In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Of that initial big-bang wave of ’50s rock ‘n’ roll stars, the Everly Brothers were arguably the least threatening. On songs like “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” a #1 in the pre-Hot 100 era of 1958, they radiated a tremulous lost-little-kid vulnerability. That approachability might have been one key to their longevity; they were still making hits back when many of their peers were falling off. Another key was their craftsmanship; the Everly Brothers simply knew how to put a song together.
“Cathy’s Clown” was the best-selling single of the duo’s career, but it wasn’t their greatest. It’s a perfectly solid pop song about romantic bitterness, but it doesn’t have the floaty, otherworldly quality that set their real classics apart. The Everlys, at their best, sounded completely bewildered by the world around them. The “Cathy’s Clown” hook — “don’t want your looooove anymore” — doesn’t have that. It sounds shrill and mean. But it still works.
Part of it is the strange, gallumphing arrangement; producer Wesley Rose used tape-looping to make it sound like there were two drummers playing on the song. Part of it is the way the Everly’s interweave their voices, one putting in tiny embellishments while the other sings the line straight-up. And part of it, maybe, is the way they managed to make even that bitterness sound friendly and approachable.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Elliott Smith singing about singing “Cathy’s Clown” on “Waltz #2 (XO)”: