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Top 10 Best Roy Orbison Songs

Updated on November 21, 2016
Legendary singer, Roy Orbison was born in  Vernon, Texas on April 23, 1936.  The singer-songwriter was best known for his best known for his trademark sunglasses, unique, powerful voice, intricate and layered compositions, and dark emotional ballads.
Legendary singer, Roy Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas on April 23, 1936. The singer-songwriter was best known for his best known for his trademark sunglasses, unique, powerful voice, intricate and layered compositions, and dark emotional ballads. | Source

Roy Orbison was and is a legend of the rock and roll and pop world. Nicknamed “The Big O”, the singer had a powerful and unique voice – he was naturally a baritone but he had an incredible three or four octave range.

Besides his distinctive voice, Orbison was also famous was his trademark sunglasses and dark, emotional ballads.

Born in Texas in born in Vernon, Texas on April 23, 1936, he was the son of an oil well driller and a nurse. He began singing at school and achieved his first breakthrough in 1960 after being signed by Sun Records in Memphis.

Orbison’s life which featured much personal tragedy. In 1966 his first wife, Claudette died in a motorcycle accident with Orbison riding just ahead of her. Two years later, a fire destroyed his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee, killing two of his three children.

It was maybe these tragedies that helped to give so many of his songs and performances the sense of vulnerability and desperation that moved so many of his listeners.

Despite his troubles, Orbison was always gentlemanly and popular with those who met and knew him.

His career took a dip in the 1970s, but despite his own record sales struggling, there was no shortage of other artists queuing up to cover his tracks.

In the late 1980s, Orbison found widespread popularity again when he became a member of the supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, along with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. The band recorded two albums, the first one hugely successful. Orbison did not live long enough to feature on the second, however.

Towards the end of 1988, Orbison confessed to Johnny Cash that he'd been suffering from chest pains, he added that he thought he should maybe have the problem checked out by medics, although this would never happen .

Orbison died on December 6, 1988 in Hendersonville, Tennessee, of a heart attack. He was aged 52. The National Enquirer wrote an article afterwards suggesting that Orbison had worked himself to death, after launching into an exhausting schedule following the success of the Traveling Wilburys.

Below are my top 10 best Roy Orbison songs:

Pretty woman, I don't believe you, you're not the truth. No one could look as good as you, mercy.

— Roy Orbison

1. Oh Pretty Woman

Released in 1964, it would turn out to be Orbison’s most well-known track and his biggest hit. The song features a classic guitar intro, played by Billy Sanford, who would later play as a session musician for many others, including Elvis to Don Williams. The track has featured in movies and been covered many, many times by other artists.

2. Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)

Written by Cindy Walker, this song was released by Orbison in 1962. The track reached #2 in both the Australian and the U.K. singles charts and #4 in the U.S. Billboard. It was later covered by Glen Campbell in 1971 and was a hit in the country chart.

3. In Dreams

This song demonstrates Orbison’s talents like no other. Self-composed with an unconventional structure that features 7 separate parts, Orbison’s voice gradually climbs through a span of 2 octaves. The song is essentially a ballad of lost love that gradually builds to an intense emotional pitch. Originally released in 1963, the song was re-recorded in 1987 for use in David Lynch’s movie, Blue Velvet.

4. Candy Man

This song was recorded by Roy Orbison and his band, The Candymen, but written for him by Fred Neil and Beverly "Ruby" Ross (Fred Neil also wrote the Harry Nilsson hit: "Everybody's Talkin'," ). The song was originally released as a B-side to “Crying”.

Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight.

— Roy Orbison

5. Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)

Orbison’s first major hit, the song was written with Joe Melson and released in 1960. It reached #2 in the US Billboard and #1 in the UK charts. The track’s operatic qualities made it a unique and groundbreaking sound for the time, which the New York Times described as showing "a clenched, driven urgency".

6. Running Scared

Featured as the last track on Orbison’s album, “Crying”, this was another rock ballad written with Joe Melson that made it into the singles charts, reaching #1 in the Hot 100 Billboard and #9 in the UK. Released in 1961, the rich vocals on the track demonstrate Orbison’s incredible voice.

As you stopped to say hello, oh, you wished me well, you couldn't tell that I'd been crying over you.

— Roy Orbison

7. Crying

Originally released in 1961 on Monument Records, Orbison later rerecorded the song as a duet with K D Lang in 1987, with the track becoming a hit each time. The track has been covered many times by other artists, including a version by Jay and the Americans in 1966 which reached #2 in the US, and one by Don MacLean in 1981 which went to #1 in the UK.

8. It’s Over

Composed by Orbison and Bill Dees, the song was released in 1964 on Monument Records and would turn out to be the singer’s second UK #1. The track was covered in 2003 by Bonnie Tyler with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and features in the 1998 movie: Little Voice, when it is sung by Michael Caine.

I may be a living legend, but that sure don't help when I've got to change a flat tire.

— Roy Orbison

9. Claudette

Orbison’s first major songwriting success, this track was named after his first wife, Claudette Frady, who would die on June 6th 1966 in a motorcycle accident. The Everly Brothers recorded what was to become the best-known version of the song in 1958 with Chet Atkins playing guitar, as a B-side to their single, “All I Have to do is Dream”.

10. Blue Bayou

This track was originally recorded in 1961, but not released until 1963. The song features in the 1976 movie: The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie.

I close my eyes, then I drift away, into the magic night I softly say. A silent prayer, like dreamers do, then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you.

— Roy Orbison
Orbison pictured in 1965 wearing his trademark sunglasses.  He began the look in 1963 when touring with The Beatles, after accidentally leaving his glasses on the plane.  Because of the sunglasses, there is a misconception that Orbison was blind.
Orbison pictured in 1965 wearing his trademark sunglasses. He began the look in 1963 when touring with The Beatles, after accidentally leaving his glasses on the plane. Because of the sunglasses, there is a misconception that Orbison was blind. | Source

What is your favorite Roy Orbison song?

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    • theframjak profile image

      theframjak 3 years ago from East Coast

      Great hub. I really enjoyed reading it. Roy is one of my all time favorite singers. I had the good fortune to see him in 1988 just before he died and his voice brought down the house, especially on "In Dreams." Voted up!

    • BigBrains profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 3 years ago from Florida, USA

      Thanks for your kind words. I would have loved to see Roy Orbison live.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Awesome hub, and congrats on the top 10! Roy Orbison has one of those beautifully haunting voices that always gives me goose bumps.

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 3 years ago from United States

      Great introduction befitting for the legendary singer. If I could only choose more than one song in your poll, but I chose "Crying," I love his range there. Thanks for posting.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 23 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Love that voice! I sure wish he had lived a long, long time!

    • Al Greenbaum profile image

      Al Greenbaum 2 months ago from Europe

      Roy was one of a kind. He had something special that no one could copy. A real gent who came back from so many knock backs.

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