Saturday, January 11, 2014
Nice Guys - The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers
Magnum Force Records MFLP-1028
Yet another obituary to acknowledge. There have been so many lately I can't keep up, but Phil Everly's passing was particularly painful for me. I've been a huge fan of the Everly Brothers since I was a teenager. They were the first artists from the classic rock and roll era that really engaged me and between vinyl and CDs I have just about all of their albums. Their music with its sublime vocal harmonies has given me countless hours of pleasure. I have been playing their albums this past week in memory of Phil. My favorite is "Roots" which I have already blogged about and which is one of my all time favorite albums. The one I listened to the most this week though was this one. It is a British compilation album of unreleased material from the Everlys' years at Warner Bros. Records which encompassed the entire decade of the 1960s. It was the second such album ("The New Album" preceded it in 1977) and it is full of fine music that deserves to be heard. The album was clearly a labor of love released on Everly fan Nigel Molden's rock and roll specialty label, Magnum Force. Unfortunately it contains no information about the songs, no dates or musicians, sometimes not even a songwriter. For that information I turned to Robin Dunn's excellent Everly discography. The album opens with "Trouble" from 1963. It is a rocking tune that bares some resemblance to "Wake Up Little Susie" except that this time the trouble is deserved. It is one of my favorite songs on the record, I especially dig the wailing harmonica running through the song. "What About Me" is a Gerry Goffin/Carole King composition from 1962 that Bobby Vee recorded the following year. It is a propulsive little song which, like so many of their songs, is about heartbreak. The album jumps forward to 1969 for "From Eden to Canaan" (listed as "From Eden to Cainin" on the record.) It is a slow country rocker with a fabulous harmony vocal from Phil on the chorus. It is such a beautiful song, I can't understand why it was never released. The song was written by Robert J. Kessler and Robert William Scott. Another Goffin/King song is next. "Chains" was recorded in 1962 prior to the hit version by the Cookies that was released later that year. It is perfect for the Everlys' sound and it has hit single written all over it (although I could do without the chain sound effects) so I'm baffled as to why they let the Cookies have the hit instead. "Meet Me In The Bottom" is a rare foray into the blues by the Everlys. Its songwriting credit is listed as Everly on the record but it is actually the Willie Dixon song that Howlin' Wolf recorded as "Down In the Bottom" in 1961. The Everlys recorded it late in 1968. It has some fine guitar picking in the breaks and the Brothers are backed up by a gospel style chorus that adds a lot of oomph to the recording. "In The Good Old Days" is a Dolly Parton song that she released as a single in 1968 (I wrote about her version in my post for "The Best of Dolly Parton.") The Everlys' version dates from late 1968. I prefer the Parton recording but the Everlys' country roots serve them well in making the song convincing. This song also features support from a gospel style chorus, but this time I find it obtrusive. Side two opens with "Nice Guy" (listed as "Nice Guys" on the record) which is yet another Goffin/King song that the Everlys recorded in 1962. In the liner notes for the box set "Heartaches & Harmonies" Don Everly dismissed the song as "formula" but I think that is a bit harsh. I consider it a terrific song, another one of my favorites on the record. It is a return to the sound of their classic recordings for Cadence Records, it even has the acoustic guitar riff from "Bye Bye Love." Perhaps this return to the past is what Don found objectionable but it works for me. It has fun lyrics about nice guys finishing last in love. "Stained Glass Morning" is a Scott McKenzie song that the Everlys recorded late in 1969. The song is a maudlin tale of a dead soldier's funeral that is over-produced but it has a very strong vocal that redeems it somewhat. It is by far the worst song on the record. "Dancing On My Feet" is a different take of the 1962 Phil Everly composition that first appeared on "The New Album." It is an amusing song about how his dance partner keeps stepping on his feet. It would have fit in great on "Instant Party" where it would have been one of the best songs on the album. It is followed by a fantastic version of the Buffalo Springfield classic "Mr Soul" by Neil Young that dates from late 1968. The song is taken at a much slower pace than the supercharged version by the Springfield. It has a mix of country and soul elements and a low key vocal that makes the lyrics really stand out in all their surreal brilliance. It is an inspired reworking of the song that makes it sound moody and menacing. "Don't Ya Even Try" (listed as "Don't You Even Try" on the record) is by Phil and Don and was recorded in late 1964 during the sessions for their "Rock 'N' Soul" album. Its Bo Diddley style beat and guitar riff would have made it perfect for the rock and roll covers laden "Rock 'N' Soul" and it is such a good song that I'm guessing the main reason it was left off the album was because of the Everlys' bitter songwriting royalty dispute with Acuff-Rose. Too bad, it would have made that album better. I think the same could be said for the final song on the album, the joint Everly composition "Kiss Your Man Goodbye" which was first attempted during the "Rock 'N' Soul" sessions. The version on this album is the second attempt recorded in England in mid-1965. It is a rocking song that seems influenced by the British Invasion sound which is ironic considering how much the Everlys influenced English groups like the Beatles, Hollies and Searchers. It is driven by lots of noisy guitar and features a fine joint vocal from Phil and Don. It deserved a better fate than being shelved. I guess it is a testament to the Everlys' greatness (and perhaps Warner Bros. Records' incompetence as well) that this outtakes album is so good, easily as good or better than many of their official Warner Bros. albums. If you have deep pockets you can find all of this music on the massive CD box sets that Bear Family issued of the complete Everly Brothers recordings on Warner Bros. Records. Personally I think the Everlys sound best on vinyl so I'm really happy I was able to find a copy of this wonderful album. It reminds me of Phil Everly's great legacy to his fans and his monumental place in the history of American music. Recommended to fans of vocal harmonies in pop music. There will never be anyone better than these guys.