The Everly Brothers
Original Dylan version found on Biograph (1985)
That Bob Dylan would be a fan of Don and Phil Everly comes as no surprise. The Everly Brothers were prolific hit makers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, steeped in country and mountain folk traditions. Championed by Chet Atkins, they modernized their sound when they hooked up with Acuff-Rose music publishers and became the most successful rock and roll duo ever on the Billboard charts.
One of the first ten acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Everly Brothers' remarkable harmony particularly influenced The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. The former would nod to the brothers who spent their formative years in Shenandoah, Iowa in "Two Of Us" on the Let It Be album and Paul McCartney would call out to "Phil and Don" on his solo hit "Let 'Em In." The latter covered the Everlys' first hit, "Bye Bye Love" on Bridge Over Troubled Water and on their last reunion tour had the duo open for them. Paul Simon notably used the Everlys on harmony vocals for the title song on Graceland.
The story of Dylan and The Everly Brothers goes back to the late '60s. Phil Everly recounted in an interview that after one of the duo's concerts at The Bottom Line in New York City, Dylan offered them a song to record. He proceeded to play the tune quietly, but the brothers misunderstood the lyrics and passed. Later, the Everlys heard the song on the Top 40 - sung by Dylan. It was "Lay Lady Lay," and, now able to understand the words, regretted their earlier decision. (The Everly Brothers would later cover the song on the album EB 84.)
In the summer of 1975, Dylan had just started recording sessions for what was to become his Desire album. One of the first songs he reportedly wrote and worked on was "Abandoned Love." The musical vibe is clearly in line with the rest of the tunes that were selected for Desire, but was not to be included on the LP. An intimate lyric centering on the last throes of a once true relationship, "Abandoned Love" could have just as easily fit on Blood On The Tracks.
In an excerpt from the book Encounters With Bob Dylan: If You See Him Say Hello, Joe Kivak recounts:
On a Thursday night in July 1975, I headed to see Ramblin' Jack Elliott at The Bitter End in New York City. As the lights flashed on and I got up to leave, I glanced around the club and was stunned to see Bob Dylan seated toward the back with Jack, wearing the same striped tee shirt and leather jacket he had on in a photo with Patti Smith on the then-current Village Voice.
Naturally, I sat right back down . . . the engineer set up another microphone, we knew Bob was going to sit in. After a couple of songs, [Elliott] began "With God On Our Side." After the first few lines, he turned his head and said, "Bob, you want to help out on this?" The place went nuts as Dylan walked onstage. He . . . was nervous . . .
Their first song was [Woody Guthrie's] "Pretty Boy Floyd," with Bob singing harmony and his guitar buzzing right along. Then Jack started "How Long Blues." After the first verse, he looked at Bob in a way that seemed to ask him to sing a verse. Bob simply shook his head and mouthed something inaudible. When the song finished . . . his guitar was still buzzing, and he asked Jack to trade instruments with him. At that moment, everyone in the room was in a trance; it's not every day one gets to hear an impromptu Bob Dylan performance in a tiny club. After a couple of lines, we realized that he was performing a new song, with each line getting even better than the last. The song was "Abandoned Love," and it still is the most powerful performance I've ever heard.
"Abandoned Love" would eventually be released ten years later on the five-disc Dylan retrospective Biograph. And The Everly Brothers would record it that year as well, included on the album Born Yesterday. Tapping into the roots of the Celtic melody, Scarlet Rivera's violin is replaced neatly by Irish uilleann pipes. And, as always, Don and Phil provide the immediately recognizable harmony that has earned them a unique corner of rock history.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Abandoned Love"
Live Listening: Bob Dylan, "Abandoned Love" (The Bitter End, New York City, 1975)
Another Cover Version: George Harrison, "Abandoned Love" (Artifacts I - The Definitive Collection of Beatles' Rareties, 1995)
Still Another Cover: Chuck Prophet, "Abandoned Love" (Outlaw Blues, Volume 2, 1995)