As you have likely already heard, Phil Everly died on January 3, at the not young, but still too-young age of 74. What is rather amazing is just how young the Everlys were when they released so many of their classic singles — Phil was only 21 in 1960, the year that “Cathy’s Clown,” their first single for Warner Bros. records and, as it turned out, their biggest single ever, was released. And they’d already had several huge hits by then on their earlier label. Sure, there are plenty of young performers on the charts these days, but very few to none of them could ever hope to be as influential on the course of rock music as the Everly Brothers were. They took harmonies to a place they had never been before in rock, and in doing so directly influenced scores of artists, including the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkle, and many other artists of the ’60s. Most notably, they had a huge impact on the Beatles and their similarly groundbreaking harmonies. (Apparently the Beatles had playfully considered calling themselves “The Foreverly Brothers.”) It has been said that “Cathy’s Clown” was a direct influence on the Beatles’ first major hit, “Please Please Me,” so really, who knows what popular music would be like today if not for the Everlys.
“Cathy’s Clown” is truly a remarkable song, with its unusual combination of rhythms and its soaring harmonies. It also is significant as being one of the few Everly Brothers hits that the Everlys themselves wrote (many more of them were written by the great husband/wife songwriting team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant). Phil Everly’s tenor vocals on the song ring out true and clear, bringing the passion to the lyrics:
Don’t want your love any more
Don’t want your kisses, that’s for sure
I die each time I hear this sound
Here he comes, that’s Cathy’s clown
Although the Everly Brothers hadn’t been a force in popular music for a long time, and the once-great vocal cords of the brothers had faded with age, the death of Phil Everly still feels like the end of an era. But there will always be a chiseled place in the annals of rock (they were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in its first year for good reason) — and hopefully in the ears of music fans — for the sound of the Everly Brothers.