The Soul Of Rock And Roll is a massive four disc, 107 track compilation that spans the four decade career of Roy Orbison. His widow, Barbara Orbison and son, Roy Jr. were responsible for the selection of the songs and the set’s production.
Roy Orbison (1936-1988) had one of the most distinctive voices in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and used it to leave a legacy of building romantic ballads and up-tempo pop/rock songs that was almost unequaled in American popular music. His quavering tenor was one of the purist vocal instruments ever to grace a recording studio.
Disc one is the most interesting of the four. It gathers together songs from his early groups, The Teen Kings and The Wink Westerners plus Sun Label cuts. The early tracks are particularly interesting as they chronicle the beginning of his musical journey. The oldest track, “Hey! Miss Fannie” by his high school group, The Wink Westerners was recorded in 1955. It presents a young Roy Orbison beginning to fulfill his early dream of leading a country and western band.
His work with The Teen Kings finds him moving toward a rock ‘n’ roll sound. His recording of the Little Richard classic, “Tutti Fruitti” shows him searching for a comfortable niche. The Sun tracks find him squarely in the rockabilly school of music. While the quality of his Sun work would vary, such songs as “Ooby Dooby,” “Mean Little Mama,” “Problem Child,” and “Claudette” remain energetic and vital a half century after their release. The highlight is an unreleased tracked called the “1956 Guitar Pull Medley.” It combined the songs “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You/I Was The One/That’s All Right/Mary Lou/You’re My Baby” into one spectacular track.
Disc two presents Orbison at his most popular as the 29 tracks are part of his Monument label legacy. Songs such as “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Crying,” “Candy Man,” “Blue Bayou,” “Dream Baby,” and “Falling” are instantly recognizable as some of the best music that was issued during the first half of the 1960s. There was some thought put into the selection of the tracks as the often forgotten rockers “Lana” and “Working For The Man” as well as the unique sounding “Shahdaroba” all make deserved appearances.
Disc three brings his Monument recordings to a close. “Mean Woman Blues” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” are rockers and essential to his catalogue. The MGM material is more spotty. While “Ride Away,” “Crawling Back,” “Communication Breakdown,” and “Too Soon To Know” are competent and listenable, it is immediately noticeable that they are inferior to his work with the Monument label. He released ten albums for MGM and the fact that this output is represented by less than one complete disc says a lot for overall quality of the material.
They also inexplicably leave off what may be his best track during that time period, “Cry Softly Lonely One.” The disc does end on a high note, however, as there is a previously unreleased live version of “Land Of A Thousand Dances,” his tribute to Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog Man” and his Grammy Award winning duet with Emmylou Harris, “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again.”
Disc Four gathers tracks from movie soundtracks, live performances and late career studio work. It is probably the weakest of the four discs as it has a disjointed feel to it. I would have preferred a few more Traveling Wilburys tunes as they were universally excellent. “You Got It” and “A Mystery To Me” are strong songs as is the live recording of “Oh, Pretty Woman.” A live “It’s Over” was recorded near the end of his life and proves that his vocal skills were intact up to the very end.
While the box itself and the cardboard holder in which the discs are stored could have been a little stronger, the 95 page booklet is spectacular and informative. It presents a nice biography of his life, information about each track, rare photos, and thoughts and comments by a number of his associates and artists.
The Soul Of Rock And Roll will no doubt remain the definitive overview of Roy Orbison’s musical career. It is a worthy addition to any music collection.