The Monument Singles Collection
You remember Roy Orbison — skinny baritone, “Invasion of the B-Girls” shades, sang that killer signature tune “Pretty Woman.” He died a few years ago, (ok, 1988), and now the re-issues and re-masters from his estate are flowing. This must-have set neatly organizes all his A-sides on one disc, all the B-sides on another, and tosses in a DVD of a made-for-TV concert done in Holland way back in the middle ’60s. Best of all, it’s all in the original mono mix…Take THAT, Les Paul!
Orbison pulled a stint at Sun and another at RCA, but he did his best work on the edgier Monument label. Here, he had nearly two dozen charting songs, all of which are in here somewhere. These cuts sound clean and the producer has avoided any modern sweetening or over-dubbing, making for a lonely yet fresh-off-the-Ampex sound that works best though a vacuum tube amp or one of those tinny tiny little beach radios. The A-sides begin with “Uptown” (not the Billy Joel cut, thank you very much) with “Pretty Woman” and “Blue Bayou” anchoring the disc, but “I’m Hurtin'” and “Lana” and “Dream Baby” stick in the back of your brain box — you just forgot the titles to this gems. Three bonus tracks fill out this first piece of polycarbonate — the dreamy waltz “Pretty Paper,” a lonely lost love ballad “(Say) You’re My Girl,” and what counts for an Orbison downer: “Paper Boy.” Interestingly, these tracks are all just about 2:30 long and clearly aimed squarely at the A.M. Top 40 format so popular for most of his career.
The B-sides are a bit more eclectic, and some even break the 3-minute barrier. From today’s vantage, it’s hard to say why these tracks were rated lower; they offer the same simple arrangements, direct and appealing love stories, and friendly performance. “Here Comes That Song Again” might be a bit trite, but no more so than any other cut. “Today’s Tear Drops” offers an upbeat tune reminiscent of Elvis with a boogie woogie piano and a single lonely violin. “Summer Song” and “Shadaroba” could sneak into a Bond film, and “Indian Wedding” is one of those slightly racist-by-today’s-standards numbers that might just as easily come from Hank Williams or Dean Martin.
Wrapping up this collection is one of the most static rock and roll shows ever recorded. Only Monument songs are shown, the roots of licensing and copyright run deep these days and even mechanical rights are hard to come by for some songs. Roy looks like his shoes are nailed down, his band hides behind him as best they can, and while the audience is well dressed they look like they were expecting Wagner or at least a Beethoven symphony. It’s not like the concert audience is uninterested; they just seem very polite and grown up, and there is no chance anything more untoward than a line at the bar will break out.
Along with the small but pretty liner notes and extra photos, this is another treat for even the most casual Orbison fan. You might not watch the movie very often, but these tracks are nothing short of lovely on your iPod.
Legacy Recordings: www.legacyrecordings.com