The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This time we look at Roy Orbison’s All-Time Greatest Hits.
American Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Texas in 1936 and died in 1988. He was a guitarist and singer/songwriter famous for his distinctive four octave baritone voice, emotional ballads and dark signature shades. He was first a success as a rockabilly solo artist in Sun Records and I perhaps best known for a string of Billboard Top Forty hits on Monument Records including “Only the Lonely”, “Crying”, “In Dreams”, and “Oh, Pretty Woman”. Although his career stagnated during the 1970s, in the 1980s he enjoyed commercial success as a member of The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, the late, former Beatle George Harrison, ELO founder Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. Sadly, at the time of his death he was enjoying a resurgence in his solo career as he had recently put out a new album.
Known by some as “the Caruso of rock”, Orbison was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. Rolling Stone magazine slotted him in at number 37 in their list of The Greatest Artists of All Time, in 2002 they placed him at number 74 in the Top 600 recording artists and rated Orbison at number 13 in their list of The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008.
All-Time Greatest Hitsis a 2-LP compilation album released in 1972. The project includes all the original Monument Records recordings that marked him the most singular rock stylist of the 1950s and 60s. His string of maundering, oft-times self-pitying songs were regularly redeemed by his extraordinary vocals and then eccentric musical arrangements.
Of course, after moving to Monument his writing generally went in one of two directions. There were the nearly snarling blues-country shouters whose quintessential movement was complete with the seductive snarl from “Oh Pretty Woman” “Mean Woman Blues” and “Candy Man” and those that chronicled tales of deep lust or fear such as “Running Scared”, “Only The Lonely” and “Love Hurts”. The seductive songs were significantly influential on the careers of such artists as The Beatles who toured with him.
The songs of deep fear and lust were sometimes found to be even more fascinating by critics such as David Marsh of Rolling Stone magazine. In “Running Scared”, for example, Marsh says that “the music builds from a whisper to a scream as Orbison recites an ultimate paranoid fantasy” as he imagines what would happen if his gal possibly saw a guy who might attract her more than him. This anxiety is rendered totally ironic because at the close of the song he imagines that she doesn’t.
Also included here are numbers that were minor hits such as “Leah” and “Pretty Paper”. Online critics praise his voice as one of “the greatest ever” and some go so far as to say it had a unique quality which made it “almost surreal”. Online critics generally agree with Rolling Stone and give the recording a five-star rating as well.
Generally speaking, Orbison was accompanied by the same Nashville rhythm section used for other tunes and sometimes abetted by a chorus of women. Strings were used to accentuate the rhythm. (Interestingly enough, only Phil Spector could match Orbison’s use of orchestral style as well as his paranoia.) The material here was successful enough that CBS Records chose to re-release it on CD in 1989.
Orbison’s work is now near legendary as more and more artists discover and are inspired by his catalogue. In 1997, CBS put out a limited edition, remastered, gold CD reissue of this excellent album. The album is truly one of rock’s indispensable anthologies—containing all the hits and a fair share of oddities (such as “Shadaroba” which reveals a surprising bent for “Orientalism”). Indeed, Roy Orbison’s All-Time Greatest Hits/Monu.MP-8600 is a required part for any truly comprehensive collection.
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