b. 23 April 1936, Vernon, Texas, USA, d. 6 December 1988, Madison, Tennessee, USA. Major critical acclaim came too late for one of the leading singers of the 60s. He became the master of the epic ballad of doom-laden despair, possessing a sensational voice of remarkable range and power, and often finding it more comfortable to stay in the high register. The former reluctant rockabilly singer, who worked with Norman Petty and Sam Phillips in the 50s, moved to Nashville and became a staff writer for Acuff-Rose Music. He used his royalties from the success of ‘Claudette’, recorded by the Everly Brothers, and written for his first wife, to buy himself out of his contract with Sun Records, and signed with the small Monument label. Although his main intention was to be a songwriter, Orbison found himself glancing the US chart with ‘Up Town’ in 1960. A few months later, his song ‘Only The Lonely’ was rejected by Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, and Orbison decided to record it himself. The result was a sensation: the song topped the UK charts and narrowly missed the top spot in the USA. The trite opening of ‘dum dum dum dummy doo wah, yea yea yea yea yeah’, leads into one of the most distinctive pop songs ever recorded. It climaxes with a glass-shattering falsetto, and is destined to remain a modern classic.
From Encyclopedia of Popular Music in Oxford Reference.