Monday, August 30, 2010

Brothers in Arms

I'm sittin' here tonight on the old veranda, broadcasting to you live from beautiful downtown Beechwood Village. I'm sipping Almond Pear Martinis and thinkin' about a couple of good Kentucky boys who shoulda been a whole lot more famous than they were.

No, not Cheeseburger & Fries, although we've certainly come up short on receiving our historical due. I'm talkin' about a duo who, truth be told, had a lot of influence on us, though: a couple of fellers from Muhlenberg County named Phil and Don, the Everly Brothers.

The boys from Brownie had a boatload of popular hits in their golden decade of 1957-1967, such as "All I Have to do is Dream", Bye Bye Love, "Wake Up Little Susie", "When Will I Be Loved", "Gone Gone Gone", "Bird Dog", "Bowling Green", "Walk Right Back", "The Price of Love", "Cathy's Clown", "Kentucky", "Till I Kissed You" and my personal favorite, "You're the One I Love".

But as regular readers have probably figured out by now, I prefer stylist-songsters to singer-songwriters any day. And the Everlys were consummate songsters: they not only covered rockabilly/rock and roll standards like "Rip it Up", "I Got A Woman" and "Lucille", they also dared to take on formidable covers like Roy Orbison's "Claudette", Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire", Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day", and Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It".

But it gets more eclectic from there. They also fearlessly sailed into Charlie Rich's "Lonely Weekends", Mickey & Sylvia's "Love is Strange", Wanda Jackson's "Silver Threads and Golden Needles", the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe", Jule Styne's "The Party's Over", and even Dean Martin's "Memories are Made of This". They tried their hand at the Irish folksong "Barbara Allen", and the old German bierhall ballad "O Mein Papa" from the 1939 stage show Der Schwarze Hecht.

And then there's uncategorizable weirdness like "Muskrat", an ode to various members of the animal kingdom, which manages to be one of their most rockin' numbers despite having prominent cowbell and flute solos. And the surreal ditty "Am Abend Auf Der Heide", one of several German-language records they released.

The Everly Brothers, being Kentuckians, are instilled with the same mean-spirited gumption as the king of Bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. Just as cranky old Bill went years refusing to speak to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Phil and Don refused to speak to one another between 1973 and 1983, and didn't even see each other during that time except at their father's funeral in 1975. These are serious type people, chief. During that period, presumably they caught up on their TV watching, sampled many fine donuts, drank Wild Irish Rose while cursing Acuff-Rose, and howling at the moon that giveth and taketh away. (Oh yeah, and Phil made a cameo appearance in Clint Eastwood's Any Which Way You Can. Hmmmmm.)

But every hatchet raised in a threat must eventually be buried, and the Everly story had a happy ending. Whereas the Beatles had become socially inept acid-addled wusses that lacked the cojones to man up and admit they were being jerks, the Everlys finally said to each other, "let's stop the pissing contest and get back to work." And whereas many reunited bands lost their spark in the intervening years, the Everlys actually did some of their best work in the latter days - witness "Amanda Ruth", "Cold", and "I'm Takin' My Time".

(Bonus puzzling evidence: a 1963 live mash-up with Gerry & The Pacemakers, and a 1970 random medley that includes "Aquarius" from the Broadway musical Hair, Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music", The Beatles' "The End", and Joe South's "Games People Play".)

- - JSH

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