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The British Invasion Meets the Everlys' Elegance

The Everly Brothers didn't stop making great records when the British Invasion struck.
The Everly Brothers didn't stop making great records when the British Invasion struck.

Nearly 10 years after The Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love" expanded the possibilities of harmony singing in rock 'n' roll, Don and Phil Everly were still plugging away, though with less commercial success. They'd moved from Cadence, the label where they'd recorded their hits, to Warner Bros., and were long past the days when they ruled the charts. Inevitably, that meant things had to change: By 1966, they were engaged in a marathon quest for a sound that would click with teens enchanted by the then-thriving British Invasion. This spry collaboration with The Hollies is one of the more overt (some might say desperate) experiments: Singing mostly tunes written by The Hollies, the Everlys attempted a more assertive, "British" rock sound. Two Yanks in England wasn't exactly a smash, but it contains strong music performed with great spirit, as well as the usual Everly elegance.

It's also an excellent illustration of the reciprocal nature of creative inspiration. Like many British kids, The Hollies' Graham Nash, Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks started out emulating the Everlys' close-knit singing style. That brought them some success, and when the Everlys came calling in 1966, the accomplished students — who'd learned the duo's favorite harmonies and counterpoint tricks — were happy to help with an "update." The Hollies provided the rhythm-section backing, as well as eight songs, several of which appeared on previous Hollies projects. Together, the combined brain trust hauled The Everly Brothers into the swirling frenzy of mid-'60s rock: The hard-charging opener "Somebody Help Me" (audio) makes clear that the Everlys are totally on board, and from there, Two Yanks in England showcases lovely and at times nearly heroic-sounding vocals in a variety of settings. These include "Like Everytime Before" (audio), a lounge bossa nova reminiscent of early Beatles, as well as an essay for chiming guitars and four-on-the-floor drums: "Have You Ever Loved Somebody," which became a hit for The Hollies in 1967.

At times, the plaintive and pure tone of the Everly voices transforms a song. The best example, "Hard Hard Year" (audio), starts as a doleful look back at challenging times, then evolves into a somber vow that things are going to change. It's deeply moving any time, but particularly apt during the season of New Year's resolutions.

Listen to last week's 'Shadow Classic.'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.