Roy Orbison Sings + Memphis + Milestones

Roy Orbison

Edsel, 2009

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


Roy Orbison began his career recording for the legendary Sun Label. He and labelmates Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis went on to change the face of American music.

Today, he is best remembered for his series of singles released by the Monument label from 1959 to 1965. Songs such as “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Running Scared,” “Dream Baby,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” and many others sold millions of copies and made his multi-octave tenor a radio staple.

The MGM label offered Orbison a million dollars to switch over to them – and that was ‘60s money. He stayed with the label for eight years, issuing ten studio albums and over thirty singles. However, no single cracked the top twenty on the American charts and no album entered the top one hundred. His output with the label was out of print for years and remains the lost period of his career.

Recently, his MGM albums have been rereleased. Roy Orbison Sings + Memphis + Milestones combines his last three releases for the label into one package. Originally only available as an import, it is now available in the United States. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The good news is you receive three albums worth of Roy Orbison material. The real good news is Memphis and Milestones are probably his best MGM albums. The bad news is that despite this generous dose of material, it is still not as good as his albums for Monument or his later comeback releases for that matter. You could probably assemble one very good disc from the 33 tracks contained here.

Roy Orbison Sings was issued during 1972 and suffered from some poor song choices, odd arrangements, and a lack of promotion. Tracks such as “Cheyenne,” “Beaujolais,” and “Plain Country Jane” just do not fit his style. Orbison was also partially to blame here, as he co-wrote five of the eleven tracks. Unfortunately, “God Love You,” “Help Me,” and “Harlem Woman” do not approach the brilliance of his ‘60s hits. The only above-average track is a nice interpretation of Mickey Newbury’s “Remember The Good.”

Memphis is the strongest of the three albums collected ere. “Run The Engines Up High” is a pop rocker that equals his best material. It gives his voice a chance to soar, and soar it does. Orbison originally came out of the rockabilly tradition, which enables him to do a credible job on Chuck Berry’s “Memphis” and “I Fought The Law.” He produced some of the best ballads of the early to mid-‘60s, and the old Browns hit “The Three Bells” and the 1910 Irish ballad “Danny Boy” are both superior interpretations.

Milestones was issued during 1973 and was Orbison’s last release for the label. He only co-wrote one track with old partner and producer Joe Melson.  Blue Rain (Coming Down)” is a gentle song that is representative of their past and provides a nice vehicle for his vocals. “I Wanna Live,” “You Lay So Easy On My Mind,” and “Drift Way” are all receive credible treatments. On the other hand, he should have stayed away from The Bee Gees “Words,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and “The Morning After.”

If you want an introduction to Roy Orbison, any of his Monument Label compilations is the place to start. Roy Orbison Sings + Memphis + Milestones is a hit-or-miss affair and as such, it is only for the serious Orbison collector.

Rating: B

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