Roy Orbison – [Album]

Monday, 16 May 2011

Upon starting this review, I realized that I had never seen a Roy Orbison record that wasn't some sort of compilation. For every other artist of Orbison's stature, I could quickly name a career defining record; Elvis' self-titled debut, Cash's At Folsom Prison, Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' Damn The Torpedoes… but for Orbison I came up blank and realized that I generally knew very little about him – outside of the voice, the glasses and the black wardrobe. I assumed that, because Orbison had so many well-known hits, the big songs must have been spread out over several years or even decades. What The Monument Singles A-Sides has taught me is that the best of Orbison's career happened in a brief explosion between 1960 and 1964, which saw him deliver fifteen Top 40 hits and all the songs that defined him as an artist: "Only The Lonely,” "Crying,” "Dream Baby,” "It's Over" and of course, "Oh, Pretty Woman.” Following this period, Orbison's career was sporadic, his personal life tragic at times and he didn't fully revive his career until the late 1980's when he joined with Dylan, Harrison, Petty and Lynne to form The Traveling Wilburys. Despite the fact that he peaked early in his career, the material from the Monument years is nothing short of exceptional; its influence is immeasurable and, consequently, The Monument Singles A-Sides serves as a perfect compilation for new and familiar listeners alike.

No discussion of Roy Orbison would be complete without addressing the brilliance of his voice. Springsteen has commented that it was "otherworldly" and Dwight Yoakam has stated that it sounded like "the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window." It is Orbison's defining quality as an artist and remains unparalleled to this day in its uniqueness, without a doubt. I can't think of anyone outside of maybe Antony Hegarty or Chris Isaak that is even remotely comparable. For those unfamiliar with Orbison, it shouldn't take more than "Running Scared" or "It's Over" to convince uninitiated listeners of his place amongst the greatest singers of all time. Orbison's songwriting skills were also at their peak during the Monument years as he combined rockabilly, country, blues, soul and pop elements together with complex orchestral parts to accentuate the quiet vulnerability of his songs. For those unfamiliar, "Only The Lonely,” "Crying" and of course "Oh, Pretty Woman" are likely his most well-known songs, with the latter being the track that is most commonly associated with the singer. Dylan has remarked that his songs were "songs within songs" and he is widely respected for unique song structures which often strayed from the regular pop format and favored irregular variations of the format. The influence of Orbison's work is evident on everyone from The Beatles – who were admittedly attempting to copy him on "Please, Please Me" – to Springsteen; who, noted that Orbison was a major influence when he wrote "Thunder Road" while inducting the singer into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Orbison's popularity would ultimately diminish with the introduction of the British Invasion, but it could also be argued that it was his move away from the Monument label to MGM in 1965 that also significantly contributed to the turn in his career; once at MGM, Orbison was not able to recreate the success he had achieved with Monument. The Monument Singles A-Sides is a great introduction to Orbison's Top 40 catalogue for those unfamiliar with the singer and is a solid reminder of his place in rock n' roll history for those already familiar with his work.



The Monument Singles A-Sides:1960 – 1964
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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