“The Everly Brothers’ impact exceeds even their fame.”
That’s the way Paul Simon described it in 2004 when he wrote an essay about Phil and Don Everly for Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest artists.
In all that’s been written and said following Friday’s (Jan. 3) death of Phil Everly at age 74, Simon’s observation remains the most concise and accurate. After all, the Everly Brothers were a major influence on Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles and just about anybody who attempted vocal harmonies in the late ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Phil and Don Everly set the standard.
Much of the Everly Brothers early success stemmed from now-classic songs written by the Nashville-based songwriting duo of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. The quality of the material is without question, but the Everly Brothers’ voices made songs such as “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Bird Dog” even more magical.
The Everlys are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, so it’s not that their contributions have been overlooked by their peers and the industry. If their public profile doesn’t match that of other veteran acts, it’s because they broke up in 1973 and, other than a 1983 reunion, only performed sporadically in later years.
Their musical influence prompted Paul McCartney to include “Phil and Don” within the lyrics of “Let ’Em In,” a hit single from Wings’ 1976 album Wings at the Speed of Sound. And just last year, Norah Jones and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong collaborated on Foreverly, a collection inspired by Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, an album of traditional country and folk music the Everly Brothers recorded in 1958.
Songs Our Daddy Taught Us is a highly-regarded album, but anyone just beginning to explore the Everly Brothers’ music would be better served with Cadence Classics: Their 20 Greatest Hits, a Rhino Records compilation of their early material. The brothers’ explorations from pop into a country-rock vein are chronicled on Walk Right Back: The Everly Brothers on Warner Brothers, 1960-1969. The latter includes the primary Warner Bros hits, along with later tracks that remain particularly vibrant, including “Bowling Green” and “I’m on My Way Home Again.”
It’s impossible to come up with 10 tracks that define the Everly Brothers’ recording career. Aside from the obvious hits — “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” “(’Til) I Kissed You” and “Let It Be Me” — how do you omit songs like “Devoted to You,” “Walk Right Back, “Take a Message to Mary” or “Crying in the Rain”?
Rather than compiling a tally of their most essential recordings, here are five songs Everly Brothers tracks gained a new life after being covered by other artists:
“Bye Bye Love”: Simon & Garfunkel covered it on their Bridge Over Troubled Water album in 1970, and George Harrison revised a few of the lyrics for the version he recorded on his Dark Horse album in 1974.
“Gone, Gone, Gone”: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss covered on their Raising Sand album in 2009.
“Let It Be Me”: The song originated and France and had been recorded by others before the Everly Brothers tackled the English language version. One of their signature songs, it only reached No. 7 on the Billboard 100 chart. Nonetheless, the vocal harmonies the brothers created were used by others in several subsequent versions. Among those covering the song were Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, Roberta Flack, Bob Dylan, Andy Williams, Sonny & Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Sam & Dave, Tom Jones and Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry.
“Love Hurts”: Roy Orbison, Cher, Rod Stewart, Jimmy Webb and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris all recorded their versions of the song that first appeared as an Everly Brothers album track in 1960. However, the best known recording is probably the hard rock ballad version by the band Nazareth, who took it to the Top 10 in 1976,
“When Will I Be Loved”: At the height of her success, Linda Ronstadt reached the Top 10 with her version of the song written by Phil.