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Liner Notables: The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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Note-perfect liner notes: garnering an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits…

Note for note perfect, the liner notes for 1972’s The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison (on Monument Records) were written with obvious appreciation by Boudleaux Bryant, who, teamed with his wife Felice, was one of the prime note-to-note pop and country songwriters of the 1940s to ‘70s. Responsible for such hits as “Love Hurts,” “Rocky Top,” and a slew of Everly Brother hits including “Bye Bye, Love,” and “All I Have to do is Dream,” Bryant brings to bear in a cohesive and incisive commentary a craftsmanship, his certain tunesmith skill set, including a certain musicality, an appealing wit and wordplay, and an engaging turn of phrase.

Structurally, Bryant chronicles in a straightforward linear bio — plopped down in proximity to some anachronistically crude late-psychedelic era portrait — and gives a to-the-point account of Orbison’s career, starting with his floundering and “less than world-warping” years trying to find a fit in the quickly developing rock ‘n’ roll of the mid-fifties. Things did look pretty promising out of the gate when he got signed up with the legendary Sam Phillips’ Sun Record’s in Memphis. And while Orbison did have a modest hit with the “unpretentious rocker” “Ooby Dooby,” he quickly sank back into anonymity with the “main relic of his temporary popularity being the dubious honor of the nickname ‘Ooby.’” A short-lived distinction, fortunately: Bryant doesn’t connect the appellative dots, but I suppose it’s just as well that the man who went on to break hearts with “Only the Lonely” and “Crying” wasn’t saddled with the clown name “Ooby Orbison” for the rest of his professional career.

Bryant goes on to note Roy’s subsequent stints, first fulfilling a recording contract at RCA Victor which proved fruitless despite fine musicians and the production proficiency of Chet Atkins. Meanwhile, limited inroads as a songwriter were paved when he hooked up with Acuff-Rose Publications. But it wasn’t until Orbison’s manager Wesley Rose put Roy on the road, not quite yellow-bricked, to the emerging one-hit wonderment of Monument Record Corp. — under the direction of Fred Foster — that things took off. Orbison, decidedly underwhelmed with what he viewed as more-of-the-same prospects,

…did not regard the change with unabated joy, viewing it roughly in the same light as swapping a slow mule for a picture of a racing horse. In view of the circumstances, I can’t say I blame him. But, though none of us were aware of it at the time, Destiny had become footsore and had decided to fly for awhile.

Bryant goes on to explain how the “Foster touch” was largely responsible for developing the mild, shy Roy – whose most violent expletive, it must be remembered, was “Mercy” and whose “singing was a vocal ‘before’ picturization of a muscle building ad.” After Orbison laid some Monument-al groundwork with early sessions that produced only modest hits like “Paper Boy,” Foster got more painstakingly involved with the recording, screening material and brainstorming. Bryant describes how Foster also worked from an intuitive angle as when, upon Roy showing him two songs, Fred suggested they combine the two.

Roy took the challenge and the result was Orbison’s first Gold Record, “Only the Lonely.”

From then on it was ‘all systems go.’ And Orbison orbited. His pussycat voice developed leonine qualities. His songwriting flowered into a garden of hits and his records sold millions.

In other as-they-say words, the rest was history. Roy’s last Foster-produced Monument record was the smash “Pretty Woman” before Roy went off to other record companies and explored other musical styles, and even eventually traveling as a Wilbury. All the while Orbison’s voice kept in fine operatic form, and I felt privileged to see — at the Arizona State Fair — one of Roy's last performances before he died in December 1988.

And from the respect that Roy earned at that show and the response that this  legend garnered, I am proud to say — to take a cue from Boudleaux Bryant's superb liner notes to The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison — that none dare called him Ooby.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch