The Essential Roy Orbison
The Music Box's #6 reissue of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by John Metzger
Despite a few missteps, itís hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to Roy Orbison than the two-disc, 40-track retrospective The Essential Roy Orbison. Culling material from seven different labels, this is the first compilation to span the entirety of his career. Yet, the collection is merely the beginning of what promises to be a long overdue celebration of his life and music. Not only is Legacy Recordings planning to reissue, over the course of the next two years, nearly every song in Orbisonís canon, but also on April 18, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame launched an extensive exhibit that includes (among other items) handwritten lyrics, clothes, production notes, and the original acetate of Ooby Dooby. Released a half century ago, the rockabilly tune became a minor hit for Orbison, marking the pinnacle of his short tenure at Sam Phillipsí legendary Sun label. Nevertheless, it, along with Go! Go! Go! and Rock House ó the two other selections from this era that suitably open The Essential Roy Orbison ó barely scratches the surface of his accomplishments.
After an even briefer stint with RCA, Orbison signed with Monument, and itís here that he truly found his calling as both a songwriter and a performer. Teaming with producer Fred Foster, he scored an astounding 15 Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1964, and not surprisingly, itís these vital components of rock ínĎ roll history that form the foundation upon which The Essential Roy Orbison is constructed. His first big breakthrough came with Only the Lonely, on which his emotive, operatic falsetto was pitted against a dramatic arrangement of strings and backing vocalists. The grief-stricken formula proved to be remarkably successful ó the tune peaked at number two on the pop charts ó and as a result, this cinematic approach became his trademark, fueling the lovesick lamentations of Crying, the blue-hued anguish of Love Hurts, the sad-eyed yearning of Dream Baby, and the utter despair of Itís Over.
Once The Beatles crossed the Atlantic to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show, however, Orbisonís successes grew further and further apart. Although the driving beat and sexual leer of Oh, Pretty Woman held its own against the onslaught of British Invasion acts, he soon found it difficult to compete because his steadfast reliance upon old tricks left him sounding somewhat antiquated. Wisely, The Essential Roy Orbison glosses over his late í60s work, and it skips entirely the forgettable recordings that he made during the í70s. Nevertheless, the retrospective still stumbles, however slightly, during its latter half because it utilizes a jumbled chronology to present an unusual assortment of mostly inferior tracks that inevitably make the set feel like an odds-and-sods collection. Even so, there are a few gems to be found, largely because when Orbison died in December 1988, he was in the midst of a career resurgence. Spurred in part by his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as his collaboration with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne in the Traveling Wilburys, Orbison added a fitting capstone to his career with the posthumously issued Mystery Girl. The album boasted a backing band that included T Bone Burnett, several members of Fleetwood Mac, and a hodgepodge of Heartbreakers and Wilburys along with material that was penned by Elvis Costello as well as U2ís Bono and the Edge. Were it not for this latter day nugget, Orbison very well may have continued to drift into relative obscurity. Instead, he went out with a bang, and, with a little help from his friends, he managed to reconnect with a new audience, thereby preserving his legacy for posterity.
The Essential Roy Orbison is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box