On a list of artists whose legacy has been ill-served by the dozen or so hits by which they’re remembered, the Everly Brothers could lay fair claim to the top spot.
Take their third Cadence single, a rockabillified cover of Ray Charles’s “This Little Girl of Mine,” released right between the iconic “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” The a-side reached No. 26 in early 1958, but has never found favor with the nation’s oldies-format programmers.
And the b-side is even more obscure. It’s not the song’s fault. “Should We Tell Him” has all the elements of the Everlys’ early formula: propulsive acoustic guitars, Chet A tk ins’ pinpoint leads, Don’s limpid solo vocal turns in the verses, brother Phil’s high harmonies, and lyrics that elevate adolescent problems to high pop drama. The protagonist “takes his best girl dancing/to my best friend’s mansion,” only to overhear them whispering, “Should we tell him?/To let him go on trusting isn’t fair.” When he runs to a local café, the story’s the same: “Should we tell him that his girl doesn’t care?”
It’s a fine recording. But the newly unearthed acoustic version on Too Good To Be True (Varese Vintage) is even better. With no band, the harmonies shine more brilliantly, and a variant chorus ups the paranoid stakes to Orbisonian levels: “Should we tell him?/I seem to hear it everywhere I go.” Both this disc and its companion volume Give Me a Future are decisive evidence that, as songwriters, both Phil and Don could give Felice and Bordeleaux Bryant (the team behind “Susie,” “Bird Dog,” and others) a run for their money. Many of these demos for country publishing monolith Acuff-Rose feature only one Everly, which is disappointing. Still, this is the only place you’ll hear unrecorded originals like Phil’s bitter “Turned Down” and “I’ll Bide My Time,” or Don’s “Capitan, Capitan,” a 1960 anti-war song that anticipates later folk-rock trends.
If the Everlys’ ’50s output has been winnowed to a handful of golden oldies in popular memory, their later work has virtually vanished. Walk Right Back, a readily available (but unevenly mastered) Warner Bros. double-disc, cherrypicks ’60s recordings. And many of the 15 albums recently reissued by Collectors’ Choice have never appeared on CD in their original form.
The album most worthy of attention is 1968’s Lenny Waronker-produced Roots(Warner Bros.), an arty Left Coast country set with songs and arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman (“Illinois,” unrecorded by its author), and the Beau Brummels’ Ron Elliot, bracketed by clips from the Everly Family’s early ’50s radio shows, on which “Little Donnie” and “Baby Boy Phil” cut their teeth on old-timey gospel (“The Old Rugged Cross”) alongside parents Ike and Margaret. But the rock-oriented releases Beat & Soul and Gone, Gone, Gone are just as eye-opening. In Our Image(1966), assembled from freestanding single sides, may be the best of the lot. Tough (“The Price of Love”) and tender (“It Only Costs a Dime”) originals sit alongside sharply selected outside material. It took four people, including British R&B figure Kenny Lynch, to write the swaggering “Leave My Girl Alone,” but the result was worth it. Over meaty guitars and electrified celeste, Don faces down a rival (“I’ve got trouble enough without having you to fight”), coming on like the narrator of “Should We Tell Him” pushed to the edge of violence.