Harmony singing was a part of rock and roll right from the beginning, but the three- and four-part harmonies of doo-wop, derived from black gospel and blues traditions, would never have given us Simon and Garfunkel, the Beatles or the Byrds. To get those groups, you first had to have the Everly Brothers, whose ringing, close-harmony style introduced a whole new sound into the rock-and-roll vocabulary: the sound of Appalachia set to hard-driving acoustic guitars and a subtle backbeat rhythm. One of the most important and influential groups in the history of rock and roll, the Everly Brothers burst onto the music scene in 1957 with their first big hit, "Bye Bye Love," which was quickly followed with their first #1 song, "Wake Up Little Susie," which topped the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1957.
Don and Phil Everly began performing together professionally in 1945 at the ages of eight and six, respectively, on their family's live radio show out of Shenandoah, Iowa. The Everly family resettled to Knoxville, Tennesee, in 1953, and two years later, 18-year-old Don and 16-year-old Phil began pursuing work as songwriters in Nashville. As a songwriting duo, they had very little success, and in their first try at making a record of their own, they couldn't even crack the lowest level of the Country & Western chart. A move to Cadence Records in 1957, however, changed the course of the Everly Brothers' career, bringing them into partnership with a production team that included legendary session man Chet Atkins and the songwriting team of Felice and Boudreaux Bryant.
"Bye Bye Love" was the first song by the Bryants to be recorded by the Everlys, establishing their trademark sound and peaking at #2 on the charts in the summer of 1957. The follow-up single, "Wake Up Little Susie," reached the top spot on October 14, 1957, though not without stirring controversy in some parts due to lyrics that hinted at teenage sex. Literally banned in Boston at one point, the Everlys' first chart-topper was taken at face value in most parts of the country as an insanely catchy song about two teenagers who have innocently fallen asleep at a movie only to awaken at 4:00 AM in fear of having ruined their good reputations.
The Everly Brothers would earn 25 top-40 hits over the first five years of their hugely influential recording career, including two more #1s: "All I Have To Do Is Dream" (1958) and "Cathy's Clown" (1960).