Picks and Pans Review: The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

updated 01/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/31/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

The reissue of this out-of-print two-record set comes at an opportune time for Orbison, whose Oh, Pretty Woman (with one word change) is providing the sound track these days for a nationally televised jeans commercial and whose Candy Man was memorably revived last year by country newcomer Karen Brooks. The set assembles the gold and platinum singles of his 1960-66 heyday with enough other material to demonstrate what an oddly sentimental and even histrionic style he had, especially for someone usually thought of as a rock 'n' roll pioneer. Elvis Presley, Orbison's onetime labelmate at Sun Records in Memphis, also could drip sentiment, but Orbison's taste for melodrama went further, making him a kind of rockabilly Piaf. He could swagger in Candy Man and Mean Woman Blues, but in such songs as In Dreams and Only the Lonely he made a trademark of tragedy. He had (still has) a sensuous, quavering voice that could climb to nosebleed heights without resort to falsetto, and he often cushioned it with strings and background singers chiming "dum-dum-dum dum-dee-do-wah" (as on Only the Lonely). He set some of his most powerful songs—It's Over and Running Scared—to an insistent (some might say hokey, funereal) military march tempo. As the jeans makers divined, his most enduring rock 'n' roll song is Oh, Pretty Woman. Yet of all his compositions, the loveliest is the one Linda Ronstadt later made her own—Blue Bayou. Though laden with harmonica, harpsichord and cooing female singers, Orbison's original still glimmers, heartfelt and effortless.

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