By Richie Unterberger

In the spring of 1960, the Everly Brothers' decade-long association with Warner Brothers had kicked off with a splendid commercial and artistic start. "Cathy's Clown," their first single for the label (penned by Don and Phil Everly themselves), had soared to #1; their first Warners LP, It's Everly Time (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), had gone to the Top Ten. For their second Warners album, A Date with the Everly Brothers, the duo stuck with the approach that had made It's Everly Time one of the finest rock'n'roll albums of the pre-Beatles era, with a first-class eclectic assortment of originals; more songs from the best of the writers that supplied the Everlys with material, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant; and other covers of tunes by major rock'n'roll, blues, and country artists. They were rewarded with an album that, quite literally, repeated the success of its predecessor, as it too peaked at #9 in the charts.

    Strictly speaking, A Date with the Everly Brothers was not wholly comprised of new material. One of the anomalies of It's Everly Time was that it did not contain the mammoth hit single "Cathy's Clown," though it was an era in which rock'n'roll albums by hit acts were anchored by one or more chart singles whenever possible. Though It's Everly Time did spin off a smash 45 in "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)," "Cathy's Clown," oddly, would have to wait until A Date with the Everly Brothers to make it onto a long-player. Not that listeners were complaining: "Cathy's Clown" is one of the greatest of Everlys classics, from its skipping martial drum beat and peerless descending harmonies to its downcast self-deprecating lyric (inspired by Don Everly's high school sweetheart). Also on A Date with the Everly Brothers was "Cathy's Clown"'s B-side, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant's "Always It's You," which was something of a throwback to the poppiest ballads they had recorded in the late 1950s for Cadence, with its shimmering reverberant guitar and gentle vibes. Other than the "Cathy's Clown"/"Always It's You" single, all of the tracks on A Date with the Everly Brothers were recorded in what these days seems like remarkable speed, taking just four sessions during July 1960.

    With the exception of Don's "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)," there had been no original material on It's Everly Time. This time around, however, they'd manage to find a place for four of their own songs, three of which (counting "Cathy's Clown") were collaborations between Don and Phil, though Phil wrote "Made to Love" alone. Of these, the moody ballad "That's Just Too Much" is certainly one of the most unknown gems in the Everlys' catalog, both for its superbly harmonized moody melody and innovative guitar work that growls and squeals in the most subdued fashion imaginable. "Sigh, Cry, Almost Die" is another original that begs for a wider hearing, with its captivating shuffling, stop-start rhythms and almost hypnotically melancholy tune.

    As they had for It's Everly Time, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant supplied a wealth of material -- five tracks in all, counting the aforementioned B-side "Always It's You." Of these, by far the most famous is the original version of "Love Hurts," a sad love ballad so classic it's hard to believe it wasn't issued as a single. It wasn't long before other artists saw the potential in the song, with Roy Orbison putting it on the B-side of his 1961 chart-topper "Running Scared," though it would take hard rock group Nazareth to make a Top Ten hit out of it in the mid-1970s. A lesser-known highlight of the Everlys-Bryants association was "So How Come (No One Loves Me)," whose engaging bounce couldn't hide a painful self-doubting loneliness. As proof that one or more of the Beatles must have heard this LP (which went all the way to #3 in the UK), the great British group would do a fine cover of the song for the BBC in July 1963, a track that finally found release thirty years later on their Live at the BBC compilation. Also contributed by the Bryants were "Donna, Donna," with its slightly Latin-tinged rhythms -- the Bryants were hardly country-pop purists in the elements they brought to their songwriting -- and the ballad "A Change of Heart."

    Filling out the program for A Date with the Everly Brothers were three numbers from outside the Everlys-Bryants circle. The most celebrated of these by far was Little Richard's "Lucille," which had been a hit for the rock'n'roll wildman in 1957. To their credit, the Everly Brothers did not copy the original, instead devising a far more guitar-heavy arrangement -- eight guitars doing the same riff at once, in fact -- to back Don and Phil's rich, wailing harmonies. Issued as the B-side to "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)," "Lucille" became a big hit in its own right, making #21 in the States and (as a double A-side with "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)") going all the way to #4 in the UK. For the remaining selections, the pair took a pass at Jimmy Reed's blues classic "Baby What You Want Me to Do" and Mel Tillis's "Stick with Me Baby." (Though eventually known as a country music star, in his early days Tillis wrote a few songs that were covered by rockers; in 1956 Gene Vincent had done "Five Feet of Lovin'," which was co-penned by Mel.)

    With several Warner Brothers hit albums and singles of the highest quality already to their credit, the Everly Brothers were indeed riding high at the end of 1960. Unfortunately, career pressures, personal problems, and an obligation to the US military would make it impossible to maintain such a high-flying track record. While a few big hit singles were yet to come, after 1962 there would be no more Top Tenners for the Everlys in the States. Along with It's Everly Time, however, A Date with the Everly Brothers endures as one of the highest peaks not only in the twosome's distinguished career, but as one of the finest early-1960s rock albums by anyone. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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