He will always be the Big O.
Chris Jones 2008-10-13
Roy Kelton Orbison departed this earth in 1988. This permanently be-shaded man of mystery was only 52 and had only, despite a career resuscitation towards the very end of his life, success between the late 50s and early 60s. Yet, like a true giant, his shadow was huge and his influence keenly felt by at least two generations of popular musicians. So, for any young people who have yet to discover exactly what spell 'The Big O' - the slightly sinister figure with the quavering voice - held over his peers you are directed to download, purchase, borrow or just plain pilfer this glorious box set. It holds the key to the man's majesty and will also serve as a timely reminder for anybody who forgot just how amazing he was.
Following a fairly standard career in rockabilly in his native Texas (scoring an early hit with the fun, if lightweight, Ooby Dooby), in 1957 after meeting writer Joe Melson, he gave the world the dramatic rock ballad. Up until this point rock 'n' roll was a metaphor for hedonism, good times and raucous fun. With Only The Lonely (1960), his second single on Fred Foster's Monument label (and backed by the Everly Brothers), Orbison introduced the tragic, lonely figure whose misery fuelled his astounding haunted voice. Almost operatic in their intensity, Roy's vocals drove a series of mini epics into the top ten. Blue Angel; Running Scared; Crying (Roy did a lot of crying in his songs); Dream Baby; In Dreams and of course, the career-defining zenith (written with Bill Dees), Oh Pretty Woman. The latter even bucked the trend of Beatlemania by knocking the Fab Four off the top spot in the States. Indeed, Roy was close pals with the Liverpool boys, leading to his recruitment by George Harrison in the 80s into the Travelling Wilburys.
Naturally, such a mannered confection could not weather the storms of psychedelia and changing trends and despite an enduring popularity in middle and eastern Europe his popularity waned. Added to this was a whole heap of personal woe (his first wife's demise, followed by two of their children). By the 70s he was down to ill-advised shots at disco and aborted reunions with his old label. Luckily most of this period is passed over on this set in favour of the last stage of his career. Luckily the use of In Dreams in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, his adoption by Harrison, Jeff Lynne et al as well as his famous 1987 Black And White Night TV special (where he was joined by Bruce Springsteen among many others) meant that mere months before his death he reached his apotheosis. The posthumous Mystery Girl, featuring the lovely She's A Mystery To Me, penned by Bono and The Edge, was that true rarity: a really fine final album.
The Soul Of Rock And Roll has it all. The faltering rockabilly sides, the tear-soaked slices of genius and his wondrous rebirth. He may have been the strangest looking dude to have toted a guitar, but he truly was the epitomisation of rock's sensitive side. He will always be the Big O.