Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll Music 1960 Part 4’ Category

JOHNNY BURNETTE – MAURICE WILLIAMS AND THE ZODIACS – THE VENTURES – ROY ORBISON – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

By Robert Seoane

ONE HIT WONDERS

YOU’RE SIXTEEN – JOHNNY BURNETTE

“Well, you come on like a dream, peaches and cream, lips like strawberry wine, you’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine” You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette

“You’re Sixteen” is a rock ‘n’ roll classic written by two brothers known for composing Walt Disney songs. Richard and Robert Sherman began their career together in the early Fifties, They struggled to get heard until 1958 when they sold a song called “Tall Paul” to then-Mouseketeer of the TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club”, Annette Funicello. Annette was the most popular Mouseketeer on the show, particularly because she was the only pre-pubescent on the show sprouting boobs, much to the delight of fellow pre-pubescent male viewers.

The song was brought to the attention to the father of Mickey Mouse himself, Walt Disney. Disney wanted to develop Funicello as a star because of her popularity and was delighted to see the record climb into the Top Ten in 1958.

The doors opened up for the Sherman Brothers after the success of “Tall Paul”. Walt Disney started to hire them, but they were also able to write rock ‘n’ roll songs. In 1960, they sold one of their biggest hits, “You’re Sixteen” to rockabilly musician Johnny Burnette.

Johnny Burnette was a rockabilly musician who had a group with his brother Dorsey and a friend named Paul Burlison called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. The group ultimately broke up but, just like the Sherman Brothers, the Dorsey Brothers also wrote songs that they peddled to the stars. Their first success at that arrived when they literally parked themselves in front of then mega pop star Ricky Nelson’s mansion and waited for him to come home so they could play him their songs. It worked. Nelson liked what he heard and wound up recording many of their songs. But it was a song written by another pair of brothers that would give Johnny Burnette a permanent footnote in rock ’n’ roll history.

You’re my baby, you’re my pet, we fell in love on the night we met, you touched my hand, my heart went pop, ooh, when we kissed, I could not stop.” You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette

It was the perfect song because it addressed the very market that listened to rock ‘n’ roll, the teenage girl and the teenage boy with a crush.

“You’re Sixteen” was Burnette’s seventh attempt at a hit single once he went solo. The record was released on October 8, 1960, and climbed to Number Eight on the Billboard Pop Chart and Number Three in the UK, earning him a gold record.

The authors of “YS”, Robert and Richard Sherman, went on to write classic movie songs for Walt Disney’s most acclaimed films of the Sixties and Seventies, including “Mary Poppins” (for which they won two Academy Awards), “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, “The Jungle Book”, “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Aristocats”. Johnny Burnette on the other hand, faded into obscurity, recording music that essentially went nowhere on the charts.

On August 14, 1964, Johnny Burnette drowned after his unlit fishing boat was struck in the middle of the night by a cabin cruiser that hadn’t seen it. He was 30 years old.

“You’re Sixteen” had a revival in the Seventies when George Lucas included the song on the soundtrack to his classic film, “American Graffiti” (1973). Ringo Starr also recorded it that year and took it to Number One in February of 1974. That’s Paul McCartney on that recording assisting with a vocal solo mixed with what sounds like a kazoo.

“You walked out of my dreams, into my car, now you’re my angel divine. You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” “You’re Sixteen” – Ringo Starr

 

STAY – MAURICE WILLIAMS & THE ZODIACS

The doo-wop genre was still popular in 1960, even though it was destined to be fading into the mist of time within the next two years. When rock ‘n’ roll first exploded in 1956, doo-wop glommed itself onto the new musical movement and dominated the charts throughout much of the rest of the Fifties.

Maurice Williams is one of the earliest songwriters to blend doo-wop into rock ‘n’ roll when he wrote “Little Darlin’” in 1957. Although Williams recorded it with his group at the time, the Gladiolas, the single went nowhere. It was the version recorded by the Diamonds that cracked the Top Ten and made it up to Number Two that same year. Although it was the usual practice of the music industry at the time to have white musical artists record songs by African American talent, in this case, the Diamonds’ version is the better one, due largely to its production and arrangement in comparison to the Gladiolas’ version.

Williams and his band changed their name to the Zodiacs after coming across a car bearing that name. During a recording session of new releases, he dug up a song he wrote in 1953 at age 15. It was based on a time when he didn’t want a girl to go home one night. Maurice and the band never took the song seriously until a ten-year-old girl reacted to it positively when she heard their demo of the tune. The band’s producers played the demo to Al Silver of Herald Records, who wanted to re-record it with the group to improve the quality but also to replace the phrase “let’s have another smoke” to “have another dance”.

“Stay just a little bit longer… please, please tell me you’re going to… well, if your daddy don’t mind, and if your mommy don’t mind if we have another dance, yeah one more time…” Stay- Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

The song’s instant appeal is what’s made it endure. Zodiac tenor Shane Gaston’s falsetto lifts the song to grand heights of melodic beauty. “Stay” is the shortest rock ‘n’ roll song ever to have reached the Number One Position on the Billboard Pop chart, clocking in just under two minutes. It stayed at Number One during the week of November 21, 1960, just two weeks after the United States had elected John F. Kennedy to the Presidency.

“Stay” was remade several times. It was one of the Hollies’ first singles, released in the UK in December of ’63 and was also redone by the Four Seasons and the Dave Clark Five the following year. A different version of “Stay” was recorded in 1977 by Jackson Browne when he closed his classic album “Running On Empty” with a live medley that started with Browne’s own “The Load Out” and segued into “Stay”, turning the song into a long farewell.

“Now the promoter don’t mind, and the roadies don’t mind, if we take a little time and we leave it all behind and sing one more song…” Stay – Jackson Browne

Aside from other covers by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper up to its latest recorded incarnation by Dreamhaus in 2014, it was also showcased in 1987’s” Dirty Dancing”, giving it a new boost on its popularity at the time.

 

WALK, DON’T RUN – THE VENTURES

The future of guitar based rock ‘n’ roll groups was in its infancy still, particularly after the death of Buddy Holly the year before. The Ventures was an instrumental rock ‘n’ roll guitar group who recorded one of the most familiar guitar licks in rock ‘n’ roll history, originally written by Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith In 1954. This guitar lick felt indicative of its time, besides happening to also be catchy as hell.

The Ventures certainly were successful, still holding the record today in 2015 as the best-selling instrumental band of all time, with over 100 million records sold. Their guitar twang was so distinctive of many rock songs that were yet to be written, that the Ventures has earned the nickname “The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands”. Curiously, they’re still revered in Japan, where they continue to perform regularly.

“Walk, Don’t Run” is essentially a contrafact, which is a jazz term that means laying an original melody on a familiar harmonic structure. In this case, the harmonic structure was that of a jazz standard called “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”, a composition written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II and recorded by many of the jazz greats of the 20th century. Upon listening to the two compositions one after the other, you can pick up the sound of that structure, yet still, the melodies of the two songs are really nothing alike.

The Ventures heard the Chet Atkins’ version of “Walk, Don’t Run”, released on his “Hi-Fi In Focus” (1957) album, and they knew they could turn that composition into a killer rock ‘n’ roll instrumental. And so they did. The resulting sound emanating from The Ventures’ electric guitars sounded so perfect and tailor made for those souped up musical instruments, that it practically weaponized the melody, thereby turning it into a rock ‘n’ roll classic overnight, as well as a springboard to literally thousands of rock ‘n’ roll songs to follow.

 

ROY ORBISON

“(Roy Orbison was) …a timid, shy kid who seemed to be rather befuddled by the whole music scene. I remember the way he sang then — softly, prettily but almost bashfully, as if someone might be disturbed by his efforts and reprimand him. – Boudleaux Bryant, songwriter; “Bye Bye Love”

Roy Kelton Orbison was a gentleman. Besides having an amazing voice, he was rock ‘n’ roll’s nicest guy, a true Southern gentleman in every sense of the word. He was never known to curse. When recording with the Traveling Wilburys in 1988 after repeatedly flubbing a lyric, the worst obscenity he could muster was “mercy”.

What set Roy Orbison apart from the rest of his rock ‘n’ roll peers was his vocal range. He could go from baritone to tenor, with musical scholars suggesting that he had up to a three- or four-octave range. His songs, unlike the rock ‘n’ rollers of the day, weren’t as much testosterone-laden screamfests as much as they were operatic vulnerability. His nicknames, “The Big O” and “The Caruso of Rock” didn’t really encompass his overall talents as a guitarist and songwriter. But his legacy loomed large, so much so that he became good friends with all the Beatles during their mutual 1964 tour and 14 years later, joined George Harrison in their 1988 supergroup with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne called The Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas to two hard working parents who struggled mightily to put food on their table during the Great Depression. Although little Roy wanted a harmonica, his father, Orbie Lee Orbison, gave him a guitar when he was only six years old because he saw in his son a burgeoning musical talent. Little Roy learned quickly, picking up the classic country standards like “You Are My Sunshine”. He sang it to his parents’ friends during social gatherings at night so he could hang with the adults and not go to bed early.

Orbison’s biggest musical influence was country music. Within a few years, he was entering and winning amateur musical contests. By 1951, when the family moved to Wink, Texas, young Roy formed his own country band called the Wink Westerners. The WW’s were musically ambitious, and integrated big band music with their country fare, including classic Big Band standards such as Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” into their repertoire to great success. By the end of 1954, the Wink Westerners had become a proper band with steady gigs, even though Roy was still in high school.

It all changed for Roy Orbison, like so many other musical legends of the rock ‘n’ roll era before him, when he saw Elvis for the first time on stage in 1955. Soon after, the Wink Westerners had their own local thirty-minute TV show every Saturday at 4:30 PM on KOSA-TV in Odessa, Texas. Two of their guests on one show were none other than Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Cash and Orbison became friendly and suggested to the young kid to go see Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and the man who discovered Presley and Cash along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. among others. When Orbison contacted Phillips however, he was met with some disappointment.

“Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company.” – Sam Phillips

Orbison and his fellow band mates decided to change the band’s name to “The Teen Kings” after seeing Elvis. It was their new direction towards playing rock ‘n’ roll music and away from country music standards.

OOBY DOOBY – ROY ORBISON AND THE TEEN KINGS

Local entrepreneur Weldon Rogers approached Roy to record him and his group for Rogers’ new record label Je-Wel, owned with Chester “C.C.” Oliver. Roy had two friends, Dick Penner and Wade Moore, who had written a song called “Ooby Dooby”. On March 4, 1956, Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings recorded this composition as well as the Clovers’ “Trying To Get To You” and released them as their first single on March 19.

Roy took a copy of the record that very first day to a well-known record dealer in Odessa he knew called Cecil “Poppa” Hollifield. Poppa liked the song and took it from him. A few days later he phoned Roy to tell him that he had played the song to his associate Sam Phillips and Sam indicated that he wanted The Teen Kings to come to Memphis and record for Sun Records.

On March 26, 1956, Orbison and the group arrived at Sun Records and recorded a handful of songs, including a new version of “Ooby Dooby”. “Ooby Dooby” is a by-the-numbers typical rock ‘n’ roll song. Phillips was a demanding sort and made many retakes until he was satisfied, much to Orbison’s annoyance.

“Ooby Dooby” made it to Number 59 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the summer of 1956. Roy and his group had soon acquired a manager and was booked on a short tour of movie drive-ins around the South where they played before the feature attraction.

TRYING TO GET TO YOU – ROY ORBISON/ELVIS PRESLEY

When listening to both versions of this song back to back, you realize the supremacy of Elvis Presley’s voice. Roy Orbison was still years away from reaching his creative peak, but Elvis had it on the first song he recorded.

ROY:

ELVIS:

“Trying To Get To You” was Ooby Dooby’s b-side, which was re-recorded at Sun Records under the direction of Sam Phillips. The following single didn’t chart however and Roy started to try his hand at songwriting. By the end of 1956, the Teen Kings will have broken up, leaving Orbison to stay in Memphis to launch his career as a solo artist. Just turned 21, Roy asked his 16-year-old girlfriend, Claudette Frady, to stay with him in Memphis. Her parents agreed under the condition that she have her own bedroom while they stayed together. I’m sure that worked out real well.

CLAUDETTE – THE EVERLY BROTHERS


Roy and Claudette Frady Orbison

Roy Orbison married Claudette Frady the following year in 1957. A beautiful girl, nobody believed that a shy, average-looking “Joe” like Roy could land such a woman. One of the first songs he ever wrote was a rockabilly love song named after his wife.

Roy left Sun Records in 1958. He spent eight months not recording for Sun prior to his leaving the label, and started to explore his songwriting abilities. His songwriting partner appeared to him one day when Joe Melson, an acquaintance of Orbison’s, tapped on his car window. Soon, Orbison and Melson began to write music together.

As Orbison’s reputation grew with Melson’s contribution as co-songwriter, they began to work for Acuff-Rose, a songwriting firm that focused on selling country music to recording artists. They were able to sell Orbison’s song “Claudette” to one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll acts of the time, The Everly Brothers. It was released as the b-side to the Brothers’ classic “All I Have to Do Is Dream” in the Spring of 1958. The A-Side made it to Billboard’s Hot 100 Top spot for three weeks and “Claudette” managed to get to Number 30. Orbison continued to churn out compositions for Acuff-Rose and was able to sell them to the likes of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Rick Nelson.

Orbison’s own recordings weren’t faring too well during the Fifties. None of the other three released singles from Sun charted. Wesley Rose of the songwriting firm Roy worked for introduced Orbison to Fred Foster, a record producer who had just opened his own label called Monument Records. It was Fred Foster who would mold the Roy Orbison sound and simultaneously invent the rock ballad genre with him.

Roy Orbison’s his first three singles with them also went nowhere fast. His fourth single, “Uptown” finally managed to crack the Hot 100 at Number 72, which was interesting because the recording employed strings, as Orbison preferred, instead of the usual fiddle instrumentation that Nashville was used to.

It wasn’t until the dawn of the new decade when Roy Orbison finally recorded his first classic and shot up to the top echelons of rock ‘n’ roll.

ONLY THE LONELY – ROY ORBISON

“I liked the sound of [my voice]. I liked making it sing, making the voice ring, and I just kept doing it. And I think that somewhere between the time of ‘Ooby Dooby’ and ‘Only the Lonely’, it kind of turned into a good voice.” Roy Orbison

“Only The Lonely” was the first hit that came out of the songwriting collaboration between Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. It’s in this song where Roy Orbison first displays his incredibly unique vocal talent, a talent that immediately set him apart from all the other rock ‘n’ roll stars of the day. The composition was originally given to Elvis Presley to refuse, and when he did, Orbison and his producer went to work. Fred Foster’s production quality with its spare guitar, delicate piano and steady drum beat guiding it, sounds good still today, but it’s Orbison’s ability to reach those high notes that tug at your heartstrings, with background vocals that softly sing nonsense with a sweet, melancholy air. Orbison’s recording engineer Bill Porter tried a new approach to the recording and close-miked the background vocals, leaving them front and center with Orbison’s lead while the suave instrumentation faded into the background. It worked.

“Only the lonely (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah) Know the way I feel tonight
(Ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah) Only the lonely (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right (Dum dum dum, dumby doo wah)” Only the Lonely – Roy Orbison

The song’s operatic style was unheard of for rock ‘n’ roll in 1960. Only Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” released the same year rivaled it. But “Only The Lonely’s” laid-back rockabilly style and Orbison’s voice marks it as a milestone for being the first rock ballad ever recorded. The most operatic point of the song, when Orbison’s voice reaches a high point that delivers the hopeful hurt of the lyrics, comes in towards the last thirty seconds.

“Maybe tomorrow, a new romance, no more sorrow but that’s the chance, you’ve got to take, if your lonely heart breaks, only the lonely…” Only The Lonely – Roy Orbison

“Only The Lonely” shot up to Number Two in The Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in the late Spring of 1960 and also entered Billboard’s R&B chart at Number 14, a feat that only a handful of rock ‘n’ roll artists have accomplished, Elvis Presley being the first to do it. It did manage to hit Number One across the pond in the United Kingdom in October of 1960 where it stayed there for two weeks.

Bruce Springsteen pays tribute to Orbison in the lyrics of his 1975 classic, “Thunder Road”.

“The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways, like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singin’ for the lonely, hey that’s me and I want you only, don’t turn me home again I just can’t face myself alone again…” Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen

Orbison’s next two singles after “…Lonely” were less successful, probably because they mimicked the “OTL” style with similar operatic highs and lows and a different set of nonsense lyrics for the background vocals. It wouldn’t be until the following year, in the Spring of 1961, when Orbison would have his first Number One song. He continued to experiment with other rhythms and styles in his music but there was one constant: Orbison sang of longing and emotional pain.

RUNNING SCARED/LOVE HURTS – ROY ORBISON

“Running Scared” was Roy Orbison’s first Number One and the first of a steady string of Top Forty hits through 1964. He turned rock ‘n’ roll on its nose by using Ravel’s “Bolero” as the rhythm for his song, written by him and songwriting partner Melson. The song had no chorus. It slowly builds and centers around Orbison’s vocal abilities as his voice rises with the drama of the song, cementing his place as the pioneer in operatic ballads. From then on, Orbison’s compositions with Melson were to continue to be innovative compositions with a style that didn’t exist until they developed it.

“Just runnin’ scared, feelin’ low, runnin’ scared, you love him so, just runnin’ scared, afraid to lose, if he came back which one would you choose?” Running Scared – Roy Orbison

Orbison had trouble with the final high note of the song. Normally a soft-voiced singer, he was forced to deliver the ending louder than the booming orchestra behind him. He abandoned the attempt to end the song in a falsetto and delivered the ending in A instead, stunning those in the studio so much that even the orchestra stopped playing.

“Some fools dream of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness, some fools, fool themselves I guess but they’re not fooling me, I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true, love is just a lie, made to make you blue, love hurts…” Love Hurts – Roy Orbison

Its b-side “Love Hurts” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and first recorded by the Everly Brothers in 1960. Roy Orbison’s version was released as a single in 1961. The song gained an entirely new popularity when it was recorded in 1975 by one hit wonder Nazareth, who took it to Number Eight in the Billboard charts. Nazareth’s was clearly the better version of the composition.

CRYING – ROY ORBISON

“(‘Crying’ is) …a rock bolero [with] blaring strings, hammered tympani, a ghostly chorus, the gentle strum of a guitar, [and] a hint of marimba.” –Rock critic Dave Marsh

“Crying” is easily one of the most beautiful and heartfelt rock ballads ever recorded. Orbison’s voice makes you feel the pain of the protagonist’s love with his soft, plaintive singing that steadily rises as the instrumentation builds and surrounds Orbison’s powerful final delivery until the entire song comes to a sudden halt with an echo that seals the experience forever in your heart.

“I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while, but I saw you last night, you held my hand so tight as you stopped to say hello, aww you wished me well, you couldn’t tell that I’d been cry-i-i-i-ng over you, cry-i-i-i-ng over you…” Crying – Roy Orbison

By now, Orbison and Melson were learning how to write tunes that would showcase Roy’s voice, and Fred Foster’s production had quickly become formula, while still allowing Orbison to push the boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll by continuing to record singles that were essentially mini-arias. “Crying” was released in the summer of 1961 and climbed to Number Two in the Billboard Hot 100 in October. Billboard Magazine listed “Crying” as the Number Four song of 1961.

In 1987, Orbison re-recorded “Crying” with k.d. lang for a motion picture titled “Hiding Out”. Its resulting music video captures a pair of well-matched singers delivering a beautiful song soulfully.

DREAM BABY – ROY ORBISON

Orbison returns to his rockabilly roots with “Dream Baby”. Although the musical style changed, its theme was along the same vein that ran through all his songs, the theme of unrequited love. A catchy classic, it made it to Number Four on Billboard’s Pop chart in 1962 and expanded his repertoire to remind fans that, despite his operatic style, he was still a rock ‘n’ roller at heart.

“I love you and I’m dreaming of you but that won’t do, dream baby, make me stop my dreamin’, you can make my dreams come true… sweet dream baby, how long must I dream…” Dream Baby – Roy Orbison

Orbison went through a few important milestones in his life in 1962 as he enjoyed the peak of his success. His second son was born that year. At the same time, his songwriting relationship with Joe Melson was beginning to deteriorate, primarily due to Melson’s chomping-at-the-bit desire to carve out a solo career of his own. Orbison toured Australia in 1962 as well. An Australian DJ introduced Orbison onstage calling him “The Big O”, referring to not only his last name but his grandiose musical finales. The nickname stuck for the rest of his career.

IN DREAMS – ROY ORBISON

“When you were trying to make a girl fall in love with you, it took roses, the Ferris wheel, and Roy Orbison.” -Tom Waits

By 1963, Roy Orbison was an international success. He released seven more singles after “Dream Baby”, five of them which entered the Top Forty and one, “In Dreams” that made it to Number Seven in Billboard’s Pop chart in February of 1963.

“In Dreams” would prove to be Orbison’s most personally important song because its success gave him an opportunity to tour England. Wesley Rose accepted an invitation for Roy to tour throughout the UK in 1963 with a then-unknown group who had suddenly become very popular across the pond called The Beatles. Orbison accepted the invitation and when he arrived in England, was stunned to see how popular this British group was. Once backstage, Orbison rhetorically asked, “What’s a Beatle, anyway?” John Lennon, who happened to be standing behind him, tapped his shoulder and said, “I am.”

Orbison and The Beatles got along extremely well, particularly with George Harrison, particularly because they greatly admired the southern gentleman’s musical abilities. Roy Orbison was so popular back then that, on the first night on the sold out tour, he had to perform fourteen encores before the Beatles were even allowed on stage. The four marveled at how Orbison could elicit such thunderous applause without having budged an inch on stage since he went on. Later that year he would go on to tour Australia with the Beach Boys and the still unknown Rolling Stones.

While the international acclaim turned him into a pop sensation, his marriage suffered. His wife Claudette had stayed behind in the tour through the UK and as a result had an affair with the contractor who built their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Orbison remedied that soon enough by bringing her along for the rest of the tour.

It was also at about this time that Roy Orbison began to develop his own look. His style continued the tradition of Buddy Holly’s bespectacled hipness with thick corrective glasses that can only be labeled today as “geek chic”. This helped him to come out from the dark as his physical presence wasn’t anywhere to be seen in music pop fan magazines or even on his own singles. Besides the fact that Roy Orbison was not particularly photogenic, his shyness and the fact that he had no publicist, kept him away from the limelight. Then one night while on tour, Roy forgot his thick, black-rimmed glasses on an airplane and was forced to wear his prescription sunglasses onstage instead. Orbison liked wearing the sunglasses because it shaded him from the glaring lights and hid his shyness from the audience as well. At the same time, it gave him a persona in the sense that his nerdiness fit the woes of his music as the lonely outsider who nobody loves. His penchant for wearing sunglasses on stage made some people mistake him for blind. Soon, he also began to wear dark clothing onstage. This, along with his songs of desperation gave him a mysterious edge that ultimately became his image.

In 1986, “In Dreams” was included in the soundtrack of David Lynch’s macabre film “Blue Velvet”. In the movie, the song is lip-synced by actor Dean Stockwell as he holds a light shaped like a microphone to his face, giving him a sick glow that’s accentuated by the song’s surreal orchestral feel. The song’s inclusion in the film reignited Orbison’s career. He re-released “In Dreams’ in 1987. A few months later, old friend George Harrison asked Roy if he would like to become a member of a little group George was forming with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne called The Traveling Wilburys.

MEAN WOMAN BLUES/BLUE BAYOU – ROY ORBISON

“Mean Woman Blues” is a rock ‘n’ roll classic written by Claude Demetrius and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1957 for his film, “Loving You”. It was also recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis and appeared on the flipside of his 1957 “Great Balls Of Fire”. Orbison delivers it well, in his own style, which is very much unlike the aforementioned two. Besides the fact that Orbison may have just wanted to record it, his ballads were becoming his standard fare. “Mean Woman Blues” did manage to make it all the way to Number Five in the summer of 1963, but the real gem was on the flipside.

“Blue Bayou” only made it to Number 29 in 1963, but its lack of popularity has nothing to do with its beauty. Soft and plaintive, he sang of a longing that only he could convey with his voice so well. “Blue Bayou” was the final songwriting collaboration between Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. Melson left for a solo career that would ultimately prove disappointing.

“I’m going back someday, come what may to blue bayou, where the folks are fun and the world is mine on blue bayou, where those fishing boats with their sails afloat if I could only see that familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes, how happy I’d be.” Blue Bayou – Roy Orbison

Linda Ronstadt remade the song and released it in 1977, where it climbed to Number Three in the Billboard Hot 100. It would become her signature song..

PRETTY PAPER – ROY ORBISON

Pretty Paper was a song written by Willie Nelson and recorded by Roy Orbison in 1963 as a Christmas release. Nelson had been signed to the same record label as Orbison in 1963, Monument Records. When he played his song to Fred Foster, Foster immediately thought of Roy. The song, about a street vendor who sold pencils and paper for the holidays, came about after Willie saw an actual vendor whose legs had been amputated, hawking the same wares as the song to the passers-by, continually repeating ‘pretty paper’. In 2013, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram identified the inspiration for that song to be a man by the name of Frank Brierton.

Orbison’s version of the song made it to Number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Willie Nelson recorded his own version a year later.

IT’S OVER – ROY ORBISON

Roy Orbison released his umpteenth rock ballad in the Spring of 1964 with “It’s Over”, written by Roy Orbison and his new songwriting partner, Rick Dees. Although it reached Number Nine on the Billboard Pop chart, it was not a good song, certainly not matching up with the classics he had already recorded. Still, he knew his formula and he had developed a niche in the rock ‘n’ roll legend with his operatic style, a style that would grow into the legendary ballads of rock from Led Zeppelin to the heavy metal hair bands of the 80s and their pumped-up power ballads.

OH, PRETTY WOMAN – ROY ORBISON

Despite a not very large portfolio of work, Roy Orbison’s early music has been covered by other artists to great success, sometimes to even greater success than the originals. Soit’s no wonder that Orbison’s biggest hit by far was also the breakout hit of a legendary rock band.

As legend has it, Orbison and Dees were working on a song together when Orbison’s wife Claudette walked in to announce that she was driving over to Nashville to do some shopping. Rpy asked her if she had enough money, to which Dees responded:

“Pretty woman never needs any money.”

The phrase ‘pretty woman’ stuck, and it happened to fit lyrically into a wicked little guitar lick they were developing. In less than an hour, “Oh, Pretty Woman” was recorded. The song made it to Number One in the August of 1964 for three weeks, in the midst of Beatlemania where every other tune on the radio was by a British band. In fact, Roy Orbison was the only American artist to have a Number One song during twenty-two month period from August 1963 through June 1964, not once but twice, with “It’s Over” and “Oh, Pretty Woman”.

“Pretty woman, walkin’ down the street, pretty woman the kind I like to meet, pretty woman… I don’t believe you, you’re not the truth, no one could look as good as you… mercy…” “Oh, Pretty Woman” – Roy Orbison

The word mercy in the song was a nod to Roy’s everyday way of speaking, as it was the worst curse word he ever uttered. The ad-libbed growl in the recording was taken from recalling a Bob Hope movie where he had heard the comic do it. But the driving source of the song and the thing that makes it such a great fucking record is, quite simply, the guitar lick.

The song got a massive rejuvenating jolt in 1982 with Van Halen’s version from their “Diver Down” album. Although their version just missed the Top Ten at Number 12, it cemented the reputation of the group, showcasing Eddie Van Halen’s incredible guitar, a sound that hadn’t been heard since Hendrix at the time, brother Alex Van Halen’s incessant spot-on drumming and David Lee Roth’s charmingly abrasive personality. The music video for Van Halen’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman” was one of the first music videos to get airplay on the one-year-old MTV. It was a very cheaply made looking video involving a tied up woman and two dwarves, and the fledgling music television channel played it incessantly as it was only just a few of the music videos available at the time.

Orbison’s song was further cemented into global pop culture in 1990 with the release of the mutli-million dollar box office comedy “Pretty Woman” with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Orbison’s song was showcased in the film as its centerpiece as well as title. Directed by Garry Marshall of “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley”, “Pretty Woman” is one of the most financially successful romantic comedies of all time, having made up to $463 million.

DIFFICULT YEARS

Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” sold seven million records and would be not only the biggest hit of Orbison’s career but also his last. Just like that, none of his singles would ever make it to the top again, with his highest charting single not even able to crack the Top Twenty just a year later.

Personal misfortune dogged Orbison throughout the Sixties. He and Claudette divorced in 1964 due to her infidelity, only to remarry a few months later. However, on June 6, 1966, Claudette Orbison was killed in a motorcycle accident as she and Roy were riding back home in Bristol, Tennessee. It was a devastating blow to have lost his beautiful wife at only twenty-four years of age. Then, two years later in 1968, his home in Hendersonville burned down while he was on tour. His two eldest sons, aged ten and six, perished in the fire. Only his three-year-old survived after Orbison’s parents managed to take the infant out of the house.

32-year-old Orbison remarried on March 25, 1969, to another beautiful young German girl, 18-year-old Barbara Jakobs. They remained married the rest of his life and they had two children together.

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, Orbison dedicated himself to touring and releasing unsuccessful recordings. On January 18, 1978, 42-year-old Roy Orbison underwent open heart surgery due to years of heavy smoking. After his recovery, his career seemed to come full circle by collaborating with current artists of the day. He was invited to play “Hotel California” onstage one night with the Eagles in 1980. Later that same year, he recorded the unmemorable “That Loving You Feeling Again” with Emmylou Harris. Despite its mediocrity and the poor showing on the charts, “That Loving You Feeling Again” went on to win a Grammy in 1981. Other than those two instances, Orbison’s career remained under the radar until the release of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”.

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