My favorite Everly Brothers song, and the first one that made an impression on me as a very young girl, is “Wake Up Little Susie.” It’s one of the most important songs in my life, and I have been waiting for the right time to write about it. With the recent loss of Phil Everly, the time is now.
This song was pretty scandalous back in the day. I first heard it when I was 5 or 6, but didn’t really understand it until I was maybe 8. I knew what it was implying. Susie and her boyfriend were gettin’ it on at the drive-in. She a ho! At least, that’s what everyone was going to think when they heard about it.
Now, nothing happened between Susie and her boo. Seriously! They just fell asleep at the movies because the film didn’t have much of a plot. Susie was supposed to be home by 10PM. Well, it’s now 4AM. So, yeah, they’re pretty screwed. But not that kind of screwed.
People would talk, and in 1957 ‘Murica, reputation was everything.
Wake up little Susie, wake up
Wake up little Susie, wake up…
What are we gonna tell your mama?
What are we gonna tell your pop?
What are we gonna tell our friends
When they say ‘Ooh la la’?
There’s a perfectly logical explanation to why they were out so late. The movie sucked! They fell asleep. Just tell them that. They’ll buy it. I promise you.
This reminds me of the first time I spent the night with a guy and had to do the walk of shame when I got home to explain to my parents where I had been and why I didn’t call them. We legitimately missed the exit on the way home, and by the time we realized it he was too tired to turn around and go back to my side of town. He did keep telling me to call my parents, but it was really late and I said we should just get up super early and I’d get home before they woke up. Not so much. My truth (which did not include nudity) totally sounded like bullshit to my parents, who greeted me, coffee cups in their hands, scowls on their faces, as I walked through the front door wearing a wrinkled skirt and backwards top. I got the “we thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere” speech.
When I listened to this as a kid I thought Susie was on a date with both Everly Brothers, so in my eyes she was extra slutty. And I knew from watching Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley that back in the day, women who enjoyed an active sex life were not only looked down upon by the older generation but that men didn’t respect them—they’d hit it, of course, but they wouldn’t respect it, and they certainly wouldn’t put a ring on it! But I always knew I was more like Laverne than Shirley anyway. So I was all about Susie gettin’ her freak on at the movies with Don and Phil!
Even though “Wake Up Little Susie” technically isn’t about any of this sexual liberation, in 1957 it really did upset a lot of people and it was banned in Boston. That was one more reason for parents to hate rock and roll, and one more reason for kids to love it! And the sound of the song itself is pretty brilliant. The opening guitar is pretty kick-ass, the way Don’s and Phil’s voices fit together is quite stunning, and listening to it now you can absolutely hear the influence the Everlys had on The Beatles and The Beach Boys. A few years ago I was listening to a Beach Boys compilation and I heard the Everly Brothers right away. That’s the mark of genius.
RIP Phil Everly. A little piece of rock and roll just died with you.