Sad to hear of the passing of Phil Everly, one half of The Everly Brothers – like most of the music from that time I owe my parents one for the introduction. As they rediscovered the music of their youth, first through records and then tapes, later the shiny new compact discs of the late 1980s/early 1980s, each new addition to their rebuilt record collection was an initiation for the whole family, a get-together, a gathering. It was a moment.
We’d get the new album and me and my brother would be excited – we wouldn’t know what it was but we’d be excited just because mum and dad were excited. And then they’d play the album, usually a budget compilation, one that wouldn’t really stand-up sound-wise, but it did enough of a job to introduce you to a whole new world of music. Santana and The Mamas and The Papas, soundtrack albums for Good Morning Vietnam, The Big Chill and Tour of Duty. Every time my brother and I would smile at the recognition of a song or two. Or three or four. There’d always be one or two songs we were hearing for the first time – even if it was an acknowledged classic – a Tracks of My Tears, say. Or a Cathy’s Clown, perhaps. And then there’d be songs like I Am A Rock or Heard It Through The Grapevine or Bye Bye Love. You didn’t know you knew them until you heard them in that context – realised the snippets from so many radio moments, road-trips, the doctor’s waiting room, the backyard BBQ were all leading to this moment of recognition. That was the preparation you didn’t know you had been doing.
If the album was jam-packed with great songs – be it The Zombies, Small Faces, Simon & Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones – and it usually was, we’d be off to buy our own versions on tape the next week with pocket money. Meantime we’d dub mum and dad’s tape or CD or LP, make our own copy until we had the funds and a driver to get to town for the original.
So this is how I second-heard The Everly Brothers. I first heard them in radio snippets, heard about them in conversations. But one day mum bought home a long-play cassette tape (a double album on one tape) of Everly Brothers hits.
I knew Little Richard and Buddy Holly and Elvis and a lot of the pre-Beatles stuff. I knew The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. But I didn’t really know The Everly Brothers.
And then, when I did, I saw straightaway that they had provided a framework for S&G for John and Paul, for so many others.
There were these jaunty little things like Bye Bye Love, somehow a rock’n’roll song and a country song all in one. There were these proud acoustic guitars, the real drums of the song, the real propulsion. All of this was appealing. But man, those voices. Those harmonies.
And then, as a teenager, I was obsessed with finding out if musicians were songwriters. I could still like someone who didn’t write – those early Joe Cocker albums’ll knock you out any day of the week – but the real talent was in the writing. I needed to know if the musicians I liked had made the music they were singing. Bonus points if they wrote other songs for others.
So then I started reading up on the Everlys – and there was so much of interest: the competition, the fights, the drinking. And the fact that together and alone they wrote so many great songs, songs with The Everly Brother stamp and songs that went on to be classics (Phil’s When Will I Be Loved) outside and away from the band.
So it was hearing them with a whole new respect (again) when I third-heard them.
Lately, just lately, there’s been tribute albums – paying tribute to the sound – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Dawn McCarthy chose to highlight some of the lesser known – or at least less obvious – songs. Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day and Norah Jones from Norah Jones decided – super-oddly – to team up and make an album called “Foreverly”. And it’s good. Pretty good really. Did it need to happen? Dunno. Perhaps not. But it’s kinda nice that it did.
But I’ll still – always – prefer hearing the originals. And the songs The Everlys made – made whether they wrote them too or just sung them right into place. Because a big part of the sound for me, in and around those lovely voices, those gospel and country and rock’n’roll ideas, all borne from childhoods glued to the radio, was in knowing that these guys got as close as brothers could ever get to hating each other. Before there was the buffoonery of Oasis and the petty one-upmanship of our own Finns there was The Everlys. Bitter and nasty. And wonderful.
They broke up many times. Got back together for the cash. Got back together and nailed it. Broke guitars over heads and sucker-punched each other. Said the meanest, cruelest things. And sung the most heavenly sounds you could hear.