Best of ‘Big O’ revives on orchestral backing

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The late Roy Orbison was a most extraordinary performer - a singer who could reach incredible three to four octave heights with a voice that few could ever seek to emulate, writes Billy Kennedy.

Elvis Presley once described Texan Roy as the greatest singer he had ever heard, a view I share entirely, having heard the ‘Big O’ live in concert in Newry Town Hall back about 1964 when he was on an Irish tour. Orbison’s ability to convey intense heartbreak and sensuality with his multi-octave vocal range made him a global superstar with a musical legacy that has lived on since his untimely death from a heart attack on December 6, 1988 aged just 52.

This week, a rich musical collection has been released that underlines the classical quality of Big O’s enchanting music. ‘A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison With the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’ perfectly blends the singer’s remarkable original vocals with the lush, dramatic sounds of one of the world’s most renowned symphony orchestras. For Orbison devotees, with Christmas coming up, this is a must-buy album.

The orchestral-backed album features the original vocals from 17 of Orbison’s best-loved hits and featuring on select tracks are Roy’s sons - Wesley (guitar), Roy Jr. (guitar) and Alex (drums). Among classic Orbison songs on the collection are Crying, In Dreams, Only the Lonely, and Oh, Pretty Woman.

Roy Orbison, whose voice ranged from baritone to tenor, emerged big in the early 1960s when Beatlemania was hot on both sides of the Atlantic. He had strong country/rockabilly roots and recorded with Sam Philips at his iconic Sun studio in Memphis. His first No 1 was Running Scared and other hits included Pretty Paper, It’s Over, Blue Angel, I’m Hurtin’, Falling, Blue Bayou, Dream Baby and Candy Man.

During stage performances, Roy, a shy, retiring man, would stand still and solitary, and wore black clothes, to match his jet black hair and dark sunglasses. This lent a mystery to his persona. But Roy’s vocals were his trademark and they have endured in perpetuity.