This last April marks what would have been Roy Orbison’s 80th birthday had he not sadly died in 1988 at the age of 52. As one of the pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll, there have been numerous compilations and reissues devoted to Orbison’s career. Just this last year, Universal released a 13-CD box set chronicling his tenure at MGM Records. But, despite all of the collections over the years, there hasn’t been one that rounded up selections from most stages of his career from his time at Sun Records up through his last album including his time with the Traveling Wilburys. That will change on October 28 when Legacy Recordings, in association with Roy’s Boys LLC (the company started by Orbison’s sons to manage his catalogue), release the 26-track The Ultimate Collection.
This new compilation, sequenced non-chronologically, traces the ups and downs of Roy Orbison’s career. He signed with Sun Records as a member of his college band, The Teen Kings. Their recording of “Ooby Dooby” became Orbison’s first hit, peaking at #59 on the charts. However, Orbison did not have a great deal of success at Sun. The Teen Kings broke up and Orbison began to record and perform as a solo act but soon became frustrated and concentrated on writing. The Everly Brothers would have a hit with his composition “Claudette” (inspired by Orbison’s wife and included on the new CD in a concert rendition by him from A Black & White Night in the 1980s). Orbison would leave Sun and move to the song publishing company Acuff-Rose. But not having fully given up on being a recording artist, he cut some material to present to RCA. While that deal did not work out, it brought him to the attention of Monument Records.
Signed to Monument in 1960, Orbison would enjoy his greatest successes and develop his trademark style of sunglasses and dark clothing. Half of the new compilation hails from this era including “Love Hurts,” “Blue Bayou,” “Falling,” “Leah,” “Mean Woman Blues,” “Blue Angel” and “It’s Over.” Also included are Top 10 hits like “Crying,” “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Dream Baby” and the chart-topping “Running Scared.” And, of course, no Orbison collection would be complete without the immortal “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
At the peak of his success, Orbison was lured away from Monument to MGM in 1965 with a lucrative contract and the promise of film and television work. Unfortunately, personal tragedies and a commercial downturn would come to define his MGM tenure. Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966 and his two eldest sons died in a fire in 1968. Amidst all of this, he continued to record but his style was no longer striking a chord with audiences. However, Orbison did produce some quality material during this period and the songs “Walk On,” “Crawling Back,” “Ride Away” and “Too Soon To Know” are included on The Ulitmate Collection.
Orbison would depart MGM in 1973 and continue to record but each effort was met with little attention. He would cut an album each for Mercury and Asylum Records and even returned to Monument for one more project. None of these efforts are represented on the new CD, and Orbison would basically disappear from recording until a career revival was sparked by an unlikely source: David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet, which featured several of Roy’s songs.
Back in the public eye, Orbison joined with Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne to form the supergroup Traveling Wilburys who released their first album in 1988. Taken from that effort for the compilation are “Not Alone Anymore” and “Handle with Care” (which hit #2 on the Mainstream Rock chart). Working with Lynne as producer, Roy began to record his next album, but he died unexpectedly from a heart attack prior to its release. Mystery Girl became a hit when it was released in 1989, climbing to #5 on the charts. It is represented here by “California Blue,” “She’s A Mystery to Me” and the #1 AC hit “You Got It.” Several more posthumous projects followed and the new CD includes two of the songs from those projects: “Heartbreak Radio” and “I Drove All Night” (which Cyndi Lauper had covered and made a hit in 1989).
The producers for The Ultimate Collection are Alex Orbison, Chuck Fleckenstein and John Jackson. It has been remastered by Vic Anesini at Battery Studios in New York. It will be released as both a single CD and a 2-LP vinyl set. If you would like to take a look back at Roy Orbison’s career with this new compilation, we’ve got the tracklisting and preorder links below.
Roy Orbison, The Ultimate Collection (Legacy Recordings/Roy’s Boys, 2016)
- Oh, Pretty Woman
- I Drove All Night
- Got It
- Only The Lonely
- Love Hurts
- Blue Bayou
- Dream Baby
- Walk On
- Running Scared
- California Blue
- Mean Woman Blues
- Crawling Back
- Ride Away
- Too Soon To Know
- She’s A Mystery to Me
- Blue Angel
- It’s Over
- Ooby Dooby
- Heartbreak Radio
- Not Alone Anymore – Traveling Wilburys
- Handle With Care – Traveling Wilburys