Roy Orbison would have turned 75 this year. Nearly twenty-three years after the legendary singer-songwriter’s premature passing, the three-disc (2 CD/1 DVD) set, The Monument Singles Collection, gives fans a perfect reason to celebrate. The first disc collects twenty A-sides released by Orbison on Monument Records from 1960-1964; the second disc consists of nineteen B-sides released during the same period. All thirty-nine tracks are presented in their original mono mixes. The DVD contains a nine-song 1965 concert taped in Holland.
Orbison’s work has been anthologized many times over, the most complete being the mammoth boxset, The Soul of Rock and Roll. Budget-conscious fans could do a lot worse than the double-disc The Essential Roy Orbison. But The Monument Singles Collection is a great choice for two different potential buyers. On one hand, completists will want these mono mixes — the first time they’ve all been issued as such since the original 7″ vinyl versions. Additionally, this is the DVD debut of the concert footage. On the other hand, brand new fans (or those who only own one of the skimpier, previous compilations) have a chance to get a treasure trove of material from Orbison’s peak years in one fell swoop.
The biggest hits are all found on the first disc, including such oldies-channel staples as “Only the Lonely,” “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and “Dream Baby.” Of course, these days you’re lucky to ever hear classics like “Running Scared,” “Crying,” and “Blue Bayou” on the radio. They are all present and accounted for here, though, along with other big hits like “In Dreams” (so indelibly featured in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet). Beyond the most recognizable titles, there are tons of largely forgotten hits highlighting the A-sides disc. Most of the songs collected here appeared in Billboard’s Top Forty, even if they rarely get aired publicly anymore.
The B-sides disc is loaded with many obscurities, most of them very likely unknown to most casual fans. Some of them were legitimate hits in their own right, in an age when B-sides charted separately on the strength of airplay and point-of-purchase requests. “Candy Man” reached number twenty-five, as did “Leah,” while “Mean Woman Blues” was a Top Five hit. Songs like the uptempo “Today’s Teardrops” or the ultra-dramatic “Love Hurts” could’ve easily stood on their own as A-sides.
The DVD is in black-and-white and is relatively brief at twenty-five minutes. The footage shows its age with plenty of imperfections, but it looks and sounds fine, all things considered. Think of it as a superb bonus to accompany the music. Though it’s great to see Orbison in his prime performing a hits-dominated live set, the visual presentation is not all that interesting. The audience is very reserved and the well-mannered band looks kind of stiff. There is one humorously hokey visual touch during “Oh, Pretty Woman,” as the camera cuts to a young Brigitte Nielsen look-alike in the audience every time Orbison sings the title line.
The Monument Singles Collection is a well-packaged compilation of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s towering figures. The remastered mono mixes sound pristine and should please die-hards while doubling as a perfect introduction to those just discovering Orbison.