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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pretty Woman--the rest of the story.

"Oh, Pretty Woman" is a song, released in August 1964, which was a worldwide success for Roy Orbison. Recorded on the Monument Records label in Nashville, Tennessee, it was written by Roy Orbison and Bill Dees. The song spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. 
Five years after its release, in 1969, the single was awarded gold record. Orbison posthumously won the 1991 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his live recording of the song on his HBO Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night. In 1999, the song was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and was named one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #222 on their list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." television special

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on April 23, 1936 in Vernon, Texas

Young Roy Orbison
He was an American singer-songwriter, best known for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional ballads.

Roy Orbison as a teenager

 All the Orbison children were afflicted with poor eyesight; Roy used thick corrective lenses from an early age. A bout with jaundice as a child gave him a sallow complexion, and his ears protruded prominently. Orbison was not particularly confident in his appearance; he began dyeing his nearly white hair black when he was young. He was quiet and self-effacing, remarkably polite and obliging—a product, biographer Alan Clayson wrote, of his Southern upbringing. However, Orbison was readily available to sing, and often became the focus of attention when he did. He considered his voice memorable if not great.

Orbison's major musical influences as a youth were in country music. He was particularly moved by the way Lefty Frizzell sang, slurring syllables. He also enjoyed Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. One of the first musicians he heard in person was Ernest Tubbs playing on the back of a flatbed truck in Fort Worth.

On his sixth birthday, Orbison's father gave him a guitar. Orbison later recalled that, by the age of seven, "I was finished, you know, for anything else"; music would be his life.

At eight, Orbison began appearing on a local radio show. By the late 1940s, he was the host.

 In high school, Orbison and some friends formed The Wink Westerners, an informal band that played country standards and Glenn Miller songs at local honky-tonks, and had a weekly radio show. When they were offered $400 to play at a dance, Orbison realized that he could make a living in music. 

Roy Orbison and The Teen Kings

 Following high school, he enrolled at North Texas State College, planning to study geology so that he could secure work in the oil fields if music did not pay. He formed another band called The Teen Kings, and sang at night while working in the oil fields or studying during the day. Orbison saw classmate Pat Boone get signed for a record deal, further strengthening his resolve to become a professional musician. His geology grades dropping, he switched to Odessa Junior College to consider becoming a teacher.

 While living in Odessa, Orbison drove to Dallas to be shocked at the on-stage antics of Elvis Presley, who was only a year older and a rising star in the music scene. Johnny Cash toured the area in 1955, playing on the same local radio show as the Teen Kings and suggested that Orbison approach Sam Phillips at Sun Records, home of rockabilly stars including Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cash. In their conversation, Phillips told Orbison curtly, "Johnny Cash doesn't run my record company!" but he was convinced to listen to a song composed by Dick Penner and Wade Moore in mere minutes atop a fraternity house at North Texas State, named "Ooby Dooby", that the Teen Kings had recorded on the Odessa-based Je–Wel record label. Phillips was impressed and offered the Teen Kings a contract in 1956.

 The Teen Kings toured with Sonny James, Johnny Horton, and Cash.

 Much influenced by Elvis Presley, Orbison performed frenetically, doing "everything we could to get applause because we had only one hit record".

 The Teen Kings also began writing more material such as "Go! Go! Go!" and "Rockhouse", generally in standard rockabilly style. The band ultimately split over disputed writing credits and royalties, but Orbison stayed in Memphis and asked his 16-year-old girlfriend, Claudette Frady, to join him. Orbison sold "Claudette", a song he wrote about Frady, whom he married in 1957, to The Everly Brothers and it appeared on the B-side of their smash hit "All I Have To Do Is Dream".

A ballad Orbison wrote called "The Clown" was met with lukewarm appreciation at best. Sun Records producer Jack Clement told Orbison after hearing it that he would never make it as a ballad singer.

 Although his singing was not very good on "The Clown" we know today that Orbison became one of the great ballad singers of all time.

 "Blue Bayou"

 For a brief period in the late 1950s Orbison made his living at Acuff-Rose, a songwriting firm concentrating mainly on country music. After spending an entire day writing a song, he would make several demo tapes at a time and send them to Wesley Rose, who would try to find the musical acts to record them. Orbison attempted to sell to RCA Victor songs he recorded that were written by other writers as well, working with and being completely in awe of Chet Atkins who had played guitar with Presley.

 Playing shows late into the night, and living with his wife and young child in his tiny apartment, Orbison often sought refuge by taking his guitar to his car and writing songs there. Songwriter Joe Melson, who had a passing acquaintance with Orbison, tapped on his car window one day in Texas in 1958 and the two decided to try to write some songs together. During three recording sessions in 1958 and 1959, Orbison and Melson recorded seven songs at RCA Nashville, with Atkins producing, but only two songs were judged worthy of release by RCA.

 Orbison became one of the first recording artists to popularize the Nashville Sound, a trend of country and pop crossover music that used session musicians dubbed the A-Team:  The Nashville Sound was developed by producers Atkins, Owen Bradley, Sam Phillips, and Fred Foster. In his first session for Monument in Nashville, Orbison took on a song that RCA had refused, "Paper Boy", but it never charted.

 The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll states that the music Orbison made in Nashville "brought a new splendor to rock", and compared the melodramatic effects of the orchestral accompaniment to the music production of Phil Spector.

 In addition to the Nashville Sound's core components, Orbison requested strings in the studio. With this combination, Orbison recorded three new songs, the most notable of which was "Uptown", penned by himself and Melson.

Influenced by contemporaneous hits such as "Come Back to Me (My Love)" and "Come Softly to Me", Orbison and Melson wrote a song in early 1960 which, using elements from "Uptown" employed strings and the Anita Kerr doo-wop backup singers. It also featured a note hit by Orbison in falsetto that showcased a powerful voice which, according to biographer Clayson, "came not from his throat but deeper within".The song was "Only the Lonely"; Orbison and Melson had earlier tried to pitch it to Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers but were turned down.

The single shot to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hit number 1 in the UK and Australia. According to Orbison, the subsequent songs he wrote with Melson during this period were constructed with his voice in mind, specifically to showcase its range and power.

He told Rolling Stone in 1988: 

"I liked the sound of [my voice]. I liked making it sing, making the voice ring, and I just kept doing it. And I think that somewhere between the time of "Ooby Dooby" and "Only the Lonely", it kind of turned into a good voice."

Melson and Orbison followed it with the more complex "Blue Angel" which peaked at U.S. number 9, a self-performed version of "Claudette", and "I'm Hurtin'", which rose to number 27.

Back in the studio, seeking a change from the doo-wop styled pop sound of "Only the Lonely" and "I'm Hurtin'", Orbison worked on a new song, "Running Scared", based loosely on the rhythm of Ravel's Boléro; the song was about a man on lookout for his girlfriend's previous boyfriend, who he feared would try to take her away. Orbison encountered difficulty when he found himself unable to hit the song's highest note without his voice breaking. He was backed by an orchestra in the studio and Porter told him he would have to sing louder than his accompaniment because the orchestra was unable to be softer than his voice. Fred Foster then put Orbison in the corner of the studio and surrounded him with coat racks in an improvised isolation booth to emphasize his voice. Orbison was unhappy with the first two takes, but in the third, he abandoned the idea of using falsetto and sang the final high G sharp naturally, so astonishing everyone present that the accompanying musicians stopped playing. On that third take, "Running Scared" was completed. Fred Foster later recalled, "He did it, and everybody looked around in amazement. Nobody had heard anything like it before."

 Just weeks later "Running Scared" reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

 The composition of Orbison's following hits reflected "Running Scared": a story about an emotionally vulnerable man facing loss or grief, culminating with a surprise ending in a crescendo that employed Orbison's dynamic voice. "Crying" followed in July 1961 and reached number 2; it was coupled with an R&B up-tempo song titled "Candy Man" written by Fred Neil and Beverley Ross, which reached the Billboard Top 30, staying on the charts for two months.  Orbison hit number 4 in the U.S. with "Dream Baby ", an upbeat song written by country songwriter Cindy Walker.

 His relationship with Joe Melson, however, was deteriorating over Melson's growing concerns that his own solo career would never get off the ground.

 Lacking the photogenic looks of many of his rock and roll contemporaries, Orbison eventually developed a persona that did not reflect his personality. After leaving his thick eyeglasses on an airplane in 1962 or 1963, Orbison was forced to wear his Ray-Ban Wayfarer prescription sunglasses on stage and found that he preferred them. His biographers suggest that although he had a good sense of humor and was never morose, Orbison was very shy and suffered from severe stage fright; wearing sunglasses helped him hide somewhat from the attention. The black clothes and desperation in his songs led to an aura of mystery and introversion.

 As "In Dreams" was released in April 1963, Orbison was asked to replace guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the UK in top billing, with The Beatles, whose popularity was on the rise.

Through the tour, however, both acts quickly learned to get along, a process made easier by the fact that the Beatles admired his work. Orbison felt a kinship with Lennon, but it was Harrison with whom he would later form a strong friendship. The moniker of "The Big O" would eventually follow him back to the States, where it became an unofficial nickname for Orbison.

 Touring in 1963 took a toll on Orbison's personal life. His wife Claudette began having an affair with the contractor who built their home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Their friends and relatives attributed it to her youth and that she was unable to withstand being alone and bored; when Orbison toured England again in the fall of 1963, she joined him.

 Orbison also began collaborating with Bill Dees, whom he had known in Texas. With Dees, he wrote "It's Over", a number 1 in the UK, and a song that would be one of his signature pieces for the rest of his career.

Orbison was writing with his Dees at his house when he told Dees to get started writing by playing anything that came to mind. Claudette came in and said she was going to go into town to buy something. Orbison asked if she needed any money, and Dees cracked,

"Pretty woman never needs any money." 

Inspired, Orbison started singing,

 "Pretty woman walking down the street."
Bill Dees recalls in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh:

"He sang it while I was banging my hand down on the table and by the time she returned we had the song. I love the song. From the moment that the rhythm started, I could hear the heels clicking on the pavement, click, click, the pretty woman walking down the street, in a yellow skirt and red shoes. We wrote Oh Pretty Woman on a Friday, the next Friday we recorded it, and the next Friday it was out. It was the fastest thing I ever saw. Actually, the yeah, yeah, yeah in Oh Pretty Woman probably came from The Beatles."

In the same book Bill Dees recounts how the distinctive growling cry of "Mercy" came about:

 "I can't do that growl like Roy, but the "Mercy" is mine. I used to say that all the time when I saw a pretty woman or had some good food. Still do."

Orbison and his wife Claudette had recently reconciled after some tough times, but as this song was climbing the charts, Roy found out she had been cheating on him and filed for divorce. In 1966, they remarried, but 2 months later Claudette was killed when the motorcycle she was riding was hit by a truck. Orbison and Claudette were riding home from Bristol, Tennessee. She was struck by a semi-trailer truck and died instantly. Orbison faced tragedy again when his 2 oldest sons died in a fire at his home in 1968. He was on tour at the time. Some say he was never the same after that fire, and that his career never recovered after that.

With his dark sunglasses and plaintive voice, Orbison gave the impression that he was always longing and sometimes miserable, which was not the case. Speaking with the NME in 1980, he explained what's going on in this song:

"There's a ballad in the mid-section of it there: he's very sure of getting the girl when he first sees her, and then he's not so sure, and then he gets desperate, and then he says forget it, and then she comes back. It's quite complicated, but it's probably in the presentation, or if I'm really singing like I know I can and I'm doing the job that I should be doing, then it could be that the voice quality in parts has a melancholy something."

The lyrics tells the story of a man who sees a pretty woman walking by. He yearns for her and wonders if, as beautiful as she is, she might be lonely like he is. At the last minute, she turns back and joins him.

Pretty woman, walking down the street
Pretty woman, the kind I like to meet
Pretty woman
I don't believe you, you're not the truth
No one could look as good as you

Pretty woman, won't you pardon me

Pretty woman, I couldn't help see
Pretty woman
That you look lovely as can be
Are you lonely just like me

Pretty woman, stop a while

Pretty woman, talk a while
Pretty woman, gave your smile to me
Pretty woman, yeah yeah yeah
Pretty woman, look my way
Pretty woman, say you'll stay with me
'Cause I need you, I'll trear you right
Come with me baby, be mine tonight

Pretty woman, don't walk on by

Pretty woman, make me cry
Pretty woman, don't walk away, hey...okay
If that's the way it must be, okay
I guess I'll go on home, it's late
There'll be tomorrow nigh, but wait
What do I see
Is she walking back to me
Yeah, she's walking back to me
Oh, oh, Pretty woman

Orbison's career was fully revived in 1987. He released an album of his re-recorded hits titled In Dreams: The Greatest Hits. A song he recorded named "Life Fades Away" was featured in the film Less Than Zero. He and k. d. lang performed a duet of "Crying" and released it on the soundtrack to Hiding Out, winning a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.

In 1987, Orbison had begun collaborating with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne on a new album. At the same time Lynne was completing production work on George Harrison's Cloud Nine, and all three had lunch one day when Orbison accepted an invitation to sing on Harrison's album. They contacted Bob Dylan, who allowed them to use a recording studio in his home. Along the way, Harrison had to stop by Tom Petty's house to pick up his guitar; Petty and his band had backed Dylan on his last tour. By that evening, the group had written "Handle with Care", which led to the concept of recording an entire album. They called themselves the Traveling Wilburys, representing themselves as half-brothers from the same father.

Orbison died of a heart attack at 52. Orbison's death was an international news event. Author Peter Lehman suggests that had he died in the 1970s when his career was in the doldrums, it might have earned a minor mention in the obituary section of the newspaper. However, the response to his death reflected just how popular Orbison had again become.

"His talent was unbeatable. Everyone in the business feels that way"

-Maurice Gibb

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