How the Everly Brothers influenced the Beatles

Don and Phil Everly grew up in the South within a musical family. During the 1940s, they performed with their parents as the Everly Family on the radio. Their first single as a duo, “Keep A Lovin’ Me”, was released by Columbia Records in 1956. The single did not become a success and the Everly Brothers were dropped by the label. In 1957 they released their second single “Bye Bye Love” under Cadence Records, which became a hit. Whereas their first single reflected the country roots from the Everly Family, “Bye Bye Love” had a faster tempo in which the steel string guitar sound took up a bigger role. They appealed to a younger, rockabilly audience. It was the first single that created a distinct sound for the Everly Brothers, characterized by the steel string guitar and two-part harmony vocals.

Furthermore, the song was written by songwriter couple Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. This proved to be a successful combination as they wrote many of the duo’s hits such as “Wake Up Little Susie” (1957) and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” (1958). Whereas the latter is sung in a slighter slower tempo, “Wake Up Little Susie” reflects the typical Everly Brothers sound: close harmony singing accompanied by steel guitar in an up-tempo beat. In most of the Everly Brothers songs, Don Everly would sing the baritone lead and Phil Everly the tenor harmony. The small difference creates the close harmony that is heard on the records. The Everly Brothers were not the first ones to have two vocal parts. From the mid-30s, there was a flood of harmony duos in country/bluegrass music, such as the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers, and the Louvin Brothers. Although not the first, they were unique in expanding their sound. Besides releasing country-inspired songs, the brothers covered pop, rock and songs by Roy Orbison and Fats Domino. During the late ‘50s and ‘60s, they would also perform their own songs, of which “Cathy’s Clown”  is most well-known.

The song Cathy’s Clown was the first release under Warner Bros. in 1960. Although the song is in line with the style of previous songs, it is considered the most innovative, signature song for the Everly Brothers. The production makes the song unique as it is one of the first to focus on timbre. An essay by Daniel Levitin, found on the online Library of Congress, mentions it along “Heartbreak Hotel” (Elvis Presley) and “Walk The Line” (Johnny Cash) as the first songs to feature recognizable voices. Moreover, the song uses modern techniques such as a plate reverb and the drums on loop (giving the illusion of two drummers). Three years later, The Beatles (even calling themselves “The English Everly Brothers) took inspiration from “Cathy’s Clown” which can be heard in both “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”.  The distinct two-part harmony from the Everly Brothers are reproduced by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The vocal style is also copied on “Two of Us” (1970). Besides vocal harmony, a shared microphone between both singers creates the Everly sound.

Tensions caused the Everly Brothers to break up on stage in 1973. Their innovation on vocal style, however, influenced many acts after – the Beatles,  the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel etc. – up until several Everly-inspired tribute albums in 2013.

Michelle N.

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