LOS ANGELES — There is no more beautiful sound than the voices of siblings swirled together in high harmony, and when Phil and Don Everly combined their voices with songs about yearning, angst and loss, it changed the world.
Phil Everly, the youngest of the Everly Brothers who took the high notes, died Friday from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 74.
He left a towering legacy that still inspires half a century after The Everly Brothers' first hit.
You could argue that while Elvis Presley was the king of rock 'n' roll, Phil and Don Everly were its troubled princes. They sang dark songs hidden behind deceptively pleasing harmonies and were perfect interpreters of the twitchy hearts of millions of baby boomer teens coming of age in the 1950s and '60s looking to express themselves beyond the simple platitudes of the pop music of the day.
The Everlys dealt in the entire emotional spectrum with an authenticity that appealed to proto rockers like the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who gladly pass the credit for the sea changes they made in rock to the ruggedly handsome brothers. The Beatles, the quartet whose pitch-perfect harmonies set the pop music world aflame, once referred to themselves as "the English Everly Brothers." And Dylan, pop culture's poet laureate, once said, "We owe these guys everything. They started it all."
Two generations later, artists are still finding inspiration in the music. Most recently, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones lovingly recorded a tribute to the Everlys and their unique album "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us."
"There's so much darkness in those old songs," Armstrong said recently. "I think mainly that's just how people communicated when it came to mourning and loss. Then with the Everly Brothers it sounds like these two little angels that sing."
That reaction was universal for the Everlys. Their hit records included the then-titillating "Wake Up Little Susie" and the era-identifying "Bye Bye Love," each featuring their twined voices with Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's lyrics that mirrored the fatalism of country music and the rocking backbeat of modern pop music. These sounds and ideas would be warped by their devotees into a new kind of music that would ricochet around the world.