A Pivotal Force In The Development Of Rock Music

‘Only the Lonely’ was written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and released on March 25, 1960, and this was the first operatic rock ballad in the history of popular music, however it was still rooted in doo-wop of the Fifties.  This song was produced by Fred Foster for Monument Records and it was the first major hit for Orbison, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard pop music charts right behind Brenda Lee’s ‘I’m Sorry’.  The personnel on the original recording included Orbison’s session regulars Buddy Harman on drums, Floyd Cramer on piano, Bob Moore on bass, and Hank Garland and Harold Bradley on guitar.  In 1958, after several years without much success in the music business, and sharing a tiny apartment with his wife and new baby, Roy Orbison had taken to sitting in his car to write songs.  Joe Melson was the leader of a group called the Cavaliers in Texas.  Melson loved the songs that his friend Ray Rush played and one night Ray told him, “I want you to meet Roy Orbison.”  They met at Roy’s home and Melson played one of his original songs, ‘Raindrops’, for Roy and Claudette Orbison, which Claudette thought it was the most beautiful song she had ever heard.  One night while Joe Melson was at the drive-in, he saw Roy drive up, so he tapped on the car window and they suggested that they should collaborate writing music.

Rock and roll is a form of popular music that emerged in the United States in the late Forties and early Fifties that was derived most directly from the rhythm and blues music of the 1940s, which itself developed from earlier blues, boogie woogie, jazz and swing music, and was also influenced by gospel, country and western, hillbilly, bluegrass and traditional folk music.  The roots of rock and roll can be tracked back centuries to drum beats in Africa and Celtic folk music in Europe.  As people from these regions immigrated to America, they brought their music with them, and as they were exposed to each other’s music, they began to incorporate different styles.

Rock and roll was originally a euphemism for ‘to have sexual intercourse’, emerging as code words for sexual intercourse in blues songs.  The phrase appeared in so many songs that the genre acquired that name.  In fact rock, pop and blues songs are chock full of euphemisms for sex.  In 1922, the words rock and roll appeared on a record for the first time by Trixie Smith called ‘My Daddy Rock Me (With One Steady Roll)’.  Before that rocking and rolling described the movement of a ship on the ocean.  In 1951, Cleveland-based disc jockey Alan Freed began playing this music style while popularizing the term rock and roll to describe it.

In 1955, Chuck Berry recorded the song ‘Maybellene’, which embodied the sexual tensions of a generation and reinvented rock ‘n’ roll with this song that was an ode to teenage mating rituals about a good roll in the hay.  Elvis Presley burst onto the rock and roll scene in January 1956 with the release of his first single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.  Presley was described as a jelly-kneed kid, but some people wanted him to clean up his act and eliminate the erratic and erotic bumps and grinds that he did with his hips onstage.

Along came a quiet, thoughtful Texan named Roy Orbison blessed with a rich, mellifluous voice who proved to the world that rock & roll could also be about love.  Roy never tried to be a teen idol, he dressed like an insurance salesman and he wore his prescription sunglasses, which gave him a mystique where he would stand still on a stage behind his tinted glasses and guitar and sing great songs.  Many of his songs focused on his emotions and feelings and had a slight tone of vulnerability, in contrast to the more masculine rock n’ roll image at the time.  Orbison started out as a fairly ordinary rockabilly singer signed to the Sun label alongside Elvis.  His had first minor hit with the song ‘Ooby Dooby’ and he got his first major songwriting credit on Claudette (about the girl he would marry) when the Everly Brothers put in on the b-side of their chart topping ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’.

Roy Orbison suffered through some tragedies in his life with his wife Claudette, the inspiration for ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ and many other songs, was killed in a bike crash in 1966 and just two years later his house burned to the ground, killing his two eldest sons.  Roy was in a good place when he recorded this song and it was actually written about a girl that broke up with Joe Melson.  Roy stopped at Graceland to offer Elvis ‘Only The Lonely’, but Elvis was asleep, so Roy drove away and offered the song to Everly Brothers, but they rejected it even though they had already recorded Orbison’s song ‘Claudette’.  The Everly Brothers persuaded Orbison that he should cut it himself and it came out on the album ‘Lonely And Blue’.

This is the song where Orbison found his voice and he was able to sing like a man on the edge of orgasmic ecstasy and put his listeners on the verge of tears.  His three-octave voice put him in a class by himself and his heartfelt, sometimes emotional songs, made him a master of his craft.  Roy Orbison possessed one of the great rock and roll voices, a forceful, operatic bel canto tenor capable of dynamic crescendos.  He brought to rock & roll a spectrum of emotion as wide as his octave range, and he showed not only that it was okay for a grown man to cry, but also that one could find strength through sorrow.  When Roy Orbison sang ‘Only the Lonely’, you could hear in his trembling, bittersweet tenor that he was singing for all the lonely.  The song was subtitled ‘Know The Way I Feel’ to avoid confusion with another song called ‘Only The Lonely’, which Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen had written for Frank Sinatra in 1958.

One day when Roy Orbison’s first wife walked down the street to the store and by the time she returned, he was able to formulate ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.  Between 1960 and 1965, Orbison recorded nine Top 10 hits and another ten that broke into the Top 40.  During his thirty plus year career in show business, he recorded over twenty solo studio albums and he is probably best known for ‘Only the Lonely’, ‘Crying’, and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’.  Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.  On September 30, 1987, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, k.d. lang and other musicians gathered together to perform at the Cocoanut Grove lounge in L.A.’s Ambassador Hotel.  They were great that night, but what made it a landmark night in Rock history, was when the incredible Roy Orbison made his triumphant return to the music scene after more than 20 years in the wilderness.  In the late 1980s, Orbison had staged a successful comeback, joined the all-star supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (alongside Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynn).  Orbison was able to contribute so much to music, but sadly he died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988 at the age of 52.

(Dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah, ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
(Oh, oh oh oh oh ooh-ah-ah, only the lonely)
(Only the lonely)

Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know the way I feel tonight (ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They’re gone forever
So far apart

But only the lonely
Know why I cry
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah, ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
(Oh, oh oh oh oh ooh-ah-ah, only the lonely)
(Only the lonely)

Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know the heartaches I’ve been through (ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know I cry and cry for you (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)

Maybe tomorrow
A new romance
No-o-o more sorrow
But that’s the chance
You’ve got to take
If your lonely heart breaks
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)

Written for Daily Addictions prompt – Contribute, for FOWC with Fandango – Erratic, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Incredible and for Scotts Daily Prompt – Formulate.

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