"He [Roy Orbison] could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto like Frankie Valli in the next. With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business."—Bob Dylan, Chronicles,Volume 1 (2004)
Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run is a kind of summation of all his musical influences. But, in the 1975 LP’s eight songs, there is only one reference to these idols: “Roy Orbison singing for the lonely,/Hey, that’s me and I want you only,” he serenades the object of his desire in the album’s classic opening track, “Thunder Road.”
A dozen years later, inducting his hero into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Springsteen encapsulated the quicksilver quality he sought on the album that made his reputation: “I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector. But most of all, I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison.” It was a natural—indeed, inevitable—desire, as attested to by another artist who rose to prominence in the Seventies, Tom Waits: “When you were trying to make a girl fall in love with you, it took roses, the Ferris wheel and Roy Orbison."
Roy Orbison, who suffered a fatal heart attack at age 52 at his mother’s Hendersonville, TN home on this date 25 years ago, knew all about the desperation and exhilaration summoned by The Boss. They came not just from his thrilling, three-octave range, but from a career packed with success and heartbreak.
Between 1960 and 1964, Orbison recorded nine Top Ten hits. These and other songs of his from that time will probably play, and be covered, so long as rock 'n' roll continues to exist: “Only the Lonely,” “Running Scared,” “Blue Angel,” “Crying,” “Dream Baby,” “In Dreams,” “It’s Over,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
What brought a downshift in his career were not any failings of his own, but simply fate. What looked to be a good shift to MGM turned out to be unfortunate, as his new label wanted a certain number of albums produced, no matter the quality. Worse were searing personal losses: the 1966 death of wife Claudette in a motorcycle accident, followed two years later by the death of two of his three children when his home in Hendersonville burned to the ground.
At least by the time of his own death, Orbison was able to bask in renewed appreciation of his work. The following was occurring within the last few years before his demise:
*Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame;
*David Lynch’s use of his music in the film Blue Velvet;
*A high-profile collaboration with Dylan, George Harrison, and Tom Petty in the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys;
*New versions of his single “Crying” featuring Don McLean and K.D. Lang, in a Grammy-winning duet with Orbison himself;
*A magnificent concert (preserved on video as Roy Orbison and Friends–A Black and White Night Live), with appearances by Springsteen, Lang, Waits, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, T-Bone Burnette, Jackson Browne, and J. D. Souther;
*A recording of the CD Mystery Girl, which, when posthumously released in 1989, became the biggest- selling album of his career.