I could write this next post without even listening to the record in question. So well do I know this song, I can play it from start to finish in my head. And yet I will listen to it – not just for completeness’ sake; but because it’s a work of art that I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing for a while.
Cathy’s Clown, by The Everly Brothers (their 2nd of four #1s)
7 weeks, from 5th May – 23rd June 1960
It’s a song in two, intertwining parts. Two parts that contrast, and yet complement. That link perfectly yet offer the listener something completely different. But before all this, though, there’s the intro. That intro. There are songs without intros, there are songs whose intros pass you by, and there are songs with memorable intros. Like this one. An intro that swaggers in, with a beefy bass and drums straight from a military parade – an intro that makes sure you’re ready and listening for the main event.
And what an event. Don’t want your lo-o-o-o-o-ove anymore, Don’t want your ki-i-i-i-i-ses that’s for sure… I’m sure that entire theses have been written on ‘The Harmonies and Vocal Stylings of The Everly Brothers’ and that I have nothing new to offer. But still. Wow. This is where to look if you’re wondering just what all the fuss is about. Phil holds the note and Don does his thing.
I die each time, I hear this sound… Here he co-o-o-o-o-mes, That’s Cathy’s clown… Those dum-ding-ding-dings (that tinny, oh-so-early sixties guitar again) between the first two lines here always gets me. And then…
I gotta stand tall, You know a man can’t crawl… The harmonies are gone. Now it’s a pure rock ‘n’ roll track. The voice growls and spits, like a boxer psyching himself up. And the piano, straight outta honky-tonk, whips us along. For when he knows you’re tellin’ lies, An’ he hears em’ passin’ by, He’s not a man at all…
Then the drums snap back in and we’re harmonising again. Don’t want your love… End chorus. Then pause. Just the voice: When you see me shed a tear… Add piano. Get swinging. Don’t you think it’s kinda sad, That you’re treatin’ me so bad, Or don’t you even care…? Where the first verse is aggressive, the second is rueful. Maybe she really doesn’t care. Maybe the singer really is Cathy’s clown?
It’s been two years since we first met the Everlys, with the wistful, boyish, country-tinged ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. This record is clearly by the same two brothers, with the same honeyed voices – but now they’re all grown up. ‘Cathy’s Clown’ was their first disc with Warner Brothers, and I’d assume that the label would have asked their new act for a big first single. A statement of intent. Boy, did they get one. This, in case the preceding paragraphs haven’t made it clear, is perfection. Time-capsule pop.
Actually, that’s an idea. ‘Time-capsule pop’. Records worthy of being preserved in a titanium container and buried under Big Ben ahead of civilisation’s collapse. Songs that transcend the genre of ‘pop’ – that are catchy without being cheesy, that are cool without trying too hard, clever without going all airy-fairy, sexy without being vulgar… songs that are basically impossible for human beings to dislike. We’ll meet a few more, every so often, but – gazing quickly back down my list – I think ‘Cathy’s Clown’ is the first. (I might make a belated case for ‘Such a Night’, or maybe ‘That’ll Be the Day’, let’s see.)
I’m glad that this is neither the first nor the last time that we hear from The Everly Brothers in this countdown. I’m glad I can just leave it at that, without wandering off into biography or background. Just click the link below and enjoy one of the best songs ever written.