By Richie Unterberger

The first two albums the Everly Brothers released on Warner Brothers -- It's Everly Time and A Date with the Everly Brothers, both from 1960 (and both reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music) -- were exceptionally fine LPs for the pre-Beatles era. They mixed blues, country, R&B, and pop into their brand of harmonized rock'n'roll on material from both outside writers and their own pens. Yet the half-dozen longplayers that followed between 1961 and 1964 all seemed like stopgap releases of sorts, even though all contained at least some worthwhile music. There were a couple of 1961 half-baked concept albums, Both Sides of An Evening and Instant Party, which were filled with a surprising abundance of non-rock pop standards and movie tunes; a 1962 Christmas album; and two greatest hits compilations, one of which actually included some re-recordings of songs they had first cut before moving to Warner Brothers in 1960. And there was 1963's The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits, which was just what the title said: all covers of fairly recent country smashes, none of them Everly Brothers originals.

    It's tempting, then, to view that 1963 album as another way to mark time, stuffing an entire platter full of covers in the absence of fresh ideas or new tunes. In fact, however, such an approach was not alien to the Everlys, or an act of desperation. They'd done quasi-concept albums before, and they'd continue to do them throughout the 1960s, focusing on rock'n'soul oldies, for instance, on not one but two 1965 LPs (Rock'n Soul and Beat & Soul). And five years prior to The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits -- just as they'd reached the peak of their early stardom -- they covered traditional folk and country tunes on their second album, late 1958's Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Country was a big part of the Everlys' music, though far from the only one. And while it came out at a time when numerous rock'n'roll stars were devoting entire albums to non-rock music -- Chubby Checker putting out his blatantly titled Folk Album, for instance,  and Del Shannon recording a whole LP of Hank Williams songs -- the Everly Brothers were far more at ease with slanting their music toward country than most other early rockers would have been, making the result sound much less forced than most other such detours. (Indeed, to be blunt, it sounded far less forced their own previous attempts to step outside the rock box with the show tunes and pop standards on their 1961 albums.)

    The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits would not, however, be a rerun of Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. The material chosen was far more contemporary this time around, and while the arrangements were country-leaning, they were certainly not based in either traditional country-folk or mainstream early-'60s Nashville country-pop. Don and Phil Everly recorded the sides with a full band, and with some electric rock'n'roll swing that in a way made the album at times foreshadow country-rock (though one could say the same of much of the Everly Brothers' catalog). Certainly the absence of original compositions, and more overt rock'n'roll, might have disappointed fans who wanted something more in line with what they'd heard on the Everlys' classic hits. It was recorded, however, at a time when the Everlys were running short on original songs, their lives having been recently disrupted by a recent stint in the Marines and drug, marital, and managerial problems. Their conflicts with manager/publisher Wesley Rose had also cut off their line to compositions by the best of their outside suppliers, Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant, who worked for Rose's publishing company, Acuff Rose. Under the circumstances, then, devoting an entire album to contemporary country hits was a reasonable option.

    To their credit, the Everly Brothers did not simply go through the motions, clearly taking care with both the vocal and instrumental arrangements. The duo's harmonizing was superb, the backing tasteful (steering well clear of the glossier tendencies of Nashville country), and the material intelligently selected, including classics by some of the top country songwriters and performers of the 1950s and 1960s. Don Gibson, in fact, was saluted no less than three times, first with the opening "Oh, Lonesome Me," which Gibson had taken into the pop Top Ten in 1958 (and which Neil Young would cover on his 1970 Top Ten album After the Gold Rush). Somewhat less celebrated was "Just One Time," which had reached the Top Thirty for Gibson in 1960; the other Gibson number, "Sweet Dreams," would not reach its biggest audience until Tommy McLain's swamp-pop interpretation made #15 in 1966.

    A few of the other songs would have also been quite fresh in the minds of recent pop and country listeners. One of the more imaginative interpretations was of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," where the Everlys changed the pained honky-tonk of the original into something more deliberate and reflective. "I Walk the Line" had been the first big hit for another iconic country legend, Johnny Cash, in 1956. "Born to Lose," though written by Frankie Brown, crossed over heavily into the pop market as the B-side of Ray Charles's 1962 chart-topper "I Can't Stop Loving You," also appearing on Ray's #1 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. Another country classic that made deep inroads into the pop market via a cover by an R&B star was "Release Me," which had been a country hit for Ray Price, Jimmy Heap, and Kitty Wells before Esther Phillips took it into the pop Top Ten in 1962. One of the most rock-oriented cuts on the album was "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," which had been a Top Twenty hit in '62 for the British folk-pop trio the Springfields, featuring a young Dusty Springfield, who wouldn't embark on her solo career until the following year.

    As for the less celebrated sources of the remaining cuts, "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" was written by Hank Locklin, and although Locklin didn't write "Please Help Me, I'm Falling," it became his only big pop hit in 1960, when it peaked at #8. "Lonely Street" has been recorded by several country superstars, including Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, Bobby Bare, Don Gibson, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Kitty Wells, and Ray Price, as well as rockabilly greats Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, and Gene Vincent. Oddly, though, it would be Andy Williams who'd have the big success with the song in the pop market, making a #5 hit out of it in 1959; the Everly Brothers had wanted to record it back in the late 1950s when they were with Cadence Records, but laid off after Cadence chief Archie Bleyer took it to Williams. The final track on The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits -- appropriately titled "This Is the Last Song I'm Ever Going to Sing," considering it was the album closer -- was the one song on the LP that was not a cover of a hit. It was written by Jerry Allison and Sonny Curtis of the Crickets; Curtis had penned the Everlys' great 1961 smash "Walk Right Back," and would author a few other tunes for the duo in the mid-1960s.

    Released in October 1963, The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits, sadly, was not a commercial success, even in the country market that had so strongly supported the Everlys' first batch of hit singles. They would never again make such an overt overture to the country audience. Yet neither would they ever abandon the heavy country overtones to much of their music, sometimes pushing it to the forefront (as on their 1968 album Roots), and always blending it into their matchless brand of harmony-heavy rock'n'roll. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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