By Phill Marder
Music lovers younger than I — and these days, that’s just about everyone — missed out on a lot if they missed out on The Everly Brothers.
I got to experience it all firsthand. I was there with my collection of 78s by Perry Como and Johnnie Ray when “Bye Bye Love” — on a Cadence 78, by the way — landed on what passed for a turntable back then. Unbelievable record. Even today, after thousands of listeners over 50-plus years, this 2:17 slice of pure magic sounds crisp, sharp, punchy — no matter what speed you use.
And then I flipped it over — something you can’t do with MP3s. Back in the day, there was magic in going to the local record store and finding out if a new release by Elvis, Fats, Chuck, Buddy, Richard, Jerry Lee or the Everlys was available. You’d grab it before the next teen appeared, then ride your bike home as fast as you could pedal to hear what this piece of wax had in store. Then, you’d flip it over. Back then, albums were scarce, and kids who could afford them even scarcer. So often, the flips of the latest hits were hits themselves … or they should have been. I flipped “Bye Bye Love” and found one of my all-time favorite recordings waiting: “I Wonder If I Care As Much.”
I love a lot of today’s music and still spend more money on it than I should. But, to me, there’s no feeling today that matches that jolt from hearing the simple intro, followed by the sound of just Don’s voice singing “I Wonder If I Care As Much,” followed by Phil joining in with, “as I did before.” Amazing. That harmony never has been equaled, not by Simon & Garfunkel, the brothers Righteous, anyone.
The Everlys did it again on their follow-up, “Wake Up Little Susie.” This time, the flip, “Maybe Tomorrow,” begins with the two voices, sans backing, singing “I know we’ll love again … maybe tomorrow.” It’s a sound that is hard to describe, but it is unforgettable to those who have heard it.
The Everly Brothers pumped out hit after hit into the British Invasion period. While the term “influence” is often abused by music journalists who wish to rewrite history to their liking, one would be hard-pressed to find a better term to describe The Everly Brothers. They inspired anyone who faced a microphone with a partner to match that harmony — or at least try to approach it.
As good as Simon & Garfunkel were, they weren’t The Everly Brothers — at least, not on recordings. (In other ways, they emulated the brothers, who fought so fiercely even Dave and Ray Davies pale in comparison.) Fortunately, what survives is the music. The birth of rock and roll was a magical time, with The Everly Brothers among those leading the way.
Phil Everly was 74 when he died Jan. 3, 2014, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His recordings with older brother Don remain to remind us of what beautiful music can be made by just two human voices. And I’m real glad I was there to hear it when it was happening. GM