By Richie Unterberger

The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers was an ironic title considering that by the time of its release in 1967, the Everly Brothers hadn't had a Top Ten hit in the United States since 1962, or even dented the Top Forty since the 1964 single "Gone, Gone, Gone." There were in fact no hits on The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers, or even any original songs by Don and Phil Everly. What the album did feature were covers of hits by other artists and composers. In fact, only two of the twelve songs had not been a pop, R&B, and/or country hit in the 1950s and 1960s. Releasing such an LP in early 1967, when artists were increasingly expected to write their own material or at least interpret new works by outside composers, was out of step with the way the rock market was evolving, to say the least. At worst, it risked accusations of irrelevance. It's doubtful that the Everlys weathered such attacks, since not that many people heard or bought the record in any case.

    Yet the Everlys really weren't doing anything inconsistent with the way they'd always approached albums. Though they'd built their reputation on hits either written by themselves or freshly penned by top contemporary composers, the duo had always made covers a large percentage of their recorded repertoire. Too, they'd already done a number of albums devoted mostly or wholly to covers, going way back to their second LP in 1958, the traditional folk-country-oriented Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Since then, they'd done full-length recordings focused on country hits (the logically named Sing Great Country Hits), rock and soul oldies (1965's Rock'n Soul and Beat & Soul), and songs authored by the Hollies (1966's Two Yanks in England). Admittedly, The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers differed from all of these in that there wasn't a specific concept tying the album's interpretations together. Instead, the material was sourced from all over the rock, pop, R&B, and country map, perhaps leading those who were paying attention to suspect the brothers were suffering from directionlessness.

    Still, of all the Everlys' cover-heavy LPs, none presented as well-rounded picture of the songs, artists, and styles the pair admired and liked to perform as The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers. Early rock'n'roll, Brill Building pop, country-pop, raunchy blues rock: all were represented, and none of the songs predictably arranged, as Don and Phil were never ones to merely photocopy the originals. Buried in the mix, too, was an early effort by a new young writer who'd soon become one of the hottest composers of late-'60s popular music, though very few noticed his contribution at the time.

    The Everlys were always comfortable paying homage to both their 1950s peers and new trends, and The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers included songs by a number of early rock'n'roll greats who rose to fame alongside the pair in the mid-to-late-'50s. Ray Charles had long been a fave of Don and Phil, who'd made a Charles cover ("This Little Girl of Mine") the leadoff track on their debut album in 1958, and had revisited his catalog several times since. This time around, they took on "Let's Go Get Stoned," which had recently topped the R&B charts for Brother Ray. Though "I'm Movin' On" (oddly titled "Movin' On" in the track listing) had first been done as a seminal hillbilly hit by country great Hank Snow in the early 1950s, its uptempo verve had made it easily translatable into rock'n'roll, as Ray Charles later proved, the Rolling Stones even cutting a live version in 1965. The Everly Brothers' version was different from all of these predecessors, with chugging start-stop rhythms and a surprisingly gnarly guitar solo in the instrumental break.

    The Everlys covered Little Richard about as often as they did Ray Charles, and for this album they made a straightforward charge through "Good Golly Miss Molly." Another early black rock'n'roll pioneer whom the Everlys had interpreted in the past was honored on "Blueberry Hill," the pop standard popularized to the '50s rock audience by Fats Domino. The rendition on The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers had an oddly old-fashioned approach, with its lazy horns and saloon piano reaching back to a form of New Orleans music from long before Domino's time. Don and Phil also took liberties with Buddy Holly's classic "Oh Boy!," anchored by a prominent guitar lick that can't fail to recall the one featured in the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville," treading the fine line between tribute and ripoff.

    The bluesiest side of the Everly Brothers was heard on "The House of the Rising Sun," the folk-blues lament rocked up to #1 by the Animals in 1964, and the raucous "Sticks and Stones," which had been tackled by numerous great rockers, from Ray Charles and Wanda Jackson to British Invaders Manfred Mann and the Zombies. The pair's knack for country-pop crossover material got a workout on "Sea of Heartbreak," a huge country hit (and substantial pop charter) for Don Gibson in the early 1960s that was given another British Invasion treatment by the Searchers a few years later. Though Gibson didn't write "Sea of Heartbreak" -- penned by Hal David (most famous for the many hits he wrote with Burt Bacharach) and Paul Hampton -- he was the one responsible for composing "I'd Be a Legend in My Time," which had been recorded by Roy Orbison and Ray Price before the Everlys got their hands on it. As it happens, the Bacharach-David team was itself represented on the album via their ballad "Trains and Boats and Planes," a mild American hit (and much bigger British one) in the mid-1960s for Billy J. Kramer. Had the Everlys recorded it then, their own version might have a stood a chance on the hit parade; with its gently sliding percussion, deft reverberant guitar, and characteristically beautiful sensitive harmonies, it was one of the album's highlights.

    There were, interestingly, a couple of tracks on The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers that were not covers of familiar songs. Both of them, "Devil's Child" and "She Never Smiles Anymore," were issued on a flop single in early 1967. Unlike anything else on the LP, they seem to have been crafted with a conscious eye toward supplying the Everlys with something that was in line with the contemporary pop-rock trends of the era. "Devil's Child" in particular sounds heavily influenced by the poppier sounds of what was emanating from both Los Angeles and New York at the time. The lusher "She Never Smiles Anymore" was one of the first interpretations ever recorded of material of any sort by emerging composer Jimmy Webb, whose first big smash (the Fifth Dimension's "Up, Up and Away") was still just around the corner. Even many Webb fans remain unaware of this recording, buried as it was on a non-hit single and album. And even many Everly Brothers fans still have yet to hear The Hit Sound of the Everly Brothers, though like so many of their Warner Brothers albums, it contains a surprising amount of worthwhile music, whether in step with its times or not. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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