The foreverness of the Everlys

mesnip18716 All things must pass, everything is in transition, and nothing is forever. Part of the innocence of being a kid is a belief that what cannot be might nevertheless – you never know – just be. It isn’t healthy to live in the past: but to forget it is far worse…and unutterably sad.

‘Anecdotage’ used to be a regular feature in the early days of The Slog, and having been glued to the BBC4 Rock n Roll fest last night, I now feel sad I didn’t write more of them. So many people these days are down on nostalgia – especially from Baby Boomers, who have become something of a hate-group: the young affect yawns when we talk about growing up in the 1950s, and in doing so they may seem no different to how I was when my parents started going on about Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.

But there is a difference. Many people will find it weird that I suggest this, but the 1950s weren’t really a reaction to the grey 1940s and postwar rationing: rather, they marked the end of Victorian imperial Britain. It was the first step in the process of Brits loosening up: you might still wear a tie to go to Church on Sundays, but you’d undo the collar-button on the way home.This wasn’t just true of dress. It also applied to expressing emotions.

Silly as it sounds, without the 1950s, the 1960s wouldn’t have got going until the late 1970s.

It’s hard now to explain in 2016 just how inhibited, deferential and formal the 1950s were in Britain. A 1957 radio episode of Hancock’s Half Hour was devoted entirely to Hancock, Sid James and Bill Kerr trying to get through a Sunday without expiring from boredom. Every shop, pub, cinema and restaurant was closed. Having fun on a Sunday was Not Done: at least, not until the Church Youth Club got going after Evensong. And even then, getting home later than 10 pm would result in a parental grilling of which the Gestapo would’ve been proud.

But by then (as usual, the BBC was late to catch on) something different had already arrived from America. Until Bill Haley recorded Rock around the Clock in 1956, UK youth pop music was still aspiring to get anywhere near to even dire: tunes like I’m a pink toothbrush and Who stole the Ding-Dong went  straight into the Top Ten because the only alternatives to such ‘novelty’ rubbish were Frankie Laine (who my Auntie Molly always called “mouth almighty”) and the truly awful singing duo Pearl Carr & Teddy Johnson.

The big difference this time around was that not only had a new musical form arrived, an equally new invention called teenagers were at large….and with the coming of Macmillanite prosperity, they all had jobs. With most kids leaving school at 15 – and only 1.8% of the young going to University – a 78 rpm pop single costing 4/11d (about 25p) was well within their reach. For the first time ever, music, fashion and movie marketeers had to start decoding what this new teen phenomenon wanted.

Bill Haley briefly personified rock n roll until photos of him arrived in England, and he turned out to be a fat bloke with a silly kiss-curl. But later in 1956, Elvis Presley recorded Heartbreak Hotel – swiftly followed by Hound Dog – and after that, he was The King. Whereas Haley  looked as if he might abuse your kid sister, Elvis was the sort of raw southern white-trash sex machine almost certain to ravish any unchaperoned daughter.

I was just that bit too young for Bill Haley and early Presley. My elder brother bought all their records, but it wasn’t until I became aware of a Little Richard track Long Tally Sally at the start of 1957 that I bought my first ‘EP’ (extended play) 45 rpm plastic disc, featuring Ready Teddy and Tutti Frutti alongside Richard’s massive hit about Sally who jump back in de alley, oh baby. Then came Great Balls of Fire from Jerry Lee Lewis, and That’ll be the Day by Buddy Holly & the Crickets. I did wonder why an American called his band after a very English game; but once I began gyrating around in front of the mirror with a cricket bat as my fantasy guitar, everything became much clearer.

There was one act, however, for which my brother and I shared an admiration: the Everly Brothers.

Phil and Don Everly came from a country & western tradition built on 1950s radio audiences in the US, overlaid with a dimension of rockabilly. But just as with Elvis, Carl Perkins, Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, the two brothers lacked the racial bigotry of previous generations: they wanted to know how black guitarists hepped up the folkiness of white country music to produce the riffs that produced can’t-sit-down rock n roll. They sought out writers using that form, but most important of all they brought romantic harmonies to pop music like nobody before or since.

Everly Brothers songs have – and this is a very personal thing – the ability to take me back to that 1957-62 period during which early rock n roll blossomed, faded, and then produced a throwback from Liverpool called The Beatles. I don’t mean simply “what I was doing at the time”; I’m talking about the primary senses of fifty-five years ago.

The last rays of sun coming through the bedroom curtains at night in that seemingly endless hot summer of 1959. (Dad had called me in from the street about twenty times before eventually shoving me up the stairs).

The smell in the morning air the day after Bonfire Night, during which fathers had flung gallons of petrol onto the bommies to get the damp pyramid of beams, branches and old wicker fencing to light…..while mothers took a hammer to treacle toffee before handing it out to half-drowned kids in blue gaberdine raincoats.

The xylophonic sound of ice-cream vans all those deep-space light years ago – when only posh families had fridges, and the creamy-crisp texture of one Lyons Maid wafer could turn saturnine grey into special day.

Then there were the emotional stirrings I felt – perhaps because I was a precocious kid desperate at the age of ten to be an age ending in ‘teen’. I got these every time Linda Mordin came round from Polefield Road to play French Cricket with we Freshfield Avenue kids: but nothing made sense of my hormonal confusion quite as much as Everly tracks like Bye Bye Love, Wake up Little Suzie, Let it Be Me, Dream and above all, So Sad to see Good Love Go Bad. Get a load of these lyrics:

We used to have good times together
But now I feel them slip away
It makes me cry to see love die
So sad to watch good love go bad
Remember how you used to feel dear?
You said nothing could change your mind
It breaks my heart to see us part
So sad to watch good love go bad

“It was a more innocent age” has become such a cliché, but it all depends on how one interprets innocence.

There is far more to innocence than sexual purity based on that odd pre-pubertal time of life. In my case, it meant an erroneous belief that when two people said ‘forever’, they meant it. This was a form of naivety founded on my desire for childhood to be an infinite state….a need for certainty that a word, once given, would not lead to a broken heart.
Life isn’t like that: we’re all human, we all have drives and frailties, and we all do stuff that – whatever we might admit in public – stabs us with the pain of guilt in private. My pet hate as a put-down is “grow up”. Growing up, unfortunately, leads to a loss of that innocently pledged love we can never quite regain.
The singing duo in my lifetime that came closest to bottling and thus preserving the melancholy of such pledges was the Everly Brothers. While it remains true that many Elvis, Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Moody Blues, Gerry Rafferty, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Blur and Joni Mitchell recordings can transport me to the past, nothing comes close to Phil and Don’s ability to help me touch what was – and perhaps give hope that I might one day reach out to retrieve it.

Yesterday at The Slog: A great deal of Twattering, not much class

27 thoughts on “Anecdotage

  1. Happy days! Just back from the pub where a wonderful young Irish bloke was playing a compendium of 1950s rock with C&W and Classic Irish stuff. Good evening with loads of cider.


  2. John, I am 75 (or will be in a couple of days) and somehow or another missed most of that. Perhaps it was that I saw more of the 1940s than you, perhaps it was because I was away at school and was not exposed to this musical culture and the rebelliousness that went with it or perhaps it was rural Kent with its hunting, shooting and fishing culture. Regardlesss, miss it I did and I am rather sorry for that. I was lucky enough to be a 1.8 percenter and got away from that rather closed environment. But looking back from the vantage point of all that followed, the 1940s and 1950s in the UK do now seem to me to be an odd period.


  3. Now you’ve had your wallow you might do well to remember that not everyone was a privileged, middle class kid.


    Dear Mr Happy

    You might do well to remember that every time you come here full of envy and weighed down with shoulder chips, you leave in search of another IP address. Bizarre.


  4. I wasn’t a ‘middle class kid’ and can understand exactly what is being said here – you had to live it!
    This is my retort despite Clinton Warmonger, Tithead Trump and Mother Theresa May-or-Maynot Upon the Hill


  5. Anonymous

    I too, can relate to what JW has written, neither was I a “middle class kid”, I alos had an elder brother JW, and his LP collection was a sight to see.


  6. I too watched last night.

    The Everlys also influenced Beach Boys, Abba and even Amy Winehouse and Adele ( pure Everly songs although average singer – go listen to what Marina Dalmas did with an Adele song)

    Of course last night finished with the Anthem for both them and that era, namely Albert Hall and “Let it be me”…never surpassed

    Above post is appreciated and pretty much agreed with.


    As to Albert Hall, I was lucky enough to be there that night. Not a dry eye in the House.


  7. That was the beginning of Mods and Rockers scrapping on Bognor seafront (yes even Bognor). Which way did you go JW Mod or Rocker?


    Very much a mod: no scooter or parka jacket, but back vent suit, tab collar Ben Sherman shirt, cowhide leather shoes & all the other accoutrements required to pull birds in the Manchester clubs – Jungfrau, Oasis, Twisted Wheel etc.


  8. Oi JW!! Leave Pearl and Teddy alone! And Nina and Frederick. And Denis Lotis ! And whoever
    recorded ” Blow the Wind Southerly ” in the 50s and had a hit with it!!

    Mind you I will say this : You re no Cathy s Clown.


  9. Paul Weller through all forms and reinterpretations of himself casts me back into so many eras … timeless.

    All things must pass … trying to sort out a laptop this morning … yeah, yeah :-( … when does Microsoft pass quietly into the night?

    Realised this … when everybody is rich and equal all at the same time everybody is poor.

    Well it works for OS monopolies too where once US government backed corporations really operating pay-to-play but only there software! You end up with a pile of rubbish.


  10. Interesting that the censorship in wordpress … get the feeling your comments are being processed through an AI censor? It feels like it.


  11. Good post John, my dad used to rave about this period and I too watched the programmes with great interest.

    I do wonder what precisely is the motivation behind the hateful cretins who are pestering your threads lately, I think your relentless quest to refocus people back to issues that count rather than the distractions has the PTB worried.

    Also, in addition, having read about people having posts vanish – I thought this was unlikely, only to have it happen to me yesterday after writing a long rant about the collapsing NHS..

    You can draw your own inferences from there I am sure.


  12. I watched the Everleys last night with my wife. She commented that my hairstyle circa 1962 closely matched an Everley cut. and we did not have a TV at the time


  13. Re the Everly bros:
    Not so long back one of the tv channels did a bit prog of their history.
    As best I can remember…They got shafted by one of the American media
    organization….did a deal which prohibited them from performing their own stuff and claiming copy rite on anyfuture thing that they did!
    Not too different from what happened to stuff out of Bletchley park in WW2. Not once have I seen any credit given to that org by the many wiz kids in the computer industry who have sprouted up.
    The British army had a signals unit called COMCAN which in all but name was a birthing of the INTERNET. It had too wait for the micro processor to get it down to manageable size and speed …memory =punched tape!
    Sun spots and dozy bulldozers caused havoc.
    I received a personal message from a stand a signals unit set up at the
    Daily Mail Ideal Home exhibition…. Which my eldest sister was visiting,
    it wowed them they had a interpersonal response back almost immediately.
    For my part… I thought the lads were winding me up when they called me back to th SC.
    This was only done. if their had been a bereavement!
    Re Bill Halley.. This was released as the sound track in the film The Black Board Jungle (bit of irony there ) Some of the lads a.. little bit pissed..started jiving with the nearest Bibi’. Such outrage one could not imagine!


  14. @theguvnor,

    Part of an OU course I did used the Mods & Rockers shenanigans as a classic example of Moral Panic – almost entirely made up by the press/PTB to whip up the masses. Apparently the documented skirmishes were minor and more-or-less stage-managed. Can anyone refute that?

    I would agree with that 100%. For real music aficianados, rock n roll was so central to the development of The Beatles, Stones, Who, Motown, Surfer music, hard Rock and even Glam Rock, most people I knew felt “without Elvis, there would’ve been nothing”. I never saw any violence: for me it was a continuum from Dream to I was made to love her, and from Let it be Me to I just called to say I Love You.


  15. Anecdotage, that was the word I was looking for and I think you should do at least one a week. I must however be controversial. I’m in my fifties now and for me harmony is Simon and Garfuncle. For beauty of melody it was the Carpenters, Karen’s voice, to this day, the most beautiful I have ever heard. All picked up from listening to radio two with my mother when I was young.
    My very misspent youth was as a biker and I was the angriest of angry young men, not something I reflect on with pride. Age mellows us in many ways but don’t stop socking it to ’em.


  16. @Panopticon

    I can’t say I was there. However, take Quadrophenia as evidence, written and performed by one of the Mods’ favourite bands, The Who. Do I think a young Pete Townsend was part of the PTB and that he wrote Quadrophenia to whip up a ‘Moral Panic’ amongst ‘the masses’? No.

    That doesn’t mean that every Mod and Rocker who went down to places like Brighton wanted to start fighting the minute they got down there and intended to continue throughout the weekend. They went to have a drink and a good time. Some couples went in order to spend the night together. There was probably lots of goading and grandstanding. However, what the Mods and Rockers realised was that the local police couldn’t cope if they came in large enough numbers. This was what worried the authorities and the press caught onto that concern.

    Move forward ten years to the late 70s and early 80s and Britain was blighted by football hooliganism. The police were forced to resort to extreme measures to control the ‘armies’ of football fans, who often sought to ‘take’ town centres and football stadiums through the power of their numbers. In London at least, football hooliganism was associated strongly with the Casuals, working class men who copied the Mods in taking great pride in how they dressed. This I know because I was there.

    No doubt in ten years’ time some lefty academic will give a course on how football hooliganism was a Moral Panic, created by the press and the PTB in order to scare the masses, how Heysel never happened and why we should hug a jihadi even as they cut off our heads.


  17. John,

    An excellent article. What I would add was that the youth culture of the 50s, unlike later versions, was not manufactured or controlled. Commercial ventures hadn’t worked out how to use the idea to make money. Even more importantly the authorities in the US and elsewhere didn’t know how to control it. After the failure to make Bill Haley the figurehead, they gave up until Elvis was drafted into the Army. The proof of this was the way in which white and black musicians were allowed to perform together. This may have not have seemed that strange in the UK, where often the only black people English people saw were musicians. However, in the US that racial mixing went against the religion that was segregation.


  18. Oh for the halcyon days of youth with the G9 Matchless and Steib sidecar parked up at the foot of Box Hill on a Sunday, just after the mid sixties. Then the future was bright!


  19. @kfc1404 Yes, DP is fabulous. I share your sentiments about boarding school. My 7th birthday present, September 19, 1948 was my first day as a boarder. It wasn’t the best present that I ever received. I looked at each of my 8 grandsons as they turned 7 and I said to myself “you have no idea how lucky you are”. Life has been good since starting university in 1960.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Try again…
    I bought George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” album with my first week’s salary (8 years after the Album came out, I should add), and it is still the only triple album I have! The first double album I bought was…The White Album. Those 50 years have gone in a flash and along with it all the fun of the fair of the ’60’s
    Don’t let anyone tell you that nostalgia is not like it used to be


  21. Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
    A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
    Seems my love is up and has left you with no warning
    It’s not always going to be this grey

    All things must pass
    All things must pass away

    Sunset doesn’t last all evening
    A mind can blow those clouds away
    After all this, my love is up and must be leaving
    It’s not always going to be this grey

    All things must pass
    All things must pass away
    All things must pass
    None of life’s strings can last
    So, I must be on my way
    And face another day

    Now the darkness only stays the night-time
    In the morning it will fade away
    Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
    It’s not always going to be this grey

    All things must pass
    All things must pass away
    All things must pass
    All things must pass away


  22. Watch out now, take care
    Beware of falling swingers
    Dropping all around you
    The pain that often mingles
    In your fingertips
    Beware of darkness

    Watch out now, take care
    Beware of the thoughts that linger
    Winding up inside your head
    The hopelessness around you
    In the dead of night

    Beware of sadness
    It can hit you
    It can hurt you
    Make you sore and what is more
    That is not what you are here for

    Watch out now, take care
    Beware of soft shoe shufflers
    Dancing down the sidewalks
    As each unconscious sufferer
    Wanders aimlessly
    Beware of Maya

    Watch out now, take care
    Beware of greedy leaders
    They take you where you should not go
    While Weeping Atlas Cedars
    They just want to grow, grow and grow
    Beware of darkness


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