171. Roy Orbison – It’s Over (1964)

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The pop world had changed massively since Roy Orbison’s first number 1, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), in October 1960. Nonetheless, during this period Orbison had plenty of hits, including Running Scared and Crying in 1961 (Don McLean’s cover of the latter went to the top of the charts in June 1980). It was while he toured Australia in 1962 that he was first referred to as ‘The Big O’ by a DJ, and in 1963 he developed the onstage persona that was as idiosyncratic as his voice. While touring with the Beatles he left his thick glasses on a plane and was forced to wear his prescription Wayfarer sunglasses instead. Not only did this help such a shy performer cope with his stagefright, they also made him cool – a word that was unlikely to have been associated with him before then.

The tour with the Beatles was supposed to be a joint headliner, with Orbison replacing injured guitarist Duane Eddy. The Big O was bemused by the level of fame the Beatles were enjoying, and allegedly asked with some degree of annoyance ‘What’s a Beatle anyway?’, at which point John Lennon tapped him on the shoulder and said ‘I am’. On the opening night of the tour, probably in a bid to get his bit over with, Orbison volunteered to go on first, and the Fab Four were left awestruck at his ability to work a crowd by barely moving throughout his set. For a band who would do their utmost to win over their audiences with charm, this must have been quite a shock to them. The two acts became firm friends, and of course Harrison would later join Orbison in the Travelling Wilburys.

Orbison’s constant touring took its toll on his private life, unfortunately, and his wife Claudette, who he adored and paid tribute to in a song named after her (the Everly Brothers had took it to number 1 in 1957), got sick of being alone and began an affair with the man who had built their home. He was also now working with a new co-writer, as Joe Melson was frustrated at not becoming a star in his own right. Orbison’s new collaborator was Bill Dees, and it was very likely that they had Claudette’s waywardness in mind as they began writing It’s Over, considering they were divorced by the end of the year.

Of course, so much of Orbison’s work concerned heartbreak, but It’s Over is the most stark example of such in his oeuvre that I’m aware of. It’s certainly the most successful, and I doubt there could be more bleak song in his back catalogue. Over a heavy, ominous drumbeat, Orbison brings on the misery like a gravedigger shovelling soil onto a coffin. ‘It breaks your heart in two, to know she’s been untrue’… if there’s any doubt that Orbison is in as much pain as the lyrics suggest, just listen to that final 20 seconds in which he sings ‘It’s over’ with emotion so raw it’s almost hard to listen to.

That a song so dark and operatic could make it to the top of the pop charts, at any point in time, let alone during peak Beatlemania (the film A Hard Day’s Night had just been released) is astounding. Elvis was the only other US act that could get a sniff of a number 1 spot at this point. Yet Orbison still had another number 1 in store for him before the end of 1964.

Tip: If It’s Over doesn’t grab you first time around (and it’s not exactly catchy, so don’t be surprised), listen again, preferably through earphones. It worked for me.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 2 (25 June-8 July)

Births:

Novelist Joanne Harris – 3 July 
Comedian Robert Newman – 7 July 

108. Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) (1960)

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Autumn 1960: On 25 October, heavy fog causes two barges to collide with the Severn Railway Bridge. Two bridge spans collapsed, causing the barges to catch fire. Five people died in the incident, and the bridge was never repaired, eventually being demolished. Two days later, the British drama adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, starring Albert Finney, was released. It’s still considered one of the best British films of all time. Three days after its release, Michael Woodruff performed the first successful kidney transplant in the UK at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. And on 2 November, a landmark ruling saw Penguin Books found not guilty of obscenity for publishing DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book quickly sold 3 million copies, and was a watershed moment for future publishing freedoms.

During this eventful fortnight, US singer-songwriter Roy Orbison enjoyed his first of three stints at number 1 with Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). With his unique image, and distinct, at times astounding voice, Orbison’s life was sometimes tragic, but he is also rightly remembered as one of the greatest talents of his generation. So much so, as I write this a tour is imminent in which thousands of people have paid to see a hologram of ‘The Big O’ ‘performing’ alongside the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Bruce Springsteen also name-checked this very song in his excellent Thunder Road.

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on 23 April 1936 in Vernon, Texas. His family struggled to find employment during the Great Depression, and eventually settled in Wink. He was a shy child, with poor eyesight and little confidence, but he loved to sing, and at the age of seven, his father bought him a guitar. He adored the country music of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers, and was singing on a local radio show a year later. By the late 1940s, he was the presenter of the show. Orbison and some friends formed the Wink Westerners while he was in high school. After graduating he enrolled at North Texas State College, and heard his fellow schoolmate Pat Boone had signed a recording contract. Boone would later have a UK number 1 with I’ll Be Home in 1956. Orbison became determined to make his name in the music business, and like everybody was wowed upon seeing Elvis Presley on television for the first time. The Wink Westerners appeared on TV alongside Johnny Cash, who suggested that Orbison contact Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. A phone call between the two got nowhere, but later, the Wink Westerners changed their name to the Teen Kings, and their recording of Ooby Dooby changed Phillips’s mind. Signing to Sun, the band toured plenty but eventually split, with Orbison staying at Phillips’s house with his girlfriend, Claudette Frady. 1957 saw the couple wed, and Orbison paid tribute to is wife with the song Claudette, which as a double A-side with the more famous All I Have to Do Is Dream, became the first number 1 for the Everly Brothers, and the biggest-selling UK single of 1958.

This was the step up Orbison needed, and the royalties meant he was able to buy his own Cadillac, but he was very different to your typical rock’n’roll star of the same time, and was just as shy as the child he had been growing up, causing many to wonder if he was cut out for showbusiness. His hair was already going white, causing him to dye his hair earlier than most, and in 1960, he didn’t always wear his famous glasses. While researching this blog, the picture above surprised me, as he hadn’t yet developed his famous persona. He looks older in 1960 than he did before his death in 1988.

In 1958, Orbison was strumming his guitar in his car, as he often did, when songwriter Joe Melson tapped on the window. The duo decided to try writing songs together. Eventually Orbison signed with Monument Records, and he and Melson began working with producer Fred Foster. The trio, along with sound engineer Bill Porter, began work on new songs with sophisticated production techniques, involving string sections and backing singers that were close-miked. The first release, Uptown, got nowhere, however, and Orbison began considering performing in nightclubs instead. They had worked on another song using the same sound, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), and had tried selling it to Elvis and the Everlys, but both acts declined. Orbison decided to have a go himself, and once more they adopted a new method of production, by building the song around the vocals, with the band performing quietly in the background. The part of the title in brackets was added to differentiate the song from a tune Frank Sinatra had sang.

Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) begins in a style very reminiscent of an Everly Brothers track, with the backing vocalists singing over a gentle strum, until that unmistakable voice of Orbison’s enters. I’ve always admired Orbison’s singing, ever since hearing it from a young age. Nobody has ever sounded quite so distinct, before or since. This track is a perfect introduction to the Orbison sound. Here’s a song for the unlucky-in-love, for the shy, for the broken-hearted. Here was a new type of musical hero, a sensitive soul that could help you get through trying times. Rather than yet another rock’n’roll star to be envious of, the Big O would have been much more identifiable to your more sensitive teenager. And although Roy Orbison would come up with better songs over the next few years, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) may be the best encapsulation of the Roy Orbison sound. Like his friends the Everly Brothers, this was a new, more sophisticated form of pop, that would influence future musical idols. And that falsetto at the end is probably the most impressive vocal performance I’ve heard from a UK number 1 between 1952 and 1960.

Suddenly this shy singer-songwriter was a big star in the US and UK, and other musicians were wondering if this powerful voice had really come from their unassuming friend. Elvis regretted turning the song down (you can imagine him singing it, but could he sing about being a loser in love with such conviction?) and bought copies of the single for his friends. By the time Orbison next had a UK number 1, the musical landscape had changed dramatically.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Joe Melson

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 October-2 November)

Births:

Actress Finola Hughes – 29 October

101. The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown (1960)

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6 May 1960 saw Princess Margaret marrying photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. Margaret had been in love with Peter Townsend, and he had proposed to her in 1953. However, Townsend was divorced and the wedding would have caused ructions in Cabinet, and flown in the face of Royal tradition, and in the end she turned him down. However, Margaret allegedly accepted Armstrong-Jones’s proposal the day after learning that Townsend was to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne, a young woman who bore a strong resemblance to Margaret. This was the first Royal wedding to be televised, but by 1978 they had divorced. A day later, Wolverhampton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time, defeating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley Stadium.

Also that week, country, pop and rock’n’roll duo the Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the second time with Cathy’s Clown. Like their previous number 1, All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette in 1958, it stayed at the top for seven weeks. Earlier in 1960 the duo had left Cadence Records and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Cathy’s Clown bore the UK catalogue number WB1, and was the first single released by the label in this country. Until this point, Warner Bros. Records had been struggling, and urgently needed a hit. The Everlys were reportedly given $1million to come up with one, and did not disappoint. Originally credited to both Don and Phil, in 1980 a deal was struck to make Don the sole songwriter. This song had been inspired by one of his ex-girlfriends, who one can only assume had dumped him, and the music was influenced by Andre Kostelanetz’s version of the orchestral Grand Canyon Suite.

Cathy’s Clown proved to be one of the most influential songs of the early 1960s, and still appears in lists of the greatest songs of all time. Coming after so many average number 1s in 1960, it’s sophistication marks it as head and shoulders above the competition. It’s all about those rolling drums and the chorus that follows. This was the first number 1 to feature a drum loop, created by engineer Bill Porter looping drummer Buddy Harman and getting him to play on top, manually adding the loop at the start of each chorus. And what a chorus. The Everly Brothers really did produce harmonies like nobody that had come before them, and the voices are just perfect on Cathy’s Clown. You can easily see the influence on the Beatles, (who at one point considered calling themselves The Foreverly Brothers), particularly on the second single, Please Please Me. The lyrics have caused confusion over the years, but to me it seems that Cathy’s clown is the singer of the song, and he’s being repeatedly made to look stupid by Cathy, who’s been cheating on him. His friends consider him a clown, but he can’t help going back for more, despite insisting in the chorus that he’s had enough. These lyrics, like the production, are a cut above your average 1960 fare. The fact it’s probably based on what happened to poor Don with his ex makes the song that bit more authentic. The Everlys did heartbreak very well – see also Bye Bye Love.

Cathy’s Clown became the first single to simultaneously hit number 1 in the US and UK, and they more than lived up to Warner Bros. Records’ expectations. Further hits and number 1s followed, making them one of the greatest acts of the early years of the 60s. The credits for the song are still contentious to this day, however. Following Phil’s death, his remaining family reasserted their rights to royalties. Don sued them to get the rights back in November 2017.

Written by: Don Everly & Phil Everly

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 7 (5 May-22 June) 

Births:

Actress Roma Downey – 6 May
Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher – 24 May
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas – 24 May
‘Chaser’ Shaun Wallace – 2 June
Actor Bradley Walsh – 4 June
Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall – 8 June
Duran Duran bassist John Taylor – 20 June 

Deaths:

Mathematician JHC Whitehead – 8 May
Politician Sir Maurice Bonham Carter – 7 June

73. The Everly Brothers with Orchestra conducted by Archie Bleyer – All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette (1958)

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The first of four number 1s for the duo in this country, and the best-selling single of 1958. All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette enjoyed a seven-week run at the top of the charts and established the Everly Brothers as one of the biggest and most influential acts of the next few years.

Don was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky in 1937, and Phil came two years later in Chicago, Illinois. Born into a musical family, their father Ike was a guitarist and mother Margaret a singer. They sang as the Everly Family on the radio in the mid-1940s, with the boys known as ‘Little Donny’ and ‘Baby Boy Phil’. In 1955 the brothers moved to Nashville, Tennessee. By this point, their musical prowess already had an important fan – family friend Chet Atkins, a record producer and songwriter. Atkins used his contacts to get Don and Phil a record deal, and their first single, Bye Bye Love (later covered by Simon & Garfunkel as the last track on Bridge Over Troubled Water) was a smash-hit, selling over a million and reaching number 6 over here. They continued to work with its songwriters, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant (Bryant’s solo work, Hey Joe, performed by Frankie Laine, had been a UK number 1 in 1953), releasing Wake Up Little Susie, which reached number 2, before working on All I Have to Do is Dream, which was by Bryant alone, and allegedly written in only 15 minutes.

Opening with the lush jangle of Chet Atkins on guitar, All I Have to Do is Dream begins straight away with that memorable chorus, a trick later used by ABBA and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to pull the listener in. If that jangle doesn’t grab you (and if it doesn’t, what’s wrong with you?), the vocals will. Don and Phil’s unique harmonies still sound sublime today. The only misfire is the dated, corny lyric:

‘Only trouble is, gee whiz,
I’m dreamin’ my life away’

Fortunately before you have time to dwell on that too much you’re back into the chorus. This is the sound of the Everly Brothers and Boudleaux Bryant at their best. According to Phil, the acetate featuring Bryant on vocals would have been a hit anyway, such was the beauty of the song. Maybe so, but it’s his and brother Don’s voices, and Atkins’ guitar work, that make All I Have to Do is Dream a classic.

The other song, Claudette, hasn’t aged as well, but it’s a decent enough uptempo acoustic track, written by Roy Orbison and named after his first wife. As a B-side, however, it would certainly have been better than average, and as it helped propel ‘The Big O’ to success and helped buy him a cadillac, then it’s alright by me.

The Everly Brothers tied at number 1 for their first week with Vic Damone’s On the Street Where You Live, but went on to spend most of the summer at the top. During that time, the first parking meters were installed on 10 July, and the British Empire and Commonwealth Games were held in Cardiff from 18-26 July. On the final day of the games, the Queen gave her eldest son Charles the customary title of Prince of Wales, and the presentation of débutantes to the royal court were abolished. And on 1 August, Carry On Sergeant, the first of the Carry On films, premiered. Different in tone from the bawdy humour that was to come, it featured Bob Monkhouse and the first star of Doctor Who, William Hartnell.

Written by:
All I Have to Do is Dream: Boudleaux Bryant/Claudette: Roy Orbison 

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 7 (4 July-21 August)*BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Comedian Jennifer Saunders – 6 July
Singer-songwriter Kate Bush – 30 July
Athlete Daley Thompson – 30 July
Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson – 7 August
Politician Rosie Winterton – 10 August
Singer Feargal Sharkey – 13 August
Politician Philip Dunne – 14 August 

Deaths:

Campaigner Margaret Haig Thomas, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda – 20 July