The Witching Hour Sessions – Roy Orbison

The Witching Hour Sessions – 17/01/2018

Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison (1936 – 1988) was an American singer-songwriter known for his distinctive, impassioned voice and dark emotional ballads. The combination led many critics to describe his music as operatic, nicknaming him the “Caruso of Rock” and “the Big O”. While most male rock-and-roll performers in the 1950s and 1960s projected a defiant masculinity, many of Orbison’s songs instead conveyed vulnerability.

Born in Texas, Orbison began singing in a rockabilly and country-and-western band in high school. He was signed by Sam Phillips, of Sun Records, in 1956, but his greatest success came with Monument Records. From 1960 to 1966, twenty-two of his singles reached the Billboard Top 40, and he wrote or co-wrote almost all that rose to the top 10, including ‘Only the Lonely’ (1960), ‘Running Scared’ (1961), ‘Crying’ (1961), ‘In Dreams’ (1963), and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman”‘(1964). Soon afterward, Orbison was struck by a number of personal tragedies while his record sales declined.

In the 1980s, he experienced a resurgence in popularity through the success of several cover versions of his songs,
and in 1988, co-founded the Traveling Wilburys, a rock supergroup with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. He died of a heart attack later that year, at the age of 52. One month later, his song ‘You Got It’ (1989), co-written with Lynne and Petty, was released as a solo single and became his first to break the U.S. top 10 in twenty-five years.

His honors include inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in the same year, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989.

Tonight’s listening:

1 – Black and White Night (1989)

The best-recorded Roy Orbison live disc ever issued, taken from the soundtrack of the HBO concert from the 1980s with VIP guests like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. This was a sort of magical video, and the performances are splendid, along with the good feelings involved. The pity is that neither Monument nor MGM ever taped any complete concerts by Orbison from the 1960s, and all that remains are TV appearances from Europe.

2 – Mystery Girl (1989)

Roy Orbison’s comeback started in 1986, when David Lynch used ‘In Dreams’ in his masterwork Blue Velvet. Orbinson re-recorded his hits for a collection naturally called ‘In Dreams’, he gave a star-studded concert called ‘Black & White Night’, and then he began work with ELO leader Jeff Lynne on a comeback album. The duo tabled the album to join the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, a collaboration with Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan that turned into a surprise smash in 1988. ‘Mystery Girl’ album is designed as a graceful coda to a legendary career and, amazingly enough, it succeeds.

3 – The Ultimate Collection (2016)

Sony/Legacy’s 2016 single-disc ‘The Ultimate Collection’ is the first career-spanning Roy Orbison compilation since their double-disc ‘Essential’ from a decade earlier. A few hits are missing which may prevent this collection from truly being called ‘The Ultimate’ but this nevertheless remains the best single-disc collection of Orbison’s career ever assembled.

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