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Elvis' only real rival

The Soul of Rock and Roll
The Soul of Rock and Roll
By Roy Orbison

Sony Legacy: 2008


This review first appeared in Turbula in December 2008.

Of all the early rock 'n' rollers who hung out with Elvis at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., in the mid-'50s, none came so close as Roy Orbison to equaling the King's ability to alternately rock out and then caress a ballad. And even more than Presley or any of their other Sun stablemates – Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins – Orbison was blessed with a rich, expressive singing voice, one that spanned more than three octaves and was instantly recognizable.

A new four-disc set tracing Orbison's three-decade career (he died in December 1988) shows that even his biggest hits ("Oh, Pretty Woman," "Only the Lonely," "You Got It") weren't necessarily his best performances. Like Presley, Orbison kept recording and touring even in the dry spells between the hits, and if his versions of songs such as "Unchained Melody" and "Let the Good Times Roll" have never been well known, they are exquisitely crafted pop gems that should have been hits.

And then there are the forgotten treats – his participation in the 1986 Elvis tribute with Cash, Perkins and Lewis that yielded the rollicking "Waymore's Blues" and the plaintive "Coming Home," as well as a cut from his final days in the Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, "Not Alone Any More."

He might not have found the superstardom of Cash and Presley, but Orbison was the best singer of the bunch and a pretty decent songwriter to boot. It's not often you find a four-disc set in which you're only familiar with a couple of tracks going in, but after listening to the dozens of songs, you wish there were still more.