By Richie Unterberger

The decade that the Everly Brothers spent on Warner Brothers -- which coincided almost exactly with the beginning and end of the 1960s -- came to a bittersweet end with their final Warners album, the double-LP live set The Everly Brothers Show. When Don and Phil Everly first recorded for Warner Brothers in 1960, they were on top of the world both artistically and commercially. Their classic debut Warners single, "Cathy's Clown," soared to #1, and both of their first two albums for the label made the Top Ten. But though their talents were undimmed by the time they cut The Everly Brothers Show, their stardom had long since faded. They hadn't reached the American Top Ten since 1962, and their last Top Forty single had been in 1967. They were still doing well as a club act, and with two albums still owed to Warner Brothers, they decided to kill a few birds with one stone by winding up their contractual obligations in one swoop with an in-concert double LP.

    Recorded at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim, California on February 6, 1970, The Everly Brothers Show was produced by Lou Adler. By then, Adler was established as one of the leading movers and shakers of the recording business via his success with the Mamas & the Papas, Johnny Rivers, Barry McGuire, Scott McKenzie, Spirit, and others, and was soon to be instrumental in launching Carole King's solo career. Backing up the Everlys were guitarist Sam McCue, drummer Tiny Schneider, and Robert Knigge on electric bass. Though the set did include a few songs from recent or fairly recent Everly Brothers releases, such as "Lord of the Manor" and their 1967 Top Forty single "Bowling Green," it was dominated by reprises of their early smashes and covers of a wide sweep of rock'n'roll oldies and late-'60s hits. Scanning the songlist might have led some diehard fans to suspect that the album was nothing more than a contract-filler. Yet like other cover-heavy Everlys '60s albums, it was not a mere rehash of familiar tunes. In fact, the arrangements on everything -- whether they reworked numbers they'd recorded long ago, or took on standards by the likes of Chuck Berry and the Beatles -- were quite different from what many might have expected. If it was indeed a contract-filler, the LP was certainly a fresher listen than most such endeavors.

    It might have been the oldies that many in the crowd wanted to hear the most, but the album started with songs that were far more representative of their late-'60s sound. "Mama Tried" (penned by Merle Haggard) and "Kentucky" -- the latter done acoustically by Don and Phil sans backup band -- had both been on their acclaimed late-1968 country-rock album Roots. "Bowling Green" was a real revelation, rocking much harder than the arguably over-produced, over-orchestrated single version. Then came what much of the audience had come for -- a rapid-fire sequence of four of their biggest early hits, sometimes taken at a speedy pace and chunky beat that might have shocked their more purist-minded admirers. "Wake Up Little Susie" and "Bird Dog" in particular got their tempos ratcheted up a few notches, and while it would be hard for any new arrangement of "Cathy's Clown" to match the magnificence of the original, it's intriguing to hear it done as a brisk country-rocker.

    Throughout their career, the Everly Brothers had always covered a wide range of songs first popularized by others, from the most raucous early rock'n'roll to traditional country-folk ballads. The whole spectrum was covered on The Everly Brothers Show, from Merle Haggard to Chuck Berry, whose "Maybellene" (amusingly misspelled "Mabellene" on the original cover) and "Rock and Roll Music" were both enthusiastically tackled. Unlike some of their early rock'n'roll star peers, the Everlys had kept their ears open to new sounds, "Rock and Roll Music" gliding into an ambitious side-long medley weaving together snatches of the Beatles' "The End" (which had come out just a few months earlier on Abbey Road), "Aquarius," Tim Hardin's classic folk-rocker "If I Were a Carpenter," their mid-'60s single "The Price of Love" (given a far heavier rock treatment than had been applied in the original folk-rock-British-Invasion-influenced arrangement), B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone," and Joe South's "Games People Play," all the while bouncing back to "Rock and Roll Music" on occasion. And yes, there was a drum solo, in the manner of many acts of the day taking advantage of the new-found freedom in rock to stretch out and jam.

    The second disc of the original package retreated to somewhat more conventional territory, starting off with a slow and soulful rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do," which they'd done way back in 1960 on their second Warners LP, A Date with the Everly Brothers. More oldies, remakes, and medleys took up much of the rest of the program, starting off with a pleasing version of "All I Have to Do Is Dream," taken at an even more languorous pace than the original. "Walk Right Back" was slowed down yet more from the familiar hit arrangement, the sparky bounce of the 1961 single changed into something a little more wistful and melancholy. A joining of Dale Hawkins' rockabilly classic and the Beatles' "Hey Jude" made for another somewhat incongruous medley, ending side three in the original package and clearing the way for one final nod to their late-'60s repertoire with "Lord of the Manor," which had been a non-charting 1968 single for the duo. Like "Bowling Green," "Lord of the Manor" was given a refreshingly rootsier arrangement live than the orchestrated studio recording had borne, in this case stripped down to a far more acoustic core.

    Also given a rootsy acoustic approach was "I Wonder If I Care As Much," first done as the B-side of the Everly Brothers' first hit, "Bye Bye Love." The version on The Everly Brothers Show generally followed the approach of the country-rock remake they did of the tune for 1968's Roots, but with a surprise twist, accelerating unexpectedly into a hard rock rave-up of sorts (complete with "Satisfaction"-like riffs) before segueing into Mickey & Sylvia's classic '50s hit "Love Is Strange" (which had been a big British single for the Everlys in 1965). Another medley of old and new concluded the proceedings, a beautifully delicate pass through "Let It Be Me" giving way to "Give Peace a Chance."

    Their stint at Warners completed, the Everlys moved on to make a couple of little-noticed albums for RCA in the early 1970s before splitting acrimoniously in 1973 -- by which time both Don and Phil had started to record on their own. You'd never know the pair's days were numbered, however, by listening to The Everly Brothers Show, on which they saw out both the 1960s and their contract at Warner Brothers with grace, spirit, and, of course, the inimitable fraternal harmonies that will forever ring throughout the halls of popular music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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