This review originally ran on Americansongwriter.com in September 2016.
The Everly Brothers
Harmonies from Heaven — DVD
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Considering the enormous influence the Everly Brothers had on acts like the Beatles, the Stones, the Hollies, Simon & Garfunkel, and many more, it’s alarming it took until now for a professionally produced documentary to be created on them. And, while Harmonies From Heaven is an excellent, comprehensive hour-long overview of the brothers’ early career — basically 1957 through ’63, with extensive information on their also influential guitarist/father Ike Everly and their upbringing — it runs out of room in its relatively short playing time (this was originally a BBC TV production). There is little on their lives and career after the US hits stopped around 1963.
In other words, as fine a film as this is, it is far from complete. Don and Phil Everly also had solo work after their initial breakup and there is no mention of their late-career renaissance opening for Simon & Garfunkel’s 2003 tour, as well as tracks produced by Dave Edmunds.
But what’s here is absolutely essential watching for any Americana fan. The brothers’ history is told by both of them (Phil, who passed in 2014, is represented by older footage), as well as friends, musicians like Art Garfunkel, Keith Richards, Edmunds, Albert Lee, Waddy Wachtel, Graham Nash, Teddy Thompson and youngster Jake Bugg (all articulate and enlightening although Pauls Simon and McCartney are MIA) along with music writers and historians. Combined they piece together a compelling story of the Everly’s lasting artistic contributions; how their music flew in the face of the white-washed pop of Perry Como and Patti Page of the time and in particular the effects of their upbringing singing Appalachian folk music as a key to their later pop hits.
Like many bands with brothers, Don and Phil famously squabbled. But aside from Don explaining their differing political views (Don was a Democrat, Phil Republican), more specific reasons for their split which ran from 1973-’83 are absent. However, the details of their move from the Cadence label, (home to such classics as “Bye Bye Love” and “When Will I Be Loved”) to the newly found Warner Brothers label in 1962 are covered in depth. That famous million-dollar deal along with the British invasion of 1963 ultimately proved to be their demise as hit-makers.
It’s a wonderfully edited story with rare live music clips, terrific interviews with key players, seldom seen press clippings and a breezy pace you wish would continue for at least another hour.
It’s also worth noting that the UK generated this documentary on one of the most important and influential acts in American music. It’s another example of our friends across the pond paying tribute to a piece of US history that might have gone untold in this format without their input.
Perhaps someday with some encouragement, they’ll finish the remainder of the Everly Brothers’ story with Part 2, covering the rest of their story.
An additional disc in this set contains a previously released on DVD grainy, black and white, 45-minute Australian nightclub concert from 1968. It was originally made for Australian television (the brothers are both in tuxes, the square-looking audience is similarly attired), and is a somewhat surreal, intermittently invigorating, sporadically frustrating show. Here Don tosses passive-aggressive insults at a silent Phil in an often rambling, occasionally irrational yet soft-spoken attempt at being a low rent Smothers Brothers. Awkwardly, it falls flat with little humor and a lot of snarky, even nasty put-downs of Phil (he’s supposed to be less intelligent), and their band’s bassist, whose Gomer Pyle appearance is also ridiculed. When they cut the crap — which eats up about 15 cringe-inducing minutes of an already short show — the music is magical, mixing cool covers such a swampy “Suzie Q” with a handful of their own hits delivered with low key charm and panache.
Perhaps it was a sign of those times, but it’s unfortunate the Everly Brothers felt this clumsy attempt at comedy would enhance a performance that needed none of those embellishments to enthrall listeners with their music alone.