The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do is Dream (1958, Cadence)
Why It’s Perfect: All I Have to Do is Dream is a perfect circle. It begins as it ends, and doesn’t change a great deal in between. Very little happens only once; moments are paired, reflected, returned to. Far from being a failure, this is the essence of the song’s brilliance. It finds from its outset this beautiful sense of tidal drift, calm and regular as a sleeper’s breath and simply stays the course. It’s a song about lazing wistfully; it doesn’t capture the intensity of need, but rather those moments when melancholy is its own end, when you say “I love you so, that I could die” solely for the sentiment. The key theme of this song is not found in “I love you so” but in the ennui of “I’m dreaming my life away…” Although you could certainly read the lyric and focus on its lusty subtext, the arrangement here is among the most chaste and stately in the pop canon. The Everlys eschew emotional pathos in favour of a sort of bittersweet reserve. It’s beautiful and vaguely sad, but almost abstractly, as if responding to the very idea of being sad as opposed to the specific scenario in the lyric.
All I Have to Do is Dream was an early example of the new “Nashville sound” which dominated country music in the ‘60s. The idea was to pare away all the folksy elements of country (fiddles, pipes etc.) in order to make the music more palatable to pop audiences. Listening to the structure of All I Have to Do is Dream with this in mind, it becomes clear that it is formally a classic country ballad which has been fine-tuned to suit the Everlys distinctive pop harmonies. Legendary country guitarist Chet Atkins contributes the song’s distinctive yet distant lead riff, and like the Everlys his performance is more about texture and mood than emotion. Though its chord progression and unhurried pace is pure South, Atkins’ strumming doesn’t so much twang as hang momentarily before drifting into the ether. The sparseness of the entire arrangement only furthers its weightless beauty. You can’t grasp All I Have to Do is Dream. You only long to hear it again.
Defining Moment: “Whenever I want you, all I have to do is dream”
The way Don and Phil shift their tone just slightly to weight that “you” takes the hook to another level. One of the greatest things about concise forms like pop singles is that the smallest detail can be crucial. As written by the awesomely-named (Diadorius) Bourdleaux Bryant and his wife Felice, All I Have to Do is Dream could’ve disappeared without a trace. By any standard, it’s a fairly slight song. But the Everly Brothers find the moments in it, the pockets that imbue it with a truly captivating grace.
Other Great Songs by The Everly Brothers: The Everlys were among the most consistent hitmakers of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Mining a territory somewhere between Buddy Holly’s countrified rock and the older crooner tradition, they churned out a steady stream of classic singles like Bye Bye Love, Let it Be Me, Wake Up Little Susie and Cathy’s Clown, as well as a number of excellent album tracks like Sleepless Nights. I strongly recommend anyone with a taste for oldies pop to pick up one of their numerous hits collections, as the Everlys were up there with the best of the pre-British Invasion stars.