Naturally, when you think of the primary influences of The Beatles, the first names that usually spring to mind are the original rock ‘n’ rollers like Little Richard and Chuck Berry. However, surprisingly, they were never the “biggest influence” on Paul McCartney.
While it is true that these heroes of the Delta blues scene helped ‘The Fab Four’ establish their sound, the luxurious harmonies that John Lennon and McCartney peppered their records with was directly taken from The Everly Brothers. The latter were more integral than anybody else in shaping their identity, and Macca has nothing but encouraging words to say about them. The duo made up of brothers Don and Phil first broke through towards the back end of the 1950s, and, as a young dreamer in Liverpool, he found everything about the group inspiring. They were a breath of fresh air, and quite frankly, the group made him want to be the third Everly Brother.
Not only did the harmonic pairing help galvanise The Beatles, but across the Atlantic, their records were also critical tools in the evolution of The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel. No other duo has left such an indelible mark on the industry, and McCartney has nothing but superlatives for their achievements. “The biggest influence on John and me was The Everly Brothers,” he once admitted. “To this day, I just think they’re the greatest. And they were different. You’d heard barbershop quartets, you’d heard the Beverley Sisters – three girls – you’d all heard that. But just two guys, two good-looking guys? So we idolised them. We wanted to be them.”
Listening to The Everly Brothers changed how McCartney viewed music. For the first time in his life, he realised that harmonising wasn’t gender-specific, and it was an attribute that he could interpolate into his own work.
Following Phil Everly’s death in 2014, the former Beatle penned a poignant letter about the duo’s importance on his early career and explained how he came to befriend his idol. “Phil Everly was one of my great heroes,” Macca wrote. “With his brother Don, they were one of the major influences on the Beatles. When John and I first started to write songs, I was Phil and he was Don. Years later, when I finally met Phil, I was completely star-struck and at the same time extremely impressed by his humility and gentleness of soul. I will always love him for giving me some of the sweetest musical memories of my life.”
The Everly Brothers reunited in 1984, following an 11-year hiatus, and they called upon their most famous fan to write and compose the opening track on their comeback album, EB 84. Furthermore, ‘On the Wings of a Nightingale’ stormed the Billboard Hot 100 and provided the duo with their most successful single since 1970.
To give back to the group who had provided him with so much joy was a heartwarming endeavour for McCartney, who chose to let them benefit from his masterful artistry rather than selfishly hoard the success. After all, without The Everly Brothers, then the trajectory of The Beatles could have looked significantly different, and that is a notion that doesn’t even bear considering.