Born into a musical family, brothers Don and Phillip wasted no time making the short drive from their hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee to Nashville to capitalize on their talents. With all-American good looks, striking harmonies, and innovative acoustic guitar work, producer Chet Atkins quickly noticed their crisp sound.
Over the course of their career, the Everly Brothers amassed over 30 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their work from the ’50s through the ’70s comprised some of rock and roll’s defining early compositions. And their ability to fuse genres made them pioneers of the country rock subgenre so popular today.
Take a deep dive into the Everly Brothers’ best songs below.
10. Walk Right Back
With a distinctive opening acoustic guitar riff, The Everly Brothers’ ‘Walk Right Back’ perfectly encapsulates their pioneering sound of the late ’50s. While they made a name for themselves with unique, rhythmic guitar work, they also developed a sound all their own with perfectly aligned harmonies. This was a huge hit for the pair. The duo consisted of real life brothers Don and Phillip, who got their start young singing with their parents in the band known as “The Everly Family.” Living a stone’s throw away from Nashville in Knoxville, Tennessee, they soon caught the attention of legendary producer Chet Atkins and were on their way to stardom. ‘Walk Right Back’ was penned by Buddy Holly’s The Crickets bandmate Sonny Curtis while he was serving in the army. You can hear bits of Holly’s influence in this Everly tune. It makes for an ideal example of a young rock and roll genre’s game-changing sound.
9. Oh, Lonesome Me
One of the Everly Brothers’ more obscure tracks, ‘Oh, Lonesome Me’ represents a clean, polished country sound they combined with their rock roots to create a formidable country-rock style that pioneered the subgenre. The toe-tapping tune was written by Don Gibson, and produced by Chet Atkins, who took the two boys under his wing when they came to Nashville and began their rise to fame. A light-hearted breakup song written from a man’s perspective, the duo included it on a ’60s themed album featuring them singing some of country music’s most popular recordings. While the song has been covered many times, perhaps none did it with such individual taste as Neil Young. His version is drenched in pain and crawls deliberately while the original is upbeat and graceful (despite, you know, the terrible breakup at hand).
8. Love Hurts
Another sad, heartbreak song with an angelic touch thanks to the Everly Brothers’ perfect, youthful harmonies, ‘Love Hurts’ was originally released on their 1960 record, A Date With The Everly Brothers. Written by Boudleaux Bryant, who penned several tracks for the duo, they all wanted to release it as a single because they realized the hit potential it had. However, the boys were on the highly coveted Acuff-Rose publishing company roster in Nashville, so they didn’t have much pull in regards to what was released as a single and what wasn’t. Because the company didn’t own the rights to the track, they didn’t stand to make as much money off of it if they released it as opposed to other songs they owned the publishing rights to (welcome to the music business). So the brothers didn’t get to release it as a single, and over a decade later, they watched the band Nazareth score a huge hit when they released a passionate, half-screamed version of ‘Love Hurts’ in 1975.
7. Cathy’s Clown
When this became the first single the brothers released after signing onto Warner Bros., the label was bootstrapping it at the time of their million dollar signing, so they were in desperate need of a big hit. They got it with ‘Cathy’s Clown,’ a number one hit in both the US and UK that was based on real life events. Don wrote it about a friend who was known as “Cathy’s clown” because he let his girlfriend treat him so poorly (yikes!). The languid, rhythmic tune spent several weeks at the top of the charts in Europe, prompting an overseas tour. Buddy Holly’s band The Crickets backed up the young fellas during their stint in the UK in 1960. It proved to be healing work for the backing musicians, who were still reeling from Holly’s death just a year prior in 1959.
6. Devoted to You
An Everly Brothers cut that exemplifies their classic sound, ‘Devoted to You’ is a song for all the hopeless romantics out there. The ballad was another highly successful hit for the duo while on the smaller Cadence Records roster. They released several popular singles while with the New York based company, causing them to eventually outgrow the label and head onto bigger pastures with the likes of Warner Bros. The single stayed around for a long time even after its 1958 debut. Carly Simon and James Taylor recorded a well-received version in ’78, and The Beach Boys released their own cover before Simon and Taylor in 1965. Bands like The Beach Boys often credited the Everly Brothers’ work as highly influential on the evolution of their sounds in the rock genre.
5. (‘Til) I Kissed You
While on tour in Australia, Don Everly managed to sneak in a bit of romance in between show dates. Inspired by his short-lived, passionate fling, he wrote ‘(‘Til) I Kissed You.’ The beachy tune fused genres so flawlessly, not only did it become a country music mainstay, but reggae circles began covering it widely as well. The recording is star-studded, with Chet Atkins holding down guitar work and The Crickets’ drummer Jerry Allison providing his signature percussion work. The ’59 chart topper was yet another in a long line of Everly Brothers hits throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
4. Crying in the Rain
Before Carole King hit it big as a solo artist with her album Tapestry, she was part of a songwriting team at the iconic Brill Building in New York. The ’60s are partly known as the “Brill Building Music Era,” because the location became a creative hub for multiple songwriting teams who churned out hits for pop’s biggest stars during that decade. King had a hand in writing ‘Crying In The Rain,’ and the success of the Everly tune solidified them as young heart throbs even while they were away serving in the Marine Corps (the draft still existed in America in the 1960s, and the brothers joined the Marine Reserves to fulfill the requirement). At the time, ‘Crying in the Rain’ was in the top 5 on billboard charts, and they performed the popular single on the famous Ed Sullivan Show in full uniform. If they weren’t already heart throbs before, they definitely earned the title after their TV appearance.
3. Bye Bye Love
Another percussive, rhythmic acoustic guitar riff kicks off this big hit for the Everly Brothers. A cheerful take on an otherwise depressing situation coming to terms with a failed relationship, the single was another Boudleaux-penned ditty the duo took a crack at recording. But this time, about 30 artists had to vote no on the track before the brothers got a chance to work on it in the studio. Among other artists to record the sappy tune was fellow hit-machine duo Simon & Garfunkel, who loved it a lot more than the Everly Brothers did. Rumor has it, they really appreciated the fee they recieved for the studio recording session more than getting to release it to radio. ‘Bye Bye Love’ was brought back into the spotlight in the ’90s when it was used as the featured song on the soundtrack to the hit film by the same name.
2. Wake up Little Susie
A signature hit that is a rare fun, acoustic-based rock song to play, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ tells an innocent story about a young couple who has accidentally stayed out past curfew and is trying to come up with a believable excuse to tell their parents as they make their way to Susie’s house. Despite the innocence of it now, when it was released back in 1957, staying out past curfew with a girl was a big no-no. Quite a few radio stations banned it, but that just helped its popularity. The single became a number one hit in America, and the boys’ crisp delivery on the recording makes it a fledgling rock classic.
1. All I Have to Do Is Dream
A beautiful, soothing pop smash hit, Boudleaux Bryant wrote ‘All I Have to do is Dream’ with his wife Felice in less than thirty minutes. There’s good reason for that. The song poignantly encompasses the story of their relationship, which all got started when Felice was just eight years old and had a dream about the man she’d marry. In the dream, she saw Boudleaux’s face. Decades later, they met while she was working at a hotel he was playing a gig at, and the two never parted. The Everly Brothers took this ethereal track to the top spot on the charts in 1958. The single would break into the top 100 several more times throughout subsequent decades with other artist releases, including Glen Campbell’s 1970 rendition. No one pulled it off like the Everly Brothers, though. Despite its many remakes, theirs remains the best.