Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs
From the mid-’50s through the late-’80s, Roy Orbison made his own unique brand of pop music. His earliest records were raw, frenzied rockabilly that held up with the best of ’em, while his signature drama-laced ballads had few, if any, equals. Orbison created a sound unlike anyone. A sound that was both innocently earthy, and worldwise ethereal at the same time. Not an easy thing to do.
An influence on everyone from the Beatles to the Cramps, Roy stood alone. From his roots in ’50s rock and roll, through those soaring ballads and up to his comeback in the ’80s solo, and as part of the Traveling Wilburys, he was an American original. Here are the Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs.
‘Southbound Jericho Parkway’
Blame Sgt. Pepper if you like, for that moment in time when the simple pop song gave way to ‘art.’ Sometimes it worked, often it didn’t. ‘Southbound Jericho Parkway’ was a total flop when released in 1969, but has a place on our list of the Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs because it is unlike any other record he ever made. It’s a seven-minute ride of kitchen sink aesthetics, made up of various sections, and adorned with sitars, strings, fuzz guitar, brass, and an operatic choir. Roy tells a tale of a man who’s “memories were made up of nothing,” with a son who “dropped out to expand his mind.” His wife has left him, and his daughter incommunicado. Big drama from the Big O with a vocal performance to match! The record actually has less to do with psychedelia, than it does with the uber-dramatic songs of Jim Webb (via Richard Harris). In other words, ‘MacArthur Park’ is just off the ‘Southbound Jericho Parkway.’ An incredible record any way you slice it.
‘You Got It’
Who could have guessed that Roy Orbison would land himself back in the Top 10 in the ’80s? But sure enough, he did just that with ‘You Got It’ from his 1989 album ‘Mystery Girl.’ Co-written by Orbison with Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, ‘You Got It’ is trademark Orbison with a slightly modern twist. Just enough to get him back on the radio but not too much as to disguise the man and his identity. The super-catchy chorus made it an instant hit, bolting into the Top 10 and giving him his first Top 40 hit in close to 25 years!
A real rockabilly raver from Roy and his band, the Teen Kings. His first charting single, ‘Ooby Dooby’ is a straight up rocker produced by Sam Phillips on the Sun label. The record hit No. 59 and got the ball rolling for Orbison, who was one in good company on the Sun label, a place Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash all called home at the time.
‘Only The Lonely’
Released in the spring of 1960, ‘Only The Lonely’ was Orbison’s first big hit, making it up to No. 2 on Billboard. The song has much in common with the sound and feel of many records of the era, but Roy’s voice sets it far apart from the standard pop fare. This would also be Orbison’s first worldwide hit, clocking into the top position in the U.K., and Top 10 around the globe.
A Top 10 hit in the summer of 1964, ‘It’s Over’ was another of Orbison’s highly dramatic performances. The rhythm of the song pushes forward relentlessly as Roy’s voice builds with it. Ditching a standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus path, the song moves along to its own vision. Not only a stateside favorite, the song was a No.1 hit in England, less than a year following his tour there with the Beatles (before they had hit in the U.S.).
Many will remember this track, No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs, not just for its sheer brilliance as a record, or Roy’s stunning performance, but for its use in the 1986 David Lynch film ‘Blue Velvet.’ The surreal world created by Lynch was the perfect setting for this innocent and beautiful song. Like so many Orbison songs, it follows its own path and avoids many stock cliches. Also, like most of his recordings, his voice simply soars. Following the interest from ‘Blue Velvet,’ Orbison recorded a new version which earned him more fans. Certainly one of his best!
The surging, insistent rhythm of ‘Running Scared’ made it unlike any other record on the pop charts at the time, which may be part of the reason it landed at the No.1 spot in mid-1961. The record builds and builds as Orbison’s voice is surrounded by strings, brass, and percussion to create a dramatic wall of sound. Roy’s vocal surpasses all the instrumentation and wins the spotlight of the song.
Released on the Sun label in 1956, ‘Domino’ is one of Orbison’s fiercest rockabilly records. The tale of a cool cat called Domino who has “coal black hair and a solid style baby blue eyes and a crazy smile,” is unleashed via some reverb’d menace and twang. Orbison’s vocal is suitably raw, and the tune just cooks along. It’s no wonder that 20 years later, the Cramps would seize the song and make it their own.
Roy Orbison’s 15th single still stands as one of the most beautiful, sincere and moving records of the rock and roll era. Orbison outdoes himself on his vocal performance with that aching falsetto that is guaranteed to tug on a few heartstrings. A mini drama in all of two and a half minutes of glory, ‘Crying’ made it to No. 2 on the charts in the summer of 1961. The song was covered by many artists, most notably, a remake by Orbison with K.D. Lang in 1987.
‘Oh, Pretty Woman’
His signature song, which leads our list of the Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs, has lost none of its appeal over these last five decades. Not only was ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ a big hit, it was a big hit by an American artist amidst a huge wave known as the British Invasion. The record sailed to the No. 1 spot in the summer of 1964 and stayed there for three weeks, keeping the Beatles at bay, for a moment. It would be his last Top 10 hit until his comeback in 1989 with ‘You Got It.’ The song is built around a dynamic riff, simple, catchy melody and an ace vocal from Orbison, adding up to a winning combination. Van Halen took their version just shy of the Top 10 in 1982.