Roy Orbison

Induction Year: 1987

Birth Name: Roy Kelton Orbison

Birth Date: 04-23-1936

Place of Birth: Vernon, Texas

Death Date: 12-06-1988

Place of Death: Hendersonville, Tennessee

Roy Orbison's other-worldly tenor voice was the ideal vehicle for such epic, emotional songs as "Crying," "Running Scared," "Only the Lonely" and "Blue Bayou" — all co-written by Orbison.

"His arrangements were complex and operatic," said Bruce Springsteen in 1987, inducting Orbison into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "They had rhythm and movement, and they addressed the underside of pop romance."

Born and raised in Texas, Orbison began traveling as a musician while in his teens. Inspired by Elvis Presley's success and encouraged by Johnny Cash, Orbison signed with Sun Records in Memphis in 1956, becoming a rockabilly label-mate of Cash, Carl Perkins and others.

He signed with Fred Foster's Monument Records in 1959, soon moving to Nashville and embarking on the most fruitful years of his career. Foster focused his productions around what k. d. lang would later call Orbison's "powerful, high, flowing, liquid voice." For their part, Orbison and co-writers Joe Melson and Bill Dees created romantic, elegant pop songs more about rumination than celebration.

Orbison scored his first #1 hit with "Running Scared" in 1961 and thereafter released numerous hit singles that stretched rock & roll's possibilities, embracing moods of uncertainty and fragility. The rest of the rock world postured, but Orbison remained pensive. Even the protagonist of "Oh, Pretty Woman" spends most of the song in defeat, ignored by a lovely passerby. When she turns around at song's end to walk back to him, it's a last-second victory for an unabashed underdog.

Orbison signed with MGM Records in 1965, but his career never regained its early 1960s momentum. From that point forward, when he returned to the limelight it was most often in the company of others. His song "That Lovin' You Feeling Again," a Grammy-winning duet with Emmylou Harris, was a Top 10 country hit in 1980. In the late 1980s he collaborated with k. d. lang on a Grammy-winning revival of his hit "Crying," and then with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne in rock's most whimsical supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys.

Orbison was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987, the same year as his induction into the Rock Hall. He died of a heart attack at age 52 in 1988, too soon to see the posthumously released single "You Got It" become his first Top 10 pop hit in a quarter century.

"Blue Angel"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1960 #9 pop

"Blue Bayou"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1963 #29 pop, #26 R&B
Linda Ronstadt1977 #2 country, #3 pop, #3 adult contemporary
David Hasselhoff2004 
Norah Jones2010 


Everly Brothers1958 #15 country, #30 pop
Dwight Yoakam1997 


(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1961 #2 pop
Del Shannon1964 
Jay & the Americans1966 #25 pop
Lynn Anderson1968 
Dottie West1968 
Arlene Harden1970 #28 country
Ronnie Milsap1976 #79 country
Don McLean1980 #2 adult contemporary, #5 pop, #6 country
Stephanie Winslow1980 #14 country
k. d. lang & Roy Orbison1987 #42 country, #28 adult contemporary
Liza Minnelli2002 
Billy Gilman2007 
Clay Aiken & Linda Eder2010 
Il Divo2011 

"End of the Line"

(written with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty)

Traveling Wilburys1988 #63 pop


Roy Orbison1963 #22 pop

"Handle with Care"

(written with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Tom Petty)

Traveling Wilburys1988 #45 pop

"I'm Hurtin"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1960 #27 pop

"In Dreams"

Roy Orbison1963 #7 pop
Tom Jones1971 

"It's Over"

(written with Bill Dees)

Roy Orbison1964 #1 adult contemporary, #9 pop
Bonnie Tyler2003 


Roy Orbison1962 #25 pop

"Oh, Pretty Woman"

(written with Bill Dees)

Roy Orbison1964 #1 pop
Johnny Rivers1964 
Al Green1972 
John Mellencamp1976 
Van Halen1982 #12 pop
Ricky Van Shelton1990 

"Only the Lonely"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1960 #2 pop, #14 R&B
Sonny James1969 #1 country, #92 pop
Kitty Wells1969 
Jack Greene1969 
Ronnie McDowell1977 
Chris Isaak1996 

"Ride Away"

(written with Bill Dees)

Roy Orbison1965 #25 pop

"Running Scared"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1961 #1 pop
Del Shannon1965 
The Lettermen1965 
Glen Campbell1972 
Fools1981 #50 pop
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds1986 
Jeff Lynne2012 

"That Lovin' You Feelin' Again"

(written with Chris Price)

Roy Orbison & Emmylou Harris1980 #6 country, #10 adult contemporary, #55 pop

"The Crowd"

(written with Joe Melson)

Roy Orbison1962 #26 pop

"What Kind of Love"

(written with Rodney Crowell, Will Jennings)

Rodney Crowell1992 #9 adult contemporary, #11 country

"Workin' for the Man"

Roy Orbison1962 #33 pop

"You Got It"

(written with Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty)

Roy Orbison1989 #9 pop, #1 adult contemporary, #7 country
Bonnie Raitt1995 #33 pop

Roy Orbison

Induction Year: 1987