The Story Behind “Cathy’s Clown” by Reba McEntire and How She Delivered Her Own Take on The Everly Brothers’ Original

Only a truly iconic vocalist would dare to try and put a distinctive stamp on a song like “Cathy’s Clown,” since the original was handled so brilliantly by The Everly Brothers. Reba McEntire managed to pull it off when her 1989 cover version added to her ever-growing list of country No. 1 singles.

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Perhaps when McEntire begins her coaching stint on the new season of The Voice, she’ll pass on some of her experiences doing cover material. She can point directly to “Cathy’s Clown” and say, “Here’s how it’s done.”

The Everlys’ Original

The Everly Brothers started the ’60s off with a bang, making “Cathy’s Clown” the first single of the new decade and scoring their third No. 1 single in the process. As always, the brotherly harmonies are front and center, but the entire recording, short as it is (barely more than two minutes), is jam-packed with great stuff, including the slamming drum beat, rollicking piano, and unique structure (there aren’t really any verses).

You simply can’t overstate the influence of songs like this on the British Invasion. The Beatles never shied away from mentioning their debt to Phil and Don Everly. And in this case, you also have to give credit to the brothers for coming up with “Cathy’s Clown” as songwriters as well.

In true Everlys fashion, however, this has also been the source of great controversy. The original songwriting credits included both brothers, and the two often told the story of how Don began writing the song and Phil helped him finish it. But by 1980, Don ended up with full credit, with conflicting stories about how and why this came about.

This all ended up in court when the estate of Phil, who passed away in 2014, fought to have his name returned to the credits. The most recent ruling on the case, in 2021, suggested that Don (who died that same year) will remain sole songwriter for credit’s sake, although this came down to a technicality about when the complaint was filed and not based on any definitive proof.

Reba’s Version

McEntire delivered her own take on “Cathy’s Clown” for her 1989 album Sweet Sixteen (it was her 16th studio album), and made it the first single. She softened up the arrangement a bit with acoustic guitars and warm synths, which was a move that made it synch up with the way she changed around the perspective of the lyrics.

The original incarnation of “Cathy’s Clown” is pretty simple. The title refers to the narrator’s status, as he is constantly mistreated by Cathy. After all this, he finally gets fed up and decides he’s had enough of this nonsense, giving the song a subtle air of triumph when the Everlys glide through the chorus.

McEntire decided to turn the song into a love triangle. Hence, the first iteration of the chorus begins, I want your loving more and more. In this case, the narrator is seeing the man that she loves turned into “Cathy’s Clown.” That little change actually nudges many of the other original lyrics into place. The first bridge becomes the narrator’s advice to this guy on how to avoid Cathy’s machinations.

The second bridge includes some slightly altered words to fit that approach: I just think it’s kind of sad / That she’s treating you so bad / And I’m the one who cares. When you hear these words sung by McEntire with nothing but love and tenderness in her voice, the song completes its transformation.

In other words, McEntire provided a master class with “Cathy’s Clown” on how to do a cover of a seemingly uncoverable song. Something tells us some up-and-coming singers will learn from this example when a certain singing competition starts up all over again.

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Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage

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