Saying ‘Bye Bye’ to the Everly Brothers’ Phil, 1939-2014
If not for the Everly Brothers, not only would we not have had the greatest two-part harmonies of the rock era, but we might also have missed out on every set of singers who ever grew up trying to imitate that brotherly love, from the Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel to Crosby, Stills & Nash. There was a reason Lennon and McCartney briefly toyed with the notion of calling themselves the Foreverly Brothers.
Phil and Don are now foreverly on record only. The passing of younger brother Phil Everly at age 74 has classic rock fans everywhere "Crying in the Rain" (or the snow, actually, given the national weather at the time of his Jan. 3 death). The siblings have been essentially retired as a live act since the mid-2000s; had not made an album since the 1980s; had not had a major hit since the early '60s. Yet it seemed unimaginable that we'd never again hear both brothers simultaneously fret about having fallen asleep with little Susie at the drive-in, or lament about having become comic foils for a cruel girl named Cathy. Whatever teen predicaments befell either of them befell both, as they befell generations of thrilled listeners.
"Perhaps even more powerfully than Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers melded country with the emerging sound of '50s rock & roll," wrote Paul Simon in an essay saluting the duo as one of Rolling Stone's 100 greatest artists of all time. (The magazine factored them in at No. 33.) Indeed, they're among a handful of acts to claim membership in both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Nashville's like-minded country hall; Neil Young did the introductory honors when the Everlys were among the very first class inducted into the rock institution in 1986. Billboard has cited them as the third-biggest duo in the history of the Hot 100, trailing only Hall & Oates and the Carpenters for chart success, even though nearly all their hits came in the relatively short time span of 1957-62.
Their early sound owed a great deal to rockabilly. A song that had been rejected by Elvis Presley, "Bye Bye Love," became their first smash in '57, hitting No. 2 on the pop chart and No 1 at country — while also topping the R&B chart, oddly enough. That same year, "Wake Up Little Susie" became their first pop chart-topper. A generation of would-be rockers tried to emulate the way the Everlys' harmonies, borrowed from country acts like the Louvin Brothers, meshed with Don's distinctly rocking acoustic guitar.