By Richie Unterberger

Whatever you think of the Everly Brothers' large body of Warner Brothers recordings, you have to admit they were anything but predictable. Relatively straightforward albums of the quality pop-rock for which they were most famous stand shoulder-to-shoulder with LPs dominated by adult pop standards and show tunes; a longplayer devoted entirely to covers of country songs; a collaboration with British Invasion musicians; and one of the earliest full-length country-rock outings. In its way, 1965's Rock'n Soul falls into that pattern, as does to a great extent its follow-up Beat'n'Soul. Having just returned after four years or so to their fairly characteristic pop-rock sound on the Gone, Gone, Gone album at the beginning of 1965, the brothers then opted for an entire LP of rock'n'roll oldies covers, at a time when oldies were barely old enough to be oldies.

    In some respects, it was an odd direction to be heading after their self-penned "Gone, Gone, Gone" had restored them to the American Top Forty for the first time in two-and-a-half years at the end of 1964. Perhaps some would regard them as ahead of the curve, as this retreat into the past took place a good ten years or so before other superstars made their first albums of oldies covers with the likes of David Bowie's Pin-Ups, the Band's Moondog Matinee, and John Lennon's Rock & Roll. But this was the mid-1960s, when the pop and rock scene was changing so radically and quickly that few gave a thought to anything that had happened before the Beatles invaded America. Some context, perhaps, helps explain the Everlys' decision to embrace the harder side of their roots.

    Unlike many of their peers who had first established themselves as 1950s rockers, the Everlys were trying hard in 1965 to change with the times. In part this was due to their general enthusiasm for the Beatles and the British Invasion; in part it may have been because, while their career was floundering at home, it was starting to pick up in Britain itself, where they'd enjoy two big hits ("The Price of Love" and "Love Is Strange") in 1965. A bigger, tougher sound was needed to compete with the artists with whom the Everlys were both sharing the British charts and sharing stages with on their UK tours. At the same time, however, there wasn't much material in the can to ambush the market with, particularly since Rock'n Soul came out in March 1965, a mere two months after Gone, Gone, Gone.

    By digging back into early rock'n'roll, the Everlys were both able to tackle a set of songs with which they were already well acquainted, and dig their teeth into material that suited their desire to refocus on the hardest-rocking, most forceful facets of their sound. To their credit, they didn't try to play the songs as though it was still 1958. They were beefed up with full arrangements in line with the sound of 1965, complete with hard bluesy guitars, throbbing rhythms, and even the occasional harmonica, fuzztone, and horns, without compromising the close harmonies that were Don and Phil Everly's greatest assets. Though some fans might have welcomed at least a few original songs as well, no one could argue that the material they chose to cover wasn't astutely selected, leaning toward the more R&B-informed side of 1950s rock'n'roll. The Everlys' intent to rework the old classics was evident right from the opening track, Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day," where the tempo is slowed and the beat thickened. That cut paid some commercial dividends as well, reaching #30 in the UK.

    While none of the songs the duo interpreted could be called obscure, all were venerable benchmarks of both rock's evolution and the Everlys' own influences. "So Fine" had been a memorable one-shot hit for the vocal group the Fiestas in 1959; "Maybellene," of course, had been Chuck Berry's massive debut single. "Kansas City" had been a huge #1 hit for Wilbert Harrison in 1959, and was done by the Everlys with a slightly lighter, loping touch. "I Got a Woman" came from the catalog of Ray Charles, an obvious favorite of Don and Phil, as they'd previously covered the Charles goodies "Leave My Kitten Alone," "This Little Girl of Mine," and "What Kind of Man Are You?" (the last of which the Everlys changed to "What Kind of Girl Are You"). "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" had been recorded by Charles too (on his 1961 album Genius + Soul=Jazz), though it had been written in 1936 and waxed back in the jazz age by the likes of Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing, and Count Basie.

    Another big influence on the Everly Brothers -- who, it is sometimes not sufficiently acknowledged, drew heavily from black rock'n'roll as well as white country -- was Little Richard. They covered Richard's "Rip It Up" and "Keep a-Knockin'" on their debut album in 1958, and did another of his big hits, "Slippin' and Slidin'," on Rock'n Soul, complete with wiry fuzz guitar solo. "Susie Q," done here with effective guitar reverb, was first done as a core rockabilly classic by Dale Hawkins in 1957, and had re-entered the public consciousness in late 1964 as a track on the Rolling Stones' second album. (Playing guitar on the Everly Brothers' version, incidentally, is Hollywood session ace James Burton, who had also played on the Dale Hawkins original.) "Hound Dog," of course, had been one of the top-selling rock'n'roll singles of all time for Elvis Presley in 1956, though the Everlys take it at a more relaxed, shuffling pace. "Lonely Weekends" had been a big hit for another graduate of Sun Records, Charlie Rich, in 1960, and the Everly Brothers give it a refreshingly brassy, hard-charging arrangement.

    The most intriguing item on Rock'n Soul was "Love Hurts." The Everlys had done the original version of the classic ballad in 1960 on their second album, {^A Date with the Everly Brothers}; it had subsequently been done by Roy Orbison on the B-side of his 1961 chart-topper "Running Scared," though it wouldn't be a pop hit until Nazareth took it into the Top Ten in 1976. The version on Rock'n Soul, however, is not the Everlys' original 1960 interpretation, but an entirely new, re-recorded arrangement with an insistent pounding rhythm that speeds up the song into a far more energetic midtempo rocker, while retaining Don and Phil's trademark harmonic blend.

    There was also one song on the album that, strictly speaking, was not an oldie: "Dancing in the Street" had gone to #2 for Martha & the Vandellas just months before, though it fit into the program well enough. It was a slight harbinger of what could be found on the Everly Brothers' next album -- Beat & Soul, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music -- on which they again played a lot of rock and R&B covers, but put a few more contemporary items into the set. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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