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January 04, 2014 8:13 AM Phil Everly, R.I.P.

By Kathleen Geier

Phil Everly of the pioneering rock group the Everly Brothers died yesterday. He was 74 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The Everly Brothers are among the most influential of the early rock and roll acts (one fascinating fact about Phil is that he was a pallbearer at Buddy Holly’s funeral). Phil sang tenor to his brother older brother Don’s baritone, and both played guitars. The Everlys are often credited for their impact on the likes of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel, and certainly, you can hear their influence there, most notably in their exquisite harmonies. But I would argue that the Everlys’ most significant influence was on the country rock genre. They are a crucial link between earlier country artists like the Delmore Brothers and the Louvin Brothers and later country-inflected rock acts from The Byrds, Gram Parsons, and The Eagles in the 60s and 70s to Lucinda Williams today.

The song for which they will probably always be best-known is this classic ode to teenage panic and 50s sexual morality, “Wake Up Little Susie.”

There was something about the Everlys’ preternaturally close harmonies that made their ballads particularly moving and powerful. Of the many ballads they recorded, “All I Have to Do Is Dream” is perhaps the most poignant.

“Bye Bye Love” was the second single they ever recorded. It became their first big hit.

Here, they perform “Bird Dog” and “Till I Kissed You.” “Bird Dog” is a good example of their rockabilly side.

Another of their classic songs, “Cathy’s Clown” — this is a fun one:

“Crying in the Rain” is a great Carole King song that the Everlys made famous.

I’ve long been on a mission to find the most goddamn depressing Christmas song of all time. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon “Christmas Eve Can Kill You.” It instantly made my short list, where it remains.

In addition to their pop-oriented recordings, the Everlys also recorded some more traditional country/folk-type fare. One of them is a recording I’ve always been fond of, “I’m Just Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail,” from their great album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. It’s a song that sounds like it was made to order for the Louvin Brothers, but the Everlys do wonderfully well by it.

(Added) Commenter Howie14 reminds me of “Bowling Green,” an Everlys single from 1967 which showcases them in a much more heavily produced format than usual. And yet their pop buoyancy remains.

Here’s another one I love from Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet.”

Finally, here’s another ballads, “Love Hurts.” I think it’s one of their most gorgeous vocal performances.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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