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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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 53
    thefatgit on 19 Jul 2011 #

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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

  6. 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….

  7. 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)

  8. 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?

  9. 59
    punctum on 24 Mar 2014 #

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

  10. 60
    Tom on 24 Mar 2014 #

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

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