Roy Orbison (briefly known as "The Big O" before that one got creepy) is one of the oddest omissions from classic rock that I know of, and was one of my main inspirations for starting this blog in the first place. The one song you're likely to know of is "Oh, Pretty Woman", but even that hardly gets touched by radio stations. My generation, along with the previous, mainly knows that tune from the Julia Roberts movie that shared its name.
Which brings us to the subject of Roy's popularity. Back in the early 60s, Roy was one of the biggest names in rockabilly and blue-eyed soul, maybe THE biggest. When he opened for The Beatles he enjoyed a preposterous fourteen encore show, despite being a solo performer opening for one of the biggest British groups of the time. Did I mention the show was in England? Right after Please Please Me?
Unfortunately, this popularity diminished considerably during the late 60s and 70s, due in no small part to the onset of the British Invasion. For better or worse, Orbison never really changed the style of his music throughout his career, an was thus left behind the rapidly changing pop scene. Never really hurting for money, he retired from touring, aside from a few shows in foreign countries where he maintained his monumental fanbase.
As I alluded to earlier, Orbison's comeback was largely due to the use of his songs in other forms. Linda Ronstadt had a major hit with Orbison's "Blue Bayou" in 1977 and Don McLean covered "Crying" three years later, achieving similar success. What really brought Orbison back into the spotlight was the use of his song, "In Dreams", in David Lynch's 1986 neo-noir film, Blue Velvet. The usage was... memorable to say the least (a demented lip syncing session followed by Dennis Hopper using the lyrics as a threat) and it put The Big O back in the public eye.
1988 saw Orbison capitalize on his new found popularity: he featured on the all-star supergroup The Traveling Wilburys; released a new album, Mystery Girl, featuring a song co-written by Bono himself, "She's A Mystery To Me"; and released a live album/video featuring yet another all-star band playing backup (Black And White Night). His resurgence was tragically cut short by his death the same year.
So why isn't he better known? In all likelihood, it's down to simple timing. Classic rock stations evolved out of a station type known as AOR (album-oriented rock), which developed during the late 70s, continuing on through the 80s as an alternative to the now burgeoning disco/R&B craze. Orbison, omitted from popular music over the course of the 70s, missed his chance for preservation by a few short years. Had his popularity come back during the early 80s, before Michael Jackson split the airwaves, you'd probably be hearing "In Dreams" every three hours instead of "Sunday Bloody Sunday".