Sunday 15 January 2017

The Everly Brothers - Harmonies from Heaven

In 1973, an iconic music duo fell apart in front of an audience’s very eyes. After years performing together, Don and Phil Everly’s tensions came to a head during a performance at Knott’s Berry Farm in California. During the show, Phil smashed his guitar and walked off the stage while Don finished the show, ending their collaboration after 16 years together. The Everly Brothers influenced everyone, with Paul Simon calling them the ‘most beautiful sounding duo’ he had ever heard, that saying they were ‘part of the birth of rock and roll’. So, who were Don and Phil Everly? And how did things get so bad between them?

Out now on DVD and Blu-ray, Harmonies from Heaven is a very formulaic and somewhat informative little documentary, but on the whole it is a missed opportunity. Feeling more like a run-through of their Wikipedia page than a warts-and-all, the 60-minute film covers their early lives and rise to stardom with decent detail, but seems to grind to a halt when we get to the more interesting bits such as their fall-out and split. There’s certainly no shortage of interesting faces to discuss the pair’s legacy – Art Garfunkel and Keith Richards are extremely praising of the duo, while I struggled to take Tim Rice and Paul Gambaccini seriously after their hilarious turns in the Brian Pern mockumentary series. That said, it’s debatable whether some of these people could really be considered Everly experts. Still, they’re all passionate and full of compliments for ol’ Don and Phil.

The biggest pull here is a seemingly brand new interview with Don Everly himself, as well as some archive footage of the late Phil. They both speak with fondness about their careers, while some interesting anecdotes come from Felice Bryant in another older archive interview. Felice and her husband Boudleaux were a hugely successful writing team, responsible for many of the Everly Brothers’ hits including “Bye Bye Love” and “All I Have to Do is Dream”. The stories of these songs coming from the most mundane sources – one song was inspired by the click-click-click of a windscreen wiper, for example – are insightful and entertaining. She comes off as humble about her writing, which is more than you can say about some people in the business. 

But the documentary, originally broadcast on the BBC, suffers for its short length. The film is very much on-the-surface and doesn’t delve too deeply into anything, especially the later part of the Everly story. The story is still interesting though and could make for a bloody good biopic. Why hasn’t that happened yet?! Anyway, those with anything resembling an interest in music and pop culture will surely enjoy this little film – but anyone passionate about the subject or wanting to get down to the nitty-gritty of Don and Phil’s relationship should look elsewhere. This film is more a love letter to the pair than a critical analysis or discussion, which is a shame – because this “look how great these musicians are!” approach is all-too-common these days with documentary, and the film presents information that is readily available at a glance of Wikipedia.

But the DVD & Blu-ray release of Harmonies from Heaven is far more than just this little documentary. Special features include almost half an hour of extra interviews and, for some reason, Jake Bugg performing a couple of Everly tracks. But the most important added feature, included on a bonus DVD, is a 50-minute 1968 performance by the brothers in Sydney. A very interesting piece from the archive, showing Don and Phil quite late in their Everly Brothers careers – only 5 years before the split. Fascinating to see, and in pretty decent shape considering its age.

If you’re an Everly collector, this DVD/Blu-ray is a must-buy. And if you just want to learn the basics about the duo, it’ll give you enough information to make you sound like you know what you’re talking about down at the pub. But if you’re looking for something in-depth, look elsewhere. This is mainly just a love letter to Don and Phil Everly, a timeless pair of musicians. Without them, music would be completely different today. On the whole, Harmonies from Heaven is one for the fans. 3/5


Sam Love

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