Little Richard rock and it wouldn't set off ALL the parental alarms. The kids knew, however. So, with such a great reach, the Everlys were heard and, being unlike any other rock group, affected everyone who was listening. Obviously if not for the Everlys, there would have been a very different-sounding Beatles. In fact, the second Beatles' 45, "Please Please Me," was based on the Everlys' "Cathy's Clown." Also important, the Everly Brothers were writing their OWN songs before it became the Lennon/McCartney and legitimizing rock band thing to do. They were innovating AND inspiring.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with the Everlys. I might'a learned about immediacy and rawness of ROCK and ROLL via Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Larry Williams and Elvis, but I learned complexity, emotion, and restraint all from the Everlys. They were able to draw out emotions in me, as an excitable kindergartener, which was "adult" real. I didn't have a date in K-5, BUT I could FEEL the pain and heartbreak when hearing the Everlys sing about heartbreak. It wasn't so much the words they sung, but the way their singing conveyed emotion through melody and harmony. When I listen to 'em now those feelings are still there, it hasn't aged out; the purity was timeless and I think for a giant like Phil Everly it was effortless.


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