BACK IN DECEMBER 2012 I interviewed Will Oldham about the album of Everly Brothers covers that he’d just recorded with Faun Fables’ Dawn McCarthy. We’re both huge fans of the brothers’ work – especially the beguiling B-sides and heartbreaking covers they cut for Warner Brothers in the late ’60s – but, understandably, Oldham was deeper into their back catalogue than me and opened my eyes to a double live album I’d always assumed was but four sides of contractual filler. Of course, you should never do that, and 1970′s The Everly Brothers Show proves the rule.
“When you listen to it you just laugh, because it’s insane, infectious.”
Recorded live at the Grand Hotel in Anaheim, California on February 6, 1970, The Everly Brothers Show was produced by Lou Adler and saw the brothers backed by a crack team featuring Milwaukee guitar instrumentalist Sam McCue, Walker Brothers stalwart Al “Tiny” Schneider on drums and Robert Knigge on bass.
At first glance, the album appears to be little more than your standard live ragbag of ’50s Everly classics and rock’n’roll oldies – Maybellene, Suzie Q, Bird Dog, Wake Up Little Susie – but it also contains some stunning versions of more recent material – a hard-driving cover of 1967 single Bowling Green and a stripped-back, soulful rework of Lord Of The Manor – and a twenty minute medley that now ranks as one of my favourite side-long album tracks.
Talking about the Medley in 2012, Will Oldham said, “This is one of my favourite tracks of recorded music anywhere. It’s frantic. The one potential promise of jazz that didn’t seem to come into fruition was great musicians taking popular songs and just kind of riffing on them. It seems like that stayed within a jazz tradition. But this is close. It’s 18 minutes of going from one song to another with extended four minute bass solo section, three-minute drum solo section… When you listen to it you just laugh, because it’s insane, infectious.”
The concert was filmed, and sections were shown on the Everlys’ 1970 ABC TV vehicle, also called The Everly Brothers Show. This five-minute clip is taken from that medley and shows Don and Phil moving seamlessly from Chuck Berry’s Rock And Roll Music into Abbey Road‘s valedictory coda, The End. In light of the brothers’ acrimonious split in 1973 and, of course, Phil Everly’s recent passing, the sequence now feels incredibly moving, especially as everything Don Everly sang around this time was touched by shades of night. It could be just a cover. But given the brothers’ troubles, it could also be a gesture of reconciliation, an admission of guilt, an onstage taunt.
“However you read it, the whole Medley feels like a conversation.”
However you read it, the whole Medley feels like a conversation, a sibling narrative running between two brothers who, by that stage, had pretty much given up on talking to each other off-stage. If you don’t believe there’s something else going on here, other than the standard Vegas segue-fest, just watch how Don and Phil effortlessly glide from the saccharine hippie optimism of The Hair Soundtrack’s Aquarius into the cold, romantic pessimism of The Price Of Love and Joe South’s zero-sum game The Games People Play.
If that isn’t enough of a convincer, here’s Will Oldham on another highlight from the album, one without an accompanying Youtube clip, sadly…
“There’s one moment after everyone’s done their extended solo section that the whole band comes back together doing the Ticket To Ride riff, just for a second. You think that the musicians don’t know where each other are, and then they go back into their groove. It’s just one of the most intense pieces of music to listen to. That’s one I play regularly for people. Usually I’ll play it on tour in the van because everybody gets lost in it.”
Now it’s your turn. Last time I looked, there was a copy of the album on Discogs for £4.