You’ve probably noticed that a lot of songs get picked to be in Rock Band because they have awesome guitar, daredevil drums, or a killer band performance. But this week it’s time for the singers to grab the glory. It’s also a week for everyone who wanted us to get further into to the roots of rock’n’roll. Presenting the first 1950s music to appear in Rock Band, and one of the most legendary singers in rock history: Roy Orbison.
Orbison is of course well-known as the spectral figure in shades who could jump into falsetto and tear your heart open with a ballad. But before he became the king of heartbreak, he was part of Memphis’ legendary Sun label, shortly after it launched Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis. At Sun he cut some mean little rockabilly records, and two of those are in our pack: “Claudette” was written for the Everly Brothers who made it a hit, but Orbison’s version has a little more lust to it. “Ooby Dooby” was his very first single for Sun, and a suitably crazed rocker. If you can figure out exactly how to do the Ooby Dooby, please let us know.
Jumping into the '60s, “Oh Pretty Woman” was technically his single greatest hit, a chart-topper at the tail end of 1964—no small feat when nearly everything on the radio was by mop-tops from England. The song’s famous guitar lick has a bit of a British Invasion sound; and if you’ve ever emulated the growl that Orbison does after the second verse, now you can finally earn points for it. And yeah, we know that Van Halen did this song; but the original is still the greatest.
Now it’s ballad time: “In Dreams” is the song that became one of rock'n'roll’s strangest comeback stories. Originally a hit in 1963, it was part of a bizarre scene in Blue Velvet two decades later; director David Lynch and star Dennis Hopper caught all the other-worldly weirdness lurking in the grooves of Orbison’s record; and this left-field success brought him back from the oldies circuit. All together now: “Play the candy-colored clown!”
Something even more unexpected happened a couple years later, when some of Orbison’s famous fans—George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne—recruited him to be part of an all-star recording session, at first strictly for fun to cut a B-side for a Harrison single. The B-side became an A-side, the one song grew into an album, and the Traveling Wilburys were a sensation, reviving the careers of all involved. The Wilburys buzz carried over to Orbison’s next album, produced in sleek modern style by Lynne and including a surefire hit single in “You Got It” (written by three Wilburys: Orbison, Lynne and Petty).
Sadly, Orbison wasn’t around to see that album’s release; he died while on tour in late 1988. His music still resonates a half-century after the first notes were struck, and that’s as good a definition of timeless as you’ll find.
You can learn more about the legendary Roy Orbison at his official website: RoyOrbison.com.