Out of nowhere, the Big ‘O’ is back. Enough of this new-fangled ‘Beat’ nonsense, he says. It’s been a little too happy at the top of the charts recently; a little too much positivity going round. Roy is here to change all that.
It’s Over, by Roy Orbison (his 2nd of three #1s)
2 weeks, from 25th June – 9th July 1964
This isn’t any kind of reinvention. Orbison hasn’t updated his sound to keep up with the kids. Last we heard from him, over three and a half years ago, it was with ‘Only the Lonely’. Now, ‘It’s Over’. And if you held any hopes that that might just be a misleading title, then the opening line crushes them. A guitar gently strums… Your baby doesn’t love you, Anymore…
And so we embark on a song absolutely drowning in melodramatic heartbreak. Roy O excelled at this kind of OTT emoting. Lines like: All the rainbows in the sky, Start to weep and say goodbye… and Setting suns before they fall, Echo to you ‘That’s all, that’s all’… are both ridiculous and perfect. While in the build-up to the chorus, when he sings She says to you, There’s someone new, Were throu-ou-ough… and then, just for good measure, another We’re through! Goosebumps.
I had never heard of a ‘bolero’ before researching this song, but it’s a term that’s been used to describe what Orbison was doing in ballads like these. A bolero being, in Latin music, a piece that ‘builds’; and in pop music a song that builds to a climax without the traditional verse, bridge, chorus structure. Not that ‘It’s Over’ is strictly a bolero. There is a latin flavour to the insistent guitars, and the occasional castanets, but there is a reset halfway through, after the first three It’s overs… For a true taste of Orbison-bolero, check out the equally sublime ‘Running Scared’.
By the end of the song, you’ve come to a startling realisation. The Big ‘O’ is bloody loving all this heartbreak. For a start, this song is written in the 2nd person – he’s singing about another person’s despair. He’s the angel of heartbreak swooping in through some poor guy’s bedroom window, as his wife slams the door behind her, singing And you’ll see lonely sunsets, After all… And then we get to the climax. It’s over, It’s over, It’s over! But it’s not. Oh no. Pause. One final breath. And Jeezo. That last It’s Over! No chart-topper, before or since – and bear in mind that we’re on around 1300 by now – has had as dramatic and emphatic an ending as chart-topper #171.
As I wrote above, this was Roy Orbison’s 2nd number one after a near four year wait. Under normal circumstances, a four year gap between chart-toppers is nothing special. But for him to span these four years, which saw Elvis kill off what remained of rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles et al launch a musical revolution, is pretty impressive. His contemporaries at the top when ‘Only The Lonely’ was there were Ricky Valance, Cliff and Johnny Tillotson. And he’s done it without compromise. This record is The Big ‘O’ doing what The Big ‘O’ does best, and for its two minutes and forty-seven seconds you could be forgiven for forgetting that anything has changed. Back when The Beatles and The Pacemakers landed on the charts, I compared them to a meteor, killing off all the musical dinosaurs. But I forgot about Roy Orbison. I now have a mental image of him coolly lifting the meteor up with one arm, stepping out from under it and dusting himself off. And re-adjusting his shades, of course.
Interestingly, he’s the first American-that-isn’t-Elvis-Presley to top the charts since Ray Charles in July 1962. The Beat revolution has been, up to now, a strictly British affair. But that’s going to start slowly changing. As for Roy, it’s certainly not over. Not yet. He’s got one final #1 left in the tank, and it might just be his signature song.
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