Select songs featured in the exhibition Researching Roy Orbison
The following selections highlight Orbison's early successes and his later resurgence. The songs or LPs they come from are featured in the gallery exhibition.
NOTE: These songs are only available for listening at the carrels of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library.
From Orbison's debut LP Sings Lonely and Blue (1961)
After struggling to find an identity through his years at Sun Records in the late 50s, Orbison discovers a persona and style that mark the remainder of his career when he moves over to Monument Records in 1960. There, Orbison assumes the mantle of the wounded balladeer who sings of loneliness and pain, maintaining a timid distance from the love and security that he desires. Gone is the raucous, almost silly tone of some of his earlier efforts on Sun (i.e. "Ooby Dooby" or "Go! Go! Go!"). So, too, is the surface grit that those Sun recordings attempted to assert. In its place, though, is a deeper well of emotion and, although the somewhat dainty production of the songs might belie the intensity of the lyrics and vocal performance, Orbison here is taking his first steps towards rock and roll immortality.
Select hit singles from the 1960s
Fully in stride as a performer, Orbison is also at his best here as a recording singer/songwriter. Orbison's success with ballads continue, but he also crafts what is probably his best-known song, the rocker "Oh, Pretty Woman." This is his commercial peak and is the era for which he is best remembered.
From Class of '55 (1986)
After nearly 20 years in the commercial and critical wilderness, Orbison begins to emerge again. The Class Of '55 session, where he is joined by fellow Sun Records alums Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, is a look back, but ultimately serves as a major, though somewhat forgotten, step forward in reviving his career.
From Black and White Night (recorded 1987, released 1989)
Orbison's return to the mainstream limelight, here with a little help from his friends. Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, kd Lang and several other top-shelf musicians joined Orbison at this concert, a review of his career, which was now entering its fascinating, if unlikely, final phase.
From The Traveling Wilburys, Volume One (1988)
The brainchild of Orbison acolytes Jeff Lynne and George Harrison, The Traveling Wilburys emerged in 1988 with an album that was as successful commercially as it was critically, rising to #3 on Billboard's "Hot 100". A rare supergroup with charm and good songs, Orbison, Harrison, Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty found great success with this project. Underscoring both that Orbison was a crucial early rock and roll influence on his bandmates as well as a modern, relevant artistic force, his contributions to the Wilburys project stand as some of his finest work.
From Mystery Girl (1989)
Completed shortly before his death and released posthumously, Mystery Girl is the final step in Orbison's comeback. A coterie of stars contributed songs to the album (Bono and The Edge from U2, Elvis Costello, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and others) and Orbison also renewed his songwriting partnership with Bill Dees, with whom he had co-written classics like "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "It's Over." Rising to #5 on the Billboard's "Hot 100" and eventually going double platinum, Mystery Girl was Orbison's most successful album and a suitable farewell to the legendary singer and songwriter.