5
Jan 05

ROY ORBISON – “It’s Over”

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#171, 27th June 1964

The last few number ones have often seemed like throwbacks – records not as sharply of their time as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “Glad All Over”, records that would have fitted contentedly into 1959 or ’60. That this is a meaningful distinction and not hair-splitting is down to the pace of change: the run of chart-toppers in the spring of ’64 is an Indian Summer for the gentler, kinder, less carnal pop of the early 60s. (Though of course not much in pop music ever really ends.)

Roy Orbison, who had his first hit in 1960, is an authentic figure from those swept-away times. Even then he seemed older than his peers, here he carries himself like an ancient and tragic king. “It’s Over” is his masterpiece.

It’s a study in dignity and its limits. The music is slick but preposterous – a torrent of strings, finger-clicks, intrusive backing singers and Latin drum flourishes. A less controlled singer would surrender to the bombast and the record would be a slightly laughable bit of period kitsch. A less assured singer would hold themselves back too much on the chorus and the record would end up a mismatch, interesting but hardly moving.

Orbison gets it exactly and frighteningly right. The opening ten seconds of “It’s Over” are chilling, stunning: a hesitant, low guitar and a simple statement of fact, “Your baby doesn’t love you any more.” Then a pause, and the rattle of funeral drums. There is no question – he’s singing to himself. Roy Orbison does not sound here like a young man, shipwrecked by a sudden passion: he sounds like a man who has discovered a void where his life used to be, forced to face the reality that his efforts and happiness were a waste. The lyrics bring this home – seemingly ridiculous couplets followed by lines of awful cruelty. “Setting suns before they fall / Echo to you ‘that’s all, that’s all’ / But you’ll see lonely sunsets after all.” That double rhyme, that flat “after all”, that’s the sound of the knife twisting.

Orbison is utterly defeated, resigned, broken. But not numb. The chorus howls – “It’s over, it’s over, it’s OVER” – sound close to breaking down. It’s theatre, but what theatre! The greatness of this performance lies in the way it takes an arrangement and song that could, almost should be absurd and turns that florid, horrid melodrama into the accomplice to a man’s private armageddon.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Billy Smart on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Amongst the less well remembered Orbison singles from the second half of the sixties, my favourite must be the extraordinary ‘There Won’t Be Many Coming Home’, a surprisingly angry pacifist tract. I always think of that song as being a response record to ‘The Ballad Of The Green Berets’.

  2. 32
    wichita lineman on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Re 28: I think you were extraordinarily lucky! Some of the early 70s albums – Memphis, Milestones – are really hard to turn up but still don’t go for much.

    If things are mint (or close) these days they still seem to go for top dollar. But no one (apart from me possibly) would pay a tenner for, say, an early Winifred Atwell 45. RCPG is outdated, and the authors are almost all dealers – Deke Wheeler, Phil Spelman – who have been around forever. This explains most anomalies. Aside from the inflated prices on things like bog standard Hollies 45s it still doesn’t include the Episode Four 12″, a C86 rarity which has gone for £250 plus for several years now. And they recently took David Whitfield out completely! Try finding a 45 of Cara Mia. Go on, you know you want to.

  3. 33
    punctum on 2 Nov 2010 #

    I think my mum still has it on 78.

    Are there still people alive called Deke?

  4. 34
    vinylscot on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Deke Leonard, of “Man” fame is still trundling around.

  5. 35
    Mutley on 2 Nov 2010 #

    Elvis played a character called Deke Rivers in Loving You (1957) and he’s still alive.

    Re 32. I would have thought David Whitfield was more of a 78s man at the time of Cara Mia, at least in the UK?

  6. 36
    lord darlington on 2 Nov 2010 #

    He would have been, yes. As mentioned on Alma Cogan’s Dreamboat entry, that was never issued on a 45 so it got to number one on 78 sales alone, and that was as late as 1955. Of the earliest number ones Jo Stafford’s You Belong To Me and Eddie Fisher’s Outside of Heaven are very hard to find 45s, as relatively few people (in the UK, that is) had the hardware.

    Not sure what the last Popular entry issued on 78 would be, possibly Poor Me. Punctum?

  7. 37
    Jimmy the Swede on 2 Nov 2010 #

    #30 – Ah, Charlie Williams. A true icon, to be sure. And what a culture shock he caused! I once had the peverse thought of dropping Charlie headlong into a Shaft movie, the Barnsley lad playing the part of “Bumpy”, a senior gang leader…

    SHAFT: Hey Bumpy, man. Wass happnin’?
    BUMPY: Eee, lad. Champion, me old flower!

    A top bloke.

  8. 38
    Mark G on 3 Nov 2010 #

    #36, I do have “Cathy’s Clown” on 78

  9. 39
    wichitalineman on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Amazing! Thanks, Mark. I know Elvis’s Mess Of Blues/Girl Of My Best Friend (from summer 1960) is so rare on 78 that no one’s ever seen one (of course it might not exist). The interesting thing about Cathy’s Clown is that it was the first single on a new label, Warner Brothers, so presumably it was just about the only 78 on the label!

    I get far too excited by things like this.

  10. 40
    Mark G on 3 Nov 2010 #

    Imagine how excited I was when I found it!

  11. 41
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    John Peel, DJ (1990).

  12. 42
    Lena on 15 Jul 2011 #

    As a good example of the polar opposite at #2: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/chop-chop-brian-poole-and-tremeloes.html Thanks for reading everybody!

  13. 43
    thefatgit on 18 Jul 2011 #

    Recently, I reacquainted myself with Little Voice. I must say Michael Caine absolutely wrings every drop of anger, loathing and disgust out of this song in his performance, making it as uncomfortable a listen as Dotty Squires “My Way”*.

    *I checked out the Dorothy Squires version of “My Way” after reading The Blue In The Air. Punctum’s book is excellent, if you haven’t read it already.

  14. 44
    AndyPandy on 18 Jul 2011 #

    Re 37 – Charlie Williams must have been made of tough stuff and I’ve never understood why Lenny Henry had a go at him as surely he helped blaze a trail for him. And unlike Lenny Henry he was funny!And it wasn’t just on the stage he’d have needed balls – I don’t know how he ended up in Barnsley but even now in 2011 the town is 100% white – imagine what it would have been like for him to be living there in the 1950/1960s!

  15. 45
    Erithian on 18 Jul 2011 #

    Charlie Williams was indeed made of tough stuff, as anybody who faced him during his 170+ appearances at centre-half for Doncaster Rovers in the 50s would have testified. Rovers’ website, in his obituary, mentioned that Barnsley’s manager tried to get him to leave Rovers, to be rebuffed with the words, “Bugger off, it’s bad enough being black!” Another quote: “I was never a fancy player, but I could stop them buggers that were.”

  16. 46
    Jimmy the Swede on 18 Jul 2011 #

    # 44 – I would strongly contest that Barnsley is “100% white”, Andy but then what do I know? The only time the Swede ventued up there was in January 1989 to see my beloved Blues play in a 3rd round FA Cup tie. I didn’t stop to do a demographics survey but spent a very uncomfortable couple of hours standing on an uncovered terrace in non-stop torrential rain (with no toilets and a closed tea bar) watching us getting soundly thumped four-nil.

    Happy Days? Er…no.

  17. 47
    AndyPandy on 18 Jul 2011 #

    Possibly 99% white when I lived there (1999/2000)ex-missus’s dad’s family were from there hence my connection with the town. And I havent visited for about 5 years but I’m pretty sure there’s been no influx in those years.Due to it having grown almost completely because of coalmining (and to a lesser extent surrounding agriculture)there was never any reason for non-British immigrants to move there.I’m interested to know why you think things to be different.

    PS I went to Oakwell once too playing Crystal Palace – I was the very definition of a neutral spectator.

  18. 48
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Jul 2011 #

    #47 – It’s the law of averages, really. Naturally you have the jump on me having lived there but I simply could not believe the 100% claim, as this would be saying that there are no Indian or Chinese restaurants in Barnsley and no kebab houses either. I live in Eastbourne, which is overwhelmingly white. The most recent demographic shows about 94%. I would imagine that Barnsley’s is/was slightly more from what you appear to be saying.

  19. 49
    AndyPandy on 19 Jul 2011 #

    Yes I suppose I was generalising but Barnsley is/was so white that it would have literally been just those who ran Indian/Chinese restaurants who would have been non-white when I lived there – it’s a very insular town and was notoriously (if that’s the word) all white. I was generalising at 100% but it wouldn’t be far behind those ex-mining towns in Co Durham (Easington at 99%+ I seem to remember) that were shown in the 2001 census to be the most white in England.
    That’s why I was saying it couldn’t have been easy to be Charlie Williams living there back in the day although I suppose his being a professional footballer (although low paid 50s lower league)may have helped him in some way.
    Walking round Barnsley town centre in the late 1990s really was like stepping back into a pre-1950s English town demographically.

    I’ve found some figures in 2001 the largest ethnic group in the district was Indian at 470 (that fits in with your Indian restaurant point)out of a population of 220,000 so maybe it isn’t that far off what I said.

  20. 50
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Jul 2011 #

    Thanks for that, Andy.

  21. 51
    hardtogethits on 19 Jul 2011 #

    re #44 onwards. Why not just look it up!

    At the 2001 census, 99.1% of Barnsley’s population gave their ethnic group as “White” (or were described as such by their parents / carers etc).

    ONS Mid-Year estimates for 2009 are that 96.6% of the population would describe themselves (or be described by their parents carers etc) as “White”. This latter figure is an ONS estimate which has not yet received formal National Statistics status. It should therefore be used with appropriate caution and awareness of its limitations.

  22. 52
    AndyPandy on 19 Jul 2011 #

    I love the fact that these threads can wander into such obscure avenues – Roy Orbison to the demographics of Barnsley in a few posts!

  23. 53
    thefatgit on 19 Jul 2011 #

    You get Wimpy restaurants on the PSB’s debut #1 thread.

  24. 54
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Jul 2011 #

    Some of our digressions over the years have indeed been bizarre and I’ll have to admit as to being a not insignificant culprit for some of the nonsense. It’s a wonderful website!

  25. 55
    Alan not logged in on 13 Jul 2012 #

    Roy Orbison night on BBCFour tonight – also this still gets my vote as my fave #1. Currently ‘languishing’ at #38 in the FT reader list

  26. 56
    mapman132 on 13 Feb 2014 #

    Just checking in here as I gradually play through the UK number ones of yesteryear. This is a damn good song which I’m embarrassed to admit I wasn’t really familiar with until tonight. It’s a shame it only reached #9 in the US. To my generation it’s fair to say much of Orbison’s output has been overshadowed by the massive success of “Oh Pretty Woman” (also a good song, although perhaps not as good as this). Seems I need to explore more….

  27. 57
    hectorthebat on 22 Mar 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 999
    John Peel (UK) – Peelenium: Four Tracks from Each Year of the Last Century (1999)
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  28. 58
    weej on 23 Mar 2014 #

    The thing that always strikes me about these lists is “…before you die” – it just seems both morbid and redundant, no way to listen to songs after death, we all know that, so why rub it in? Are we to take our experience of this music to the afterlife somehow? Why mention death anyway when you’re trying to pick out highlights of life?

  29. 59
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

    I want a 1000 Songs You Must Hear After You Die book NOW

  30. 60
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

    Including, of course, the one song you will hear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6I6yr7WDeg

  31. 61
    lonepilgrim on 18 Mar 2015 #

    as I said a few years back (:-O), like much of Roy Orbison’s ballads this seems to draw from ‘a vast reservoir of grief and loss which I’m sure was fed by his own experience’. It still takes some artistry on the part of him and the musicians to distill that heartbreak into something so sublimely desolate

  32. 62
    Cumbrian on 19 Mar 2015 #

    Totally agree. I’ve not listened to all the #1s up to the present Popular day but I’ve listened to all the ones that I am least somewhat likely to like and this is the one that keeps me coming back again and again. I think I’ve only doled out one 10 in my comments since I have been here (I’d have to check) but I’d go further for this – I reckon it might be my favourite #1 of all. It’s pure brilliance.

    It can’t be long (in numbers of albums) now until Marcello gets to Roy Orbison on TPL (I try not to spoil TPL for myself but I assume he got to #1 around his comeback and/or death). I’m not sure he’ll agree with me necessarily about It’s Over but I am hugely looking forward to the entries he alludes to above.

  33. 63
    Rory on 15 Oct 2015 #

    Good to see that this number one can still inspire.

  34. 64
    chrisew71 on 19 Apr 2018 #

    It’s his masterpiece but it only gets a 9? I don’t like to harp on scores, but this is one of the few #1s that seems like it would be an easy 10.

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