Monday, September 19, 2016

SHG: Roy Orbison: "Only the Lonely"

Roy Orbison: “Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)” Entered the chart on: 7/25/1960 Peaked on: 7/25/1960 Weeks at #2: 1 Song at #1: “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee

Up until 1964, the 60s has this reputation for being a vast wasteland, a barren boneyard populated by anti-rock teen idols, dumb dance fads and toxic novelty songs. That reputation isn’t entirely without some basis in fact, the one-two punch of Bobby Rydell and [shudder] Paul Anka should be proof enough of that, but it doesn’t tell the entire story. There was some real, enduring talent born in this period. Enter Roy Orbison.

Orbison, like Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins before him, gestated at Sun Records as a would-be rockabilly star. Those early sides have their critical admirers but they didn’t earn him much in the way of commercial success. My guess is someone at Monument Records said, “a kid with this vocal range is wasted on this uptempo stuff. Give him some ballads to sing, something that shows off that golden voice of his!” Which begat his first foray into the Billboard Top 40: “Only the Lonely.”

Slight aside, this is another one from my parents’ record collection. So let’s re-visit this golden oldie:

Starts off fairly typical intro, plinky piano with some of those syllabic male backing vocals that were so popular at the time. And then Roy starts singing. I ask you, is there a singer out there who is as immediately compelling as Roy Orbison? Once he opens his voice to sing, “Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight,” I sit up at rapt attention. I mean, we’ve had good, even great, singers on Second Hand Goods, but Roy just has this magical combination of tone, phrasing, range, precision and emotional connection that has me saying, “I want to hear where he’s going with this.”

Heartbreak must have been the flavor of the month. Right after “Greenfields” we immediately get another, “I’m blue because my woman left me” song. But the way this was constructed, all around Roy’s silver-plated vocal cords, makes it a monument of pop mastery. Bob Moore’s orchestration deserves a bit of credit here, the way the strings add pounding accents in the “There goes my baby...” verse is nice touch. And when he returns to that verse a second time, and hits those high notes in the line “That’s the chance you’ve got to take,” it’s one of those “icy chills up and down my spine” moments that’s all too rare in popular music.

Well, only two reviews after “Puppy Love,” and I think I’ve broken the scale in the other direction. I don’t know if there’s a rating high enough for this. Stunning beauty; it demands to be heard.

Rating: 5

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