‘On The Wings . . .’

With various winter ailments – inside and outside – still hampering the normal run of things here under the bare oaks, I’ve not had much time or energy to think about the promised look at the Everly Brothers and their place in my musical life in the aftermath of the passing of Phil Everly last week. Still that will come, even if it has to be offered in bits and pieces and shoehorned into the week’s normal duties and the preparations for a group dinner here Friday evening. Here’s a start:

The only Everly Brothers single I knew about during the time it was on the charts was 1984’s “On The Wings Of A Nightingale,” the Paul McCartney-penned track from the album EB ’84 that went to No. 50. I knew, of course, the records that I’d heard on oldies stations over the years, the classic stuff from the late 1950s and early 1960s, the stuff that started with 1957’s “Bye Bye Love” and always seemed to land on 1960’s “Cathy’s Clown.” But I wasn’t all that interested.

As a young radio listener in the years when the 1960s were giving way to the 1970s, the Everly Brothers just sounded old to me. The close harmonies sounded like something from another time and place, a judgment that turned out to be correct although I could not have said what time and place that was. “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” – heard as they were wedged in between “Spirit in the Sky” and “Green River” – were out of fashion and out of touch. (The eternal romantic in the teen I was loved “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” but that only served to remind me that I was often out of fashion and out of touch as well.)

It took years for me to understand and then appreciate the heritage that Don and Phil Everly expressed nearly every time they picked up their guitars and approached a microphone. It’s likely true that that the process of appreciating the Everly Brothers began with “On The Wings Of A Nightingale” and EB ’84, but it was in fact a slow process. The history – both theirs and that of the earlier musicians that informed their style – remained murky to me in 1984 when I heard “Nightingale” coming out of my radio speakers and then again, not quite ten years later, when the album came home with me one day. The most I got from the single and the album was a hint.

The McCartney-penned single got most of my interest when I put the album on the turntable, but the other nine tracks – especially a decent cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” – gave me for the first time the thought that I needed to go back and really listen to the brothers’ more famous work. The 1984 album was a little busier – as befits that decade – than the classic Everly Brothers’ work, but the close harmonies and those voices were there on center stage. And I finally began to listen.

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2 Responses to “‘On The Wings . . .’”

  1. porky says:

    the LP came out during my waning days in radio. Our station played the McCartney tune and its follow up, “Story of Me.”

    “Asleep” is a gem, loved it then and love it now except for the whale fart, fake fretless bass effect, but hey, it WAS the 80′s.

    Love the E. Brothers. This clip of them doing Knopfler’s “Why Worry” made me misty eyed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkFcQRiFL68

  2. Yah Shure says:

    You and I arrived at opposite ends of the Everly continuum. Having heard “Bye Bye Love” when it first aired on WDGY (and being not quite six at the time) I was hooked immediately. I credit that early head start for never developing the sense that any pop music sounded old or dated, so Don and Phil were constantly knocking around in my head over the years.

    If I have one complaint about ‘EB84′ and its successor, ‘Born Yesterday,’ it’s Dave Edmunds’ grungy production work. Normally, I’m a big fan of his, but the “Girls Talk” approach is all wrong here. He manages to bury Don and Phil’s tremendous vocal assets under a patina of compression. The crystal-clear soaring harmonies which defined the brothers’ Cadence, Warners and RCA catalogs are nowhere to be found. If Edmunds’ goal was to filter Phil and Don through an eight-inch layer of burlap sacks, he succeeded wildly.

    Luckily, the songs and performances were everything this old Everlys fan could have hoped for (favorites: “Nightingale” on ‘EB84′, “Always Drive A Cadillac” on ‘Born Yesterday.’) The less said about their final, self-produced Mercury effort (‘Some Hearts’) the better.

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