The Soul Of Rock And Roll

Roy Orbison

Sony Legacy, 2008

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


The Soul Of Rock And Roll is a massive four-disc, 107 track compilation that spans the four decade career of Roy Orbison. His widow, Barbara Orbison, and son, Roy Orbison Jr., were responsible for the selection of the songs and the collection’s production.

Roy Orbison (1936-1988) had one of the most distinctive voices in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and used it to leave a legacy of building romantic ballads and up-tempo pop/rock songs that was almost unequaled in American popular music. His quavering tenor was one of the purest vocal instruments ever to grace a recording studio.

Disc one is the most interesting of the four. It gathers together songs from his early groups, The Teen Kings and The Wink Westerners, plus his Sun Label cuts. The early tracks are particularly interesting as they chronicle the beginning of his musical journey. The oldest track, “Hey! Miss Fannie” by his high school group The Wink Westerners, was recorded in 1955. It presents a young Roy Orbison beginning to fulfill his early dream of leading a country & western band. His work with The Teen Kings finds him moving toward a rock ‘n’ roll sound, but as his recording of the Little Richard classic, “Tutti Frutti” demonstrates, he was still searching for a comfortable niche.

The Sun tracks find him squarely in the rockabilly school of music. While the quality of his Sun work varied, such songs as “Ooby Dooby,” “Mean Little Mama,” “Problem Child,” and “Claudette” remain energetic and vital a half-century after their release.


The highlight is an unreleased song called the “1956 Guitar Pull Medley.” This track combines the songs “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You / I Was The One / That’s All Right / Mary Lou / You’re My Baby” into one spectacular track.

Disc two presents Orbison at his most popular, containing twenty-nine tracks that are part of his Monument label legacy. Songs such as “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Crying,” “Candy Man,” “Blue Bayou,” “Dream Baby,” and “Falling” are instantly recognizable as some of the best music issued during the first half of the 1960’s.

There was some thought put into the selection of these tracks, since the often forgotten rockers “Lana” and “Working For The Man” as well as the unique sounding “Shahdaroba” all make deserved appearances here.

Disc three brings Orbison’s Monument recordings to a close. “Mean Woman Blues” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” are rockers and essential to his catalogue.

The MGM material is spottier, however. While “Ride Away,” “Crawling Back,” “Communication Breakdown,” and “Too Soon To Know” are competent and listenable, it is immediately noticeable that they are inferior to his work with the Monument label. Orbison released ten albums for MGM and the fact that this output is represented by less than one complete disc says a lot as to overall quality of the material. Also inexplicably left off is what may be his best track during that time period, “Cry Softly Lonely One.”

The disc does end on a high note, however, as there is a previously unreleased live version of “Land Of A Thousand Dances,” his tribute to Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog Man,” and his Grammy Award winning duet with Emmylou Harris, “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again.”

The fourth disc gathers together releases from movie soundtracks, live performances, and late career studio work. It is probably the weakest of the four discs as it has a disjointed feel to it. I would have preferred a few more Traveling Wilburys tunes, being that they were universally excellent. “You Got It” and “A Mystery To Me” are strong songs, as is the live recording of “Oh, Pretty Woman.” A live rendition of “It’s Over” was recorded near the end of his life and proves that his vocal skills were intact to the very end.

While the box itself and the cardboard holder in which the discs are stored could have been a little stronger, the ninety-five page booklet is spectacular and informative. It presents a nice biography of Orbison’s life, information about each track, rare photos, and thoughts and comments by a number of his associates and artists.

The Soul Of Rock And Roll will no doubt remain the definitive overview of Roy Orbison’s musical career. It is a worthy addition to any music collection.

Rating: A

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© 2009 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony Legacy, and is used for informational purposes only.