Music

Roy Orbison: Roy Orbison - The Soul of Rock and Roll

Christel Loar

His music and his voice, his legend and his legacy, the long shadow he casts over every rock and roll singer to step into a spotlight since, that's why Roy Orbison is The Soul of Rock and Roll!


Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison - The Soul of Rock and Roll

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2008-09-30
UK Release Date: 2008-10-13
Amazon
iTunes

"You ready?" asks a young Roy Orbison before launching into the first recording of "Ooby Dooby" that opens The Soul of Rock and Roll. He sounds ready, excited and eager. But he wasn't Roy Orbison yet. The very early recordings with the Teen Kings -- and one called "Hey! Miss Fannie" with his previous group, The Wink Westerners -- have the voice, but not the delivery. It's recognizable, but it hadn't reached remarkable. Orbison had yet to discover his divine, quavering and quaking vocal quality. In fact, some of his mid-1950s songs, featured on the first disc of this spectacular set, seem to borrow singing styles from his contemporaries, such as his Sun Records label mate Jerry Lee Lewis. Orbison's "Mean Little Mama" has the all the swagger -- and nearly the exact phrasing -- of the Killer. Obvious stylistic similarities to fellow Texans, Gene Vincent, and Roy's friend and sometime rival Buddy Holly, are apparent on tracks like "Rockhouse". It's interesting to follow the progression, as well as to note the prowess that was present as Orbison was developing and defining his distinctive sound. There's an unreleased 1956 cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" that provides glimpses of the golden voice to come, and gives Mr. Penniman a run for his money on the falsetto "Whooooooh!"

Also never-before-released is "Guitar Pull Medley", almost 10 minutes of a seemingly impromptu acoustic performance, during which a female voice calls out covers that Orbison gamely strums up, including Presley-perfect versions of "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" and "That's All Right", Ronnie Hawkins's "Mary Lou", and Johnny Cash's "You're My Baby". Among the countless highlights of this compilation is a haunting live performance of "It's Over" from Orbison's final concert on 4 December 1987, which was recorded near the end of his life.

Impressively comprehensive and stunning in scope, The Soul of Rock and Roll is also a beautifully packaged boxed set. Its presentation befits the image, the voice, the legend of Roy Orbison. The limited edition comes in a gorgeous white linen-covered casing holding a collectible reproduction of the 1953 Wildcats of Wink High School yearbook, and a 95-page booklet filled with an extensive biography, clippings, a discography and hundreds of striking photos. The astounding four disc collection spans Orbison's more than 30-year career with 107 tracks of classics, covers, '50s demos and live performances, 12 of which are previously unreleased.

Most of the unheard material is on the first disc, which follows Orbison from sessions in Odessa, Texas with Norman Petty (best known for recording Buddy Holly and the Crickets) to his Sun Records residency in Memphis. Perhaps most notable are the demos of hits like "Claudette", which is a slowed and stripped acoustic here, but still possesses all the elements of the rave-up it became. It's clear that Orbison had a knack for clever and catchy song structures, and he could have easily been a success even if he never learned how best to showcase his voice.

Fortunately for the history of rock and roll, he did find a formula unique to his vocal talents. In the late 1950s, and well into the 1960s, the sound the world came to associate exclusively with Roy Orbison was perfected. The Soul of Rock and Roll's second disc contains all of the biggest hits of that era. It's futile to try and pick the best songs, or even favorites, from these 25, because each one is a peerless classic. There are the melodramatic ballads that only Roy Orbison could pull off like "Only the Lonely", "Running Scared", "Leah", "In Dreams", and "Crying". There are the songs that swing, like "Uptown", "Candy Man", and "Dream Baby". Disc two is also where Orbison's talent for making other peoples' songs entirely his own shows itself, with songs like "Love Hurts" (first recorded by the Everly Brothers, but first a hit for Orbison) and Willie Nelson's Christmas composition, "Pretty Paper".

The third disc of The Soul of Rock and Roll continues to present the artist's way with covers, as well as live performances, including a brilliant 1965 concert recording of the Ray Charles standard, "What'd I Say". This disc also features more of the mid-1960s hits, such as, "It's Over", "Walk On", and, of course, "Oh, Pretty Woman". Additionally, disc three contains some of Orbison's work from soundtracks, including "So Young" from Zabriskie Point, "Pistolero" from The Fastest Guitar Alive, and a hauntingly gorgeous "That Lovin' You Feelin'", a duet with Emmylou Harris from the film Roadie.

The last disc in the set begins with a couple of tracks from The Class of '55. This 1986 release reunited Orbison with his old Sun Records label mates Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and it's a treat to have a couple of tracks featured here. "Coming Home" is Orbison alone on vocals, and it's beautiful, but the fabulous "Waymore's Blues" has all four of the then-surviving members of the 1955 roster singing together. The remainder of disc four gathers up several pieces of Orbison's mid- to late-1980s so-called comeback, including the re-recordings of "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "In Dreams" for Pretty Woman and Blue Velvet, respectively; the standout Traveling Wilburys tune, "Not Alone Anymore"; the T Bone Burnett-produced live tracks from the concert film Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night; cuts from 1988's Mystery Girl and 1992's King of Hearts and several singles and soundtrack spots, including those produced by Jeff Lynne, Don Was, Brian Eno and Bono, and the 1987 duet with k.d. lang on "Crying".

Roy Orbison's widow, Barbara, who is The Soul of Rock and Roll's Executive Producer, states in her annotated liner notes, "For the first time, you will have a chance to hear Roy's first recording to the last time he ever sang ... Roy recorded for several different labels and toured the world many, many times -- we have numerous unreleased masters and live performances included in this box set to make it truly special." It's true that each and every one of these 107 tracks is special, and the collection as a whole is phenomenal. You'd be hard-pressed to find any box set, by any artist, that is as thoroughly comprehensive and as lovingly presented as this one is. So, for that, it is truly special. But Roy Orbison doesn't really need all of those extras to make this box set unique. His music and his voice, his legend and his legacy, the long shadow he casts over every rock and roll singer to step into a spotlight, are a testament to the man who truly was the Soul of Rock and Roll.

10

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image