Richard Nisley

Only in Dreams
Pop Culture Released - Nov 11, 2012

That Roy Orbison had an operatic voice was a given. Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich, heard him once and signed him to a recording contract.

Their was a very big problem however: Phillips wanted Orbison to be a rocker while Orbison wanted to sing ballads. Orbison did as he was told and tried being a rocker but it wasn’t him and eventually the two parted ways. Orbison then signed with Monument Records and achieved stardom--singing ballads.

That Roy Orbison was painfully shy was also a given. People took this as a sign of weakness and tried taking advantage of him. They soon learned Orbison was anything but weak and in fact had a way of always coming out on top.

This was never more true than in 1963 when Orbison was asked to replace guitarist Duane Eddy on a tour of the United Kingdom with the Beatles, whose popularity was on the rise. Orbison confessed he'd never heard of the quartet but agreed.

When he arrived in England he was surprised to see the lion’s share of the advertising was devoted to the Beatles and realized he wasn’t the main draw. Opening night, he opted to go onstage first despite being the more established act.

When Orbison went on, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr watched dumbfounded from the side curtain as Orbison stood completely still singing in his incredible three-octave voice. This shy singer in the dark glasses was stealing the show, and the screaming audience kept calling him back for more. After fourteen encores, and the audience still screaming “We want Roy!” Lennon and McCartney grabbed Orbison and wouldn’t let him go back on.

How could they top that, they wondered? Orbison had upstaged them. Both acts got on well for the duration of the tour, because Orbison possessed very little ego and because the Beatles were in awe of his incredible voice.

Orbison not only had an incredible voice, he wrote stunning and often dramatic songs that would take your breath away. Many of his songs were classical in structure (Ravel’s “Bolero” served as a model for “Running Scared” and “Crying”). His lyrics were often wonderfully poetic, as the closing words from “In Dreams” attest:

“It’s too bad they’re only dreams, / And only happen in my dreams, / Only in dreams, / In beautiful dreams.”

Before passing away in 1988 at age 52, Orbison saw his career take off again, with a top-ten hit (“Anything You Want”) and a successful U.S. tour. In 1987, he was honored with induction into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. Bruce Springstein was his introducer. Said the Boss: “I wanted to write words like Bob Dylan, make records that sounded like Phil Specter, and sing like Roy Orbison. Everybody knows, no one can sing like Roy Orbison.”
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