By Richie Unterberger

In 1960, the Everly Brothers had started their decade-long stint with Warner Brothers in triumph. "Cathy's Clown," their first single for the label, had been a #1 hit; both sides of the follow-up, "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)" and "Lucille," had charted high as well. Both of their 1960 Warners albums, It's Everly Time and A Date with the Everly Brothers (each also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), had gone to the Top Ten. Even more remarkably, both of those LPs, though recorded quickly, were filled from top to bottom with diverse, quality material that marked them as being among the finest rock'n'roll longplayers of the pre-Beatles era. It must have seemed to both the brothers and the label that things could hardly be going better.

    Yet in 1961, much of the momentum somehow dissipated. A double A-sided Top Ten single, "Walk Right Back"/"Ebony Eyes," started the year in plenty of style, yet its mid-year follow-up, "Temptation," would just slide inside the Top Thirty. Too, their third Warners LP -- appearing almost a year after their sophomore effort (A Date with the Everly Brothers) -- didn't even chart. Even more troubling, the album and singles included no compositions from either the Everlys or the Boudleaux Bryant-Felice Bryant husband-wife songwriting team, though the Everlys and Bryants had been responsible for penning the lion's share of their best and highest-selling recordings from 1957 onward. What was going on?

    It was not clear to much of the public at the time that the Everly Brothers were navigating some conflicts that made it difficult for them to continue working as they had since "Bye Bye Love" had launched them into superstardom. In late 1960 they had moved to Hollywood to study in Warner Brothers' acting school for six months, the connection between the label and the film studio seeming a natural to foster possible screen careers for the duo. After having lost all that time that they could have devoted to concentrating on their music, Don and Phil Everly decided they didn't want to be in the movies after all. Don, meanwhile, was undergoing a divorce, and both brothers were also distracted by a Warners-distributed label they were trying to launch, Calliope.

    Far more damaging, however, was their stormy split from Wesley Rose, who had been serving as their manager and publisher. As a result, they were denied access to material from Rose's publishing company, Acuff Rose -- which meant that compositions by the Bryants, who were in the Acuff Rose stable, were no longer available. Nor were they eager to record their own songs, as Acuff Rose would have been the publisher for those as well. In the midst of all this, they had to continue supplying Warner Brothers with new recordings. Though they had done a single, "It's Been Nice (Goodnight)," in Hollywood in May 1961, they returned to their usual base of studio operations, Nashville, later that month to cut their third Warners album.

    Recorded in a mere three days, Both Sides of an Evening was packaged as a concept album of sorts, side one designated "for dancing," and side two "for dreaming." The resulting LP, however, was not so much schizophrenic as a weird detour. All of the Everlys' previous longplayers (save their more realized 1958 concept album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, devoted to country and folk material) had presented an excellent balance of pop, country, rockabilly, blues, and R&B -- in sum, combining all of the principal elements of rock'n'roll. In radical contrast, most of the songs on Both Sides of an Evening were drawn from a decidedly non-rock'n'roll repertoire, the sources including pre-rock era standards, no less than four tunes from motion pictures, and even a "Maori farewell song." While the Everlys' two 1960 albums had also been recorded quickly, it seems that Both Sides of an Evening was a yet hastier production, the stars turning to a motley bag of non-rock oldies in the absence of fresh material from the Bryants, themselves, or indeed other contemporary writers.

    At times, however, the duo came close to sounding like themselves -- or, at least, more like their previous records. On "Muskrat" they covered Merle Travis, who, though not rock'n'roll, was very much in the mainstream of the country roots of rockabilly. The Everlys gave it a satisfyingly ebullient, nearly rockabilly treatment, and it even made #82 in the charts on the backside of the album's Top Twenty single, "Don't Blame Me." Written by James McHugh and Dorothy Fields and featuring first-rate jazzy guitar runs from Hank Garland, the suave "Don't Blame Me" was also one of the album's best tracks, and somewhat reminiscent of the slow songs by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant themselves. There's also a nod to their familial roots in the bubbly "Bully of the Town," based on an adaptation by their father, Ike Everly.

    Much of the rest of the material seemed to have been chosen with an eye for breaking into the all-around entertainment market, and while that strategy might have been ill-conceived, it should be remembered that it wasn't uncommon at a time when rock'n'roll was often feared to be a passing craze. So it was that the brothers tackled "My Mammy," made famous on-screen by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer; no less than three songs from MGM pictures ("Hi-lili, Hi-lo," taken from Lili; "When I Grew Too Old to Dream," from Deep in My Heart; and "Love Is Where You Find It," from The Kissing Bandit); and the aforementioned Maori farewell song, "Now Is the Hour." "The Wayward Wind," given a clip-clop cowboy ballad rhythm, would at least have been familiar to many of the Everlys' young fans, having topped the charts for Gogi Grant five years previously, in 1956. (For that matter, it's probably the only song that would be familiar to many rock fans born after this LP was released, having been covered by Neil Young on his 1985 album Old Ways.)

    Both Sides of an Evening having failed in the marketplace, did the Everly Brothers and Warners learn their lesson and opt for a different approach next time around? Not exactly -- just a few months later, they'd be recording another pseudo-concept album in Nashville, with a similar mix of material. That story is continued on Instant Party, also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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