Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were a married couple who wrote many famous country & pop songs in the 1950s & 1960s. They will be the subject of a future “They Write the Songs” blog on this website so watch out for that!
Felice Bryant was interviewed for a TV documentary about the Everley Brothers and told how she and her husband wrote Wake Up Little Susie.
She said that one morning, Boudleaux was up very early and he was pottering around on another floor of the house which at the time was uncarpeted, meaning that the sounds he made echoed up to Felice as she was waking up in bed. Boudleaux was wandering around, singing mindlessly to himself. As Felice lay in bed, she realised that her husband had unconsciously come up with something very special. She jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs, knowing full well that once Boudleaux realised what he was singing, he was more than capable of finishing the song on his own and she wanted a piece of this one which clearly had potential to be a huge hit.
The couple discussed the lyrics Boudleaux had dreamed up so far and Felice felt that they were a little too risqué. This was, after all, 1957 and America was still reeling from the shock of this new “devils music” – Rock n Roll! So, Felice cleaned it up and added a bridge….the movie wasn’t so hot….etc.
The subject of juvenile delinquents was a hot topic for pop stars during the fifties. Teenagers were daring: they enjoyed embarrassing and worrying their parents as they flouted strict rules. This song is clearly about a young couple who shocked their parents by spending the night together whilst gaining admiration from their friends who said, “oooh la la!”
The Everly Brothers had already had several hits when this one was created. In fact, their current hit when this was written was also penned by the Bryant partnership. It was called Bye Bye Love and had been loitering in the American charts for a very long time.
As soon as Wake Up Little Susie was released, it shot straight to the top of the charts and Bye Bye Love was forgotten, temporarily.
Several cities banned the record from being played on radio, jukeboxes and record stores. This thrilled The Bryants and the Everlys, for as everyone knows, as soon as something is banned, people want more of it! Though the song seems innocent today, fifty years ago it was scandalous. The impact this song had on popular music was explosive.
At that time, young people began to have their own money and were able to buy things they wanted. Music was top of every young person list of must-haves. Suddenly, the transistor radio was available so that kids didn’t have to listen to the radiogram in the parents’ sitting room.
If you’re not familiar with this song (I bet you are!) it is written from the point of view of a high school boy to his girlfriend, Susie. In the song, they go on a date to a cinema (probably a drive-in) only to fall asleep during the movie. They wake up at 4am, well after her 10pm curfew. They then discuss the reactions of her parents and their friends.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, George W Bush said Wake up Little Susie was his favourite song ever.
Simon and Garfunkel famously performed this song with their idols, The Everly Brothers, in their Old Friends tour in 2003/4. The Everly Brothers were the support act which must have seemed a little weird to Paul and Art, having grown up admiring Phil and Don Everly so much.