Roy Orbison had one of the greatest voices ever, and he was also an extremely talented songwriter who had a string of top 40 hits from 1960-1964. He got his start on Sam Phillips Sun Records, and this compilations first couple of tracks ("Ooby Dooby" and "Rockhouse") are from that mid-'50s period and deliver silly, fun rock 'n' roll. It was with Monument Records that Roy truly found his voice, however, starting with "Only The Lonely" in 1960. Indeed, it was with sober ballads such as this and other instant classics like "Running Scared," "Crying," "In Dreams," "Blue Bayou" (later a big hit for Linda Ronstadt), and "It's Over" that Roy is justifiably legendary, with fans ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan to followers such as Chris Isaak. These story-based songs, each running between 2 and 3 minutes, dealt primarily with teenage heartbreak, and we're able to identify with these lovesick characters, largely due to Roy's operatic voice, which boasted a 3-octave range and could induce chills when in falsetto mode (heard to best effect on "Crying" which is almost sure to well up the ‘ol tear ducts). Songs such as "Leah" and "In Dreams," the latter famously featured in the movie Blue Velvet, see Roy dreaming of better things only to wake up feeling lonely and empty yet again. Roy wasn't some pathetic sap who couldn't get the girl, though; after all, on "Running Scared" and his signature hit, the irresistible "Pretty Woman" (later a hit for Van Halen and the theme song to the popular movie of the same name), he does get the girl, and with his ever-present shades and mysterious aura he was always a cool character. Also, though he's at his best on string-laden ballads, he did have some notable up-tempo successes as well, such as the catchy "Dream Baby" (another dream song) and "Mean Woman Blues," which even sports a savage guitar solo. Granted, a few of the other rockers here are unremarkable, including those early Sun sides, yet on his best dramatic ballads Roy is all but unforgettable. Just listen to how the drama builds to its elegant crescendo on "Running Scared," or how his soaring vocals elevate what could otherwise be melodramatic sap on "It's Over." Alas, though he would remain a popular international figure, especially in Europe, after leaving Monument the hits dried up. To make matters much worse, Roy's wife was killed in motorcycle accident in 1966, and two of his three kids died in a house fire two years later. Roy persevered, however, overcoming his own health issues and enjoying a major comeback in the late '80s with the Traveling Wilburys and as a solo artist. Tragedy then struck again, however, when Orbison himself died of a heart attack at age 52 right as his new album, Mystery Girl, was about to become a big seller, in large part due to the posthumous hit "You Got It." It would've been interesting to see where Roy would've gone from there, but even had he lived a long life, the odds are great that these 18 early songs (1956-1964) are still the ones that most people would best remember him by. All you lonely hearts out there, Roy Orbison has some songs for you.
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