In 1988, Columbia Records released a four-disc Roy Orbison retrospective called The Legendary Roy Orbison. It contained 74 tracks. It was a great package except for one thing: it sounded terrible, as the mastering techniques in the first days of the CD were not what they are now. The Soul of Rock and Roll, issued by Sony Legacy in 2008, is an enormous improvement in the sonic arena, just for starters. This four-disc collection contains 107 tracks (33 more than the previous box) with selections from all the labels Orbison recorded for. There are 12 previously unreleased performances, including the last tune Orbison ever committed to tape (strangely, a live version of "It's Over," recorded a scant two days before his death in Akron, OH). It contains a very solid book with essays by his widow Barbara, producer Fred Foster, and Roy Jr., and numerous testimonials from fans and friends including Tom Waits, Glenn Danzig Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Melson, Barry and Robin Gibb, and John Mellencamp, among others.
Because of his unique place in rock history, Orbison has long been worthy of this type of definitive career retrospective, one taking into account the creative and popular renaissance he enjoyed at the end of his life as a solo artist and as a member of the Traveling Wilburys. Orbison never quit working, even during the obscure 1970s when he briefly went back to Monument; cut an album for Elektra; and recorded the spotty Class of '55 with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis for Mercury. A great collection of the earliest years with the Teen Kings is here, as are the important Sun and Monument singles, carefully chosen album tracks, selections from the films Zabriskie Point and The Fastest Guitar Alive, and even "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again," a duet with Emmylou Harris from the film Roadie. There are some stellar live performances from Barbara Orbison's enormous archive, including an unreleased monster rave-up of Chris Kenner's "Land of 1000 Dances."
Disc four contains material from the posthumously released discs Mystery Girl and the better tracks from King of Hearts. The Wilburys are represented by "Not Alone Anymore" and the hit "You Got It," written by Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. Soundtracks also figure: "In Dreams" from the Blue Velvet soundtrack; the hauntingly strange "You May Feel Me Crying" from Wim Wenders' film The End of Violence, which was overdubbed by Brian Eno in 1997; the Will Jennings and David Briggs-produced single "Wild Hearts (Run Out of Time)" from the soundtrack of the film Insignificance; and the Rick Rubin-produced "Life Fades Away" from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. "Crying," Orbison's now legendary duet with k.d. lang from Black & White Night, is also included. The most memorable thing here, however, is the unreleased demo of "Precious," recorded in either 1968 or 1969. It's just The Voice with his guitar. It's chilling. The only track really missing is "Southbound Jericho Parkway," from 1969, Orbison's singular moment of psychobilly and his seven-minute, darker-than-midnight answer to "MacArthur Park." This box is the first true compendium of popular and obscure Orbison resources. Bear Family's expensive seven-disc Orbison is an exhaustive collection documenting 1955-1965, but that's only part of the story. The major bits of the early years are here, and are lent weight and depth by the '70s and '80s recordings, making this one the compilation to beat. ~ Thom Jurek