In my last article about Roy Orbison, all the way back in February, I jabbed a little bit of fun at this amazing artist because he uses the word “cry” or some derivation thereof in a lot of the text of his early music. Indeed, after reading a testimony of just how bad this poor man has had it in his life (from the second John Cash autobiography), I don’t blame him. We’re lucky he was able to get out of bed, much less bring us these amazing albums through Monument Records.
Bearing all that in mind, come on folks, his second album is called “Crying”, jeeze let it go Fauntelroy:
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.
Ok, so the first song is called “Crying”, and if you’ve somehow run into a “Roy Orbison Sings Pretty Woman And Other Mega Hits You Couldn’t Possibly Care About” compilation and this song isn’t on it, then I’m afraid you’ve actually picked up a compilation of lies. It’s such a recognizable song that you really shouldn’t go through your life without hearing it. There’s a reason for that, of course, it’s a magnificent song, so magnificent that it’s a then-unheard-of 3 minutes in length. Ok, I kid, but still what’s the deal with songs being so short back then.
Then we have “The Great Pretender”, which another song showcasing the orchestral, over-the-top way that Roy Orbison liked to present some fairly simple ideas. The idea of this one is being able to hide the terrible heart-break of something or other and, in pretending that he isn’t troubled, makes him the Great Pretender. It’s actually got some poignant points in it to make it a really good song, but really the best part is when he sings “Feel” in a really drawn-out way where he kind of sings the scale up and down, it’s so fun to try and sing along with.
Then we have another absolute legend among “oldies”, “Love Hurts”. It’s actually not an Orbison original though, it was written by someone I have never actually heard of (Boudleaux Bryant), but I’m willing to bet Roy’s was the first version that really sold well. It’s constructed around that old chord progression that most oldies songs are built out of, except it has a lot of chord changes during the verse, which I appreciate, it kind of shows how far pop music got early on before becoming the horrid thing it is nowadays.
Ahh, “She Wears My Ring”, a good old-timey love song about marriage and planning on being together forever and all that. The weird thing is, this song actually has nothing to do with heartbreak or crying or being blue or any of that, it’s just a simple song about love where nothing bad happens, and after Sings Lonely And Blue, it’s a welcome relief.
Of course, then it’s right back to heartbreak and loneliness and blueness and crying, with the added bonus of staying consistent with the wedding theme! Indeed, “Wedding Day” is a real tear-jerker. You feel sorry for the singer not only for the fact that his bride didn’t show up, but you really have to wonder about how much money was wasted on all that ceremony. Of course, this is just my superficial thought, the singer doesn’t care a whit about the material loss, just his world fading away as she walks away on this wedding day.
Things aren’t so bad though, as we get a nice slow-dance number (ok so the album up to the point has been at this pace) with “Summer Song”. Ok so it’s still about someone leaving him, so this song is also sad, but the instrumentation is really warm and bright, at least until the bridge, which starts in a minor key and kind of crescendos from there into a very grand version of the chorus indeed. If I were to sum up Roy Orbison in a word, it probably would be “Grand”, because man.
Despite what we’ve seen so far, the entire album isn’t a slow-dance number, in fact there are a couple of fast-paced orchestral rockabilly numbers such as “Dance”, which kind of replaces electric guitar with a well-stocked string section. That’s kind of like cheating, in a way, I’m going to phone up Bill Haley and tell him what’s going on here. Oh wait this isn’t the 50′s anymore.
One of the reasons my love for Roy Orbison is undying is that he was among the first artists (if not the first) to use distorted bass. Indeed, the upright bass on “Lana” is distorted for whatever reason, and though there are some background vocalists, it actually seems to have a more stripped-down but much peppier, punchier sound. I like it quite a lot, it’s too bad it has to go so quickly at just over 2 minutes.
The next song pulls a bit of a trickeroo on you. It starts off with a minor chord and a dire message “Lonliness is the worst thing in the world…” But then the rest of the sound comes in and it’s actually another upbeat number, but this time the orchestra makes a return. The background vocals are a bit different this time, however, as they are low male voices instead of high tenored vocals. Not bad! This one is actually another favorite of mine, though you never really hear much about “Lonliness” on those endlessly repeating $5 “best of” albums. This is why I don’t like compilations, there’s always something interesting and obscure to be seen on a full album if it’s any good.
“Let’s Make A Memory” kind of gets back to that old “doo-wop” sound, only the chorus contains a lot of “ooo eee” kind of nonsensical vowel sounds that are even stranger than usual, and I love it for that.
“Night Life” starts with a great little soliloquoy before unfolding to reveal another of those grand, masterful songs, with brass horns punctuating every beat. Something about “Night life oo la la la” just makes me happy inside, which I guess is the whole point of this accursed “music” thing. Interestingly, the bridge calls back on the same chord progression as “Crying”, only the lyrics have changed. This intrigues me, only there’s probably no way I will find out why he chose to do that.
“Running Scared” is a beautiful song to end the album on. It was rather famously covered by Nick Cave at some point (an artist I really need to get to writing about at some point). The song starts with just an acoustic guitar playing a definite rhythm that kind of recalls a bit of a march, with Roy’s effervescent vocals singing the lyrics, and the whole thing becomes a whole band affair, for roughly 30 seconds before the song ends on a high note, where lyrically and musically the entire song and indeed the entire album was going. Man, now that’s a song.
If you happen to pick up the recent remastered version of this album, you’ll get a further 4 bonus tracks, all of which are pretty good. So do it!
I poke fun at Roy Orbison sometimes, but really his lyrical content was the way that music was going in the 50′s and early 60′s. Lots of direct references to some very powerful emotions, just the way the Blues were and I’m sure the music before that was. It’s only after some kids came over and showed popular music how to be clever that cynical jerks like myself would see the over-used themes of the day and call them out on it. Good thing all these people are dead now, otherwise I’d get an earful!
Anyway I love Roy Orbison with all my old, wrinkly, musical heart. That’s all I really need to say about it, but we require more words than that here on Album Du Jour!