“If you grow up in West Texas, there are a lot of ways to be lonely.” A music career that would alter and inspire the craft of countless musicians, Orbison never shied away from the overt expression of lugubrious emotion. One could attribute the despondent feeling that pervades many of Orbison’s works to his hometown, to the many personal tragedies he endured throughout the course of his fifty-two years, or simply from his own inherent temperament. Regardless of what fueled his artistic output, there is no real debate as to the quality or power of his recordings. For any music fan it is almost a necessity to explore the work of Orbison, for there is an overwhelming probability that he has had a profound influence on at least one of those artists currently in the iTunes library or record collection.
In all likelihood, those who claim to be unfamiliar with Roy Orbison have heard at least a song or two through the medium of film or television (his music has appeared in over 119 movie and TV titles, in fact). A safe bet is that “Oh, Pretty Woman” has been heard on multiple occasions, most likely accompanying some comic scene or environment. Those who hear the tune and immediately dismiss Orbison as some pop act of a past world are, however, sorely mistaken. Even in one of his more upbeat, freewheeling’ music excursions, the theme of loneliness still plays a role in the narrator’s emotions during “Pretty Woman.”
In addition to the tangible storylines that surface in almost all of his recordings, what also appears to attract filmmakers to Orbison compositions is the seeming dichotomy between his lyricism and vocal delivery. His voice emits an almost operatic tone that superficially gives the impression of calm serenity, a sense that everything is under control. Yet peel back the layers of his voice and delve further into what is being sung, and the listener discovers conflict, sorrow and loneliness. Few filmmakers have used this dichotomy to such glaring effect as the enigmatic David Lynch. Take the iconic scene from Blue Velvet in which the song “In Dreams” was used to soundtrack a particularly suspenseful scene. Though Orbison initially balked at the idea of his song featured in the Lynch film, he eventually grew to appreciate the added depth and darkness that it gave to his track’s lyricism and sound. The vocal delivery may have been smooth and opera-like, but the scene further revealed the darkness and pain potentially hidden in the somber lyrics of the legendary songwriter. It is a moment that not only helped revitalize the career of Orbison and introduce him to an entirely new generation of listeners, but forced the audience to realize and examine the serious emotional turmoil present in the artist’s work (if they hadn’t done so already). At once dark and light, with a heavy storytelling element, it is no wonder that so many filmmakers utilized the works of Roy Orbison into visual imagery and pivotal scenes.
Still unconvinced about giving Roy Orbison a concerted listen or two? In 1963, the musician was chosen to tour with a rising band by the name of The Beatles over in Great Britain. With little stage theatrics, or nary a movement for that matter, Orbison stood at the mic and belted out his creations to an audience in pure awe of his ability. After 14 encores that night, members of The Beatles, out of growing frustration and impatience, physically held him back from performing through another encore. If he can upstage one of the greatest bands of all time, he is surely deserving of at least one obligatory listen.