7 Greatest Roy Orbison Songs

You can’t talk about great classic hits without mentioning a few Roy Orbison songs. 

The man with a rockabilly look and a crooning voice singing about love rose to fame quickly in the early 1960s. His melodies have stood the test of time and have been covered by other singers over the years. 

Let’s take a closer look at Roy Orbison to find out why his songs from 60 years ago are still relevant today. 

About Roy Orbison 

Roy Orbison was born in 1936 in Vernon, Texas. His father gave him his first guitar when he was 7. His family moved around a bit in his early years but settled down in Wink, Texas, when Roy was ten.

Orbison’s musical career started when he joined a rockabilly band, the Wink Westerners, as a teenager. The band played various honky-tanks in the area for free and had a good time playing together. 

But when they were offered $400 to play at a dance, Roy realized he could make a living in music. 

While still playing music, he enrolled in North Texas State College to study geology. He figured if a music career didn’t pan out, he could land a job in the oil fields. 

Roy Orbison’s Early Years

At 20, he and his band, the Teen Kings, signed their first recording contract with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. This label brought us Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. 

The Teen Kings broke up after a couple of years with Sun Records. Orbison stayed in Memphis to continue his songwriting career. 

In 1960, he signed a contract with Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee. Twenty-two of Roy Orbison’s tunes reached the Billboard Top 40 charts in the following six years. 

Fortunately, his music career paid off well enough that he never had to work in the oil fields.

Roy Orbison’s Later Years

While he fell out of popularity and had some personal struggles through the 1970s, his career got new life in the 1980s. Most notably, his supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys, brought him fully back into the musical spotlight. The band formed in April 1988 with Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne.

The Traveling Wilburys and their first album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, were an instant success. Sadly, two months following the album’s release, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack at age 52.

He received three Grammy Awards during the 1980s and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Even after his death, Roy Orbison continued to receive recognition for his contributions. In 2010, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

Now, let’s take a deeper look into 7 of Roy Orbison’s greatest songs.

#7 Crying

About the Song: Anyone who has ever experienced a broken heart can relate to this great oldie. As the title implies, the song is about crying over the loss of a romantic partner. Break-ups are never easy, but sometimes singing about it can help ease the pain. 

Best Lyric:

I thought that I was over you
But it's true, so true
I love you even more than I did before
But darling, what can I do?

First Appearance: The piece first appeared on Roy Orbison’s third album, Crying, released in 1961. 

#6 Running Scared

About the Song: Not knowing whether a current love would stay if their former love returned is not an uncommon concern. This operatic love ballad is only three stanzas long, and, fortunately, it does have a happy ending. 

Best Lyric:

Just runnin' scared each place we go
So afraid that he might show
Yeah, runnin' scared, what would I do
If he came back and wanted you?

First Appearance: The song was released as a single in March 1961 and topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #1.

#5 Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)

About the Song: This simple and sweet tune is about dreaming of your love interest. Who hasn’t done that?

Country singer and songwriter Cindy Walker wrote the lyrics. The piece became an international hit when it was released, topping music charts in the US, UK, and Australia. 

Best Lyric:

I love you and I'm dreaming of you but that won't do
Dream baby make me stop my dreamin', you can make my dreams come true

First Appearance: Roy Orbison recorded the piece and released it as a single in 1962. 

#4 In Dreams

About the Song: Heartbreak and dreaming of lost love are common themes in Roy Orbison’s songs. In Dreams is yet another example of that theme.

The songwriter claims the lyrics came to him in a dream. When he woke up in the morning, he composed the piece in about 20 minutes. 

Best Lyric:

In dreams I walk with you
In dreams I talk to you
In dreams you're mine all of the time
We're together in dreams, in dreams

First Appearance: In Dreams is a track on Orbison’s fourth album of the same name, released in 1963.

#3 Blue Bayou

About the Song: Blue Bayou’s lyrics are about dreaming of being back with a lover and life left behind. Orbison’s recording of this great oldie became an international hit when released in 1963. 

But it might be best remembered as a song covered by Linda Ronstadt in 1977. 

Best Lyric:

Saving nickles saving dimes
Working til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou

First Appearance: The song appears on Roy Orbison’s 1963 In Dreams album.

#2 Oh, Pretty Woman

About the Song: Here, we have another Roy Orbison hit about love. But this time, it’s not about the pain of heartbreak. 

When Orbison released this tune in 1963, it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It stayed in that spot for three weeks.

This song gained new life when Van Halen released their cover version in 1982. It was the band’s second Top 20 hit. 

In 1990, Pretty Woman, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, used Roy Orbison’s song in the soundtrack. 

Best Lyric:

Pretty woman won't you pardon me
Pretty woman I couldn't help but see
Pretty woman that you look lovely as can be

Are you lonely just like me

First Appearance: The song was released as a single in 1964 and appeared on an album of the same name. 

#1 Only the Lonely

About the Song: It might seem like the songwriter was unhappy and unlucky in love based on many of his pieces. But in a 1980 interview, Orbison explained his writing process. He said, “All the songs I wrote that were successful were written when I was in a contented state of mind.”

Interestingly, Orbison wrote the piece intending to give it to Elvis or the Everly Brothers. However, the Everly Brothers urged the singer to record the tune himself. 

Best Lyric:

Only the lonely
Know the heartaches I've been through
Only the lonely
Know I cry and cry for you

First Appearance: Recorded and released in 1960, the tune became Roy Orbison’s first significant hit.

Which Roy Orbison Song is Your Favorite?

While the last few generations may not be familiar with his name, more than likely, they know a few of his songs. It might be time to introduce your kids or grandkids to some of these Roy Orbison classics. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a piece of his you didn’t know. 

What’s your favorite Roy Orbison song?

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