Jan 05

ROY ORBISON – “It’s Over”

Popular64 comments • 4,862 views

#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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  1. 1
    otherdeb on 8 Aug 2006 #

    You are so spot on on this one I can’t begin to say!

  2. 2
    Blue Cougar on 3 Feb 2007 #

    Roy was certainly light years ahead of many of the other Rock n rollers.. he did not just stick with the same old 3 bar blues chords and was happy to throw in the minors..

    Such a shame he is gone..

    Rene – The Blue Cougars

  3. 3
    Waldo on 21 Feb 2007 #

    This is one of the greatest tracks of the rock/pop era. Faultless.

  4. 4
    SteveIson on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Genius.I love how he just does that one huge ‘Its Over’ at the end..He could’ve milked that so much-but the track would’ve been the worse for it..

  5. 5
    wichita lineman on 12 Nov 2008 #

    Even now, I can’t believe this was a no.1. Think how often this turns up on oldies radio/film soundtracks compared to Oh Pretty Woman! It’s hard to think of even a Scott Walker song that comes close to what Tom rightly calls this “private armageddon”.

    I’ve come to this slot via the piece on Don McLean’s limp cover of Crying and wanted to draw some attention to the Big O singles that followed It’s Over, none of which were major hits.

    Crawling Back does pretty much what you’d expect, times three, desperate and kind of angry, with subtle moodswings: “Only you – and no one else – can keep me crawling back.”

    Cry Softly Lonely One is Roy as benevolent father figure, the shoulder for It’s Over’s victim to cry on, with minor-key finger-clicking and some gorgeously fey bv’s from unknown sources. It’s as close as he gets to The Association ( I’m assuming that was his intention, but it’s closer to Mahler).

    Southbound Jericho Parkway (flip in the UK to My Friend) is a 7 minute suicide note from a failed businessman, taking in the reactions of his wife, daughter, and hippie son. Right down to the life insurance cheque. It has no chorus. I love Roy Orbison.

  6. 6
    Matthew on 12 Jan 2009 #

    After the last couple dozen #1s this feels strangely like a grownup shooing the kids out of the way and showing them how it’s really done. Not that I don’t like a bit of energetic Merseyism but this is magisterial.

  7. 7
    thefatgit on 17 Mar 2010 #

    So few comments on a song that only recently I gained a new perspective on. I guess this was a Radio 2 staple around the time I heard it first as a young kid. Never paid much attention to it, but as the years roll on and that LIFE thing deals you some shitty hands as well as the hands you’d bet everything on,(sometimes they’re one and the same) then Orbison becomes hyper-relevant. “It’s Over” is an emotional iron fist in a velvet glove. Roy’s voice had this effect of a lullaby, soothing, calming like shotgunning Gaviscon after a fierce night of Guinness and Vindaloo. The lyrics are pure anguish, that “Setting suns before they fall” line delivered as calm and deadly as you like. As the song builds, the swells of the bv’s and that steady tempo like a march to the guillotine and finally Roy screams, without losing his poise and rock steady calm (who could do that today?), “IT’S OVER!!!” then falls that guillotine on a flourish of strings and drums. Silence. Perhaps the most profound silence of any record.

    Serious goosebumps.

  8. 8
    Tom on 17 Mar 2010 #

    thefatgit: there’s an explanation of the early 60s comments drought in the FAQ. Though I don’t remember this one being especially well populated.

  9. 9
    thefatgit on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Yes I was aware of the comment-wipe. I thought the dates of the previous posts on this thread might have suggested a low turnout. Well deserving of a reappraisal, I think.

  10. 10
    Paulito on 21 Mar 2010 #

    Few comments, yes, but it’s quality that counts and the ones here (along with Tom’s review of course) are superb. One of the delights of Popular is how it makes you listen to a familiar song with fresh ears and, in many cases, realise that it’s even greater than you previously comprehended. This is a perfect example – I’d consider myself a Big O fan and I always liked “It’s Over”, but it didn’t hold any higher place in my esteem than numerous other Orbisongs. But I’ve just listened to it three times in a row to revelatory effect. As Tom and thefatgit so eloquently articulate, it’s surely the high point of Orbison’s mastery of broken-heart balladry: drawing you in with its lush, dramatic arrangement and Roy’s polite, almost matter-of-fact despondency – as if he’s trying to tell himself that he can somehow adjust to this new life of emptiness – before building up to a total surrender to agony and despair. And, just when you think he’s reached the climax of the song, he swoops up again for that last, massive and utterly spine-tingling enunciation…An incomparable singer and craftsman at his zenith.

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 28 Oct 2010 #

    Have been happily enjoying the site for a while and decided to take the plunge with a comment. I’ve never commented here before – I don’t really have much to add to an awful lot of the comments made for any given #1 but reading Tom’s thoughts and the subsequent comment below the line is interesting.

    That said, here goes. Something which hasn’t been mentioned here (it may have been pre-the comment wipe) is that Roy Orbison’s performance here, on what is a truly magnificent record, is basically grounded in truth. Married to the “Claudette” of the tune with which the Everly Brothers had a big hit, Orbison divorced her in 1964, after a number of infidelities on her part. By all accounts, Roy was devoted to her and was devastated – indeed, he continued loving Claudette, remarried her in 1965 and stayed with her until her untimely death in a car accident in 1966.

    My point: might the towering brilliance of this performance be related to his deep personal connection to the song? It’s a tremendous piece of writing and I imagine he must have either thought long and hard about how he was going to deliver it or just sang it straight off the bottom of his heart.

    I don’t think it is necessary for a performer to have experienced the emotions in a song to give a truly great performance. But here, those experiences, married to a brilliant vocalist and arrangement, really do add up to something very few performers can touch.

  12. 12
    lonepilgrim on 28 Oct 2010 #

    Welcome aboard Cumbrian and thanks for your comments – the big Os performance does sound as if he is drawing from a vast reservoir of grief and loss which I’m sure was fed by his own experience

  13. 13
    wichita lineman on 28 Oct 2010 #

    I think you’re both right. And I think the British public must have been aware of the bad hand that fate dealt to Roy. Immediately after Claudette died, Too Soon To Know (not The Orioles’ early doo wop song, it goes “It’s too to soon know if I can forget her”) was a number 3 hit, at a time when he was barely troubling the Top 20. So there’s a definite correlation between performance, back story, and sales figures. I’m the last person to defend authenticity as a yardstick, but everyone believes Roy Orbison.

  14. 14
    punctum on 29 Oct 2010 #

    That wasn’t the last bad hand he was dealt, either; in 1968 two of his three young sons died in a fire at the Orbison family home (it happened while he was away touring Britain). By the mid-seventies he was reduced to appearing on things like The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club, poor sod.

    No comment here from me about “It’s Over” since I’m saving that for the three occasions I get to write about the Big O on TPL but does anyone else remember the astonishing Billy MacKenzie/BEF version from the first Music Of Quality And Distinction album (backed by, amongst others, Hank Marvin, John Foxx and Vicky Aspinall of the Raincoats) (!!)?

    “Southbound Jericho Parkway” is a remarkable thing, like Richard Yates doing Fred Neil.

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Punctum and other Popular regulars should have a look at the recent DVD release of the second season of The Wheeltappers & Shunters, featuring a still-dignified Orbison, plus turns from many other 50s and 60s stars; Winifred Atwell, Gene Pitney, Johnnie Ray, Russ Conway, PJ Proby…

    Less appealingly, the 1974 present day is represented by such “top recording artistes” as The Brotherhood of Man.

  16. 16
    punctum on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Half of whom, in the same year, turned out the bewildering “Turn Me Down” under the name of the Streakers. Compiled on the Glitter From The Litter Bin collection, if that’s still in print.

    Whatever did happen, incidentally, to those other “top recording artistes” Design, who were perma-guests on the Morecambe and Wise shows of the period?

  17. 17
    Mark G on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I don’t know if “reduced” is the right word, it was a great performance, and had an authenticity of a live club performance.

    Basically, it was TV’s fault that something more ‘appropriate’ didn’t exist (JHolland’s “Later” or some such)…

  18. 18
    punctum on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Later did exist then; it was called the Old Grey Whistle Test.

  19. 19
    Mark G on 29 Oct 2010 #

    Yeah, but they would have been too “cool” to bump Head Hands and Feet in favour of Roy.

    I do remember Billy McKenzie’s version, even then he’d said about how he was doing a “Roy Orbidoig” song on the SFX cassette interview promoting it, as if he was still considered a bit ‘uncool’ or something. (Still have the 5 or 6 single box set, the only time GazGlit ever recorded ‘with’ the Glitter band backing in the studio, etc)

    Of course things changed after that, and at least his star was in the ascendant when he, um, ascended.

  20. 20
    Erithian on 29 Oct 2010 #

    I wonder exactly how “cool” the Old Grey Whistle Test was at times? Last Friday’s “Singer-Songwriters at the BBC” compilation on BBC4 included an eyebrow-raising OGWT appearance by Lynsey de Paul, singing “My Man and Me” from 31 January 1975. Looking somewhat like Samantha Womack, never a bad thing in my book.

  21. 21
    Jimmy the Swede on 31 Oct 2010 #

    I can remember luscious Lynsey singing a rather self-pitying little song, “Won’t Somebody Dance With Me” and a teenaged Swede dribbling his own offer to Miss de Paul through the telly to come to her rescue. Oh, the pain!!

  22. 22
    Rory on 1 Nov 2010 #

    @20 For a moment I thought “an eyebrow-raising OGWT appearance” was another internet acronym: my first guess was “Oh God, What’s That?”.

    Thanks, Cumbrian, for reviving this thread the other day. I’d never heard “It’s Over” before, but I sure have now. A great, great song.

  23. 23
    wichita lineman on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Even aged 8 or 9 I thought Won’t Somebody Dance With Me was the drippiest thing in the world – and entirely unconvincing given Lynsey’s luscious locks, lip gloss and beauty spot. But, goodness, she made some good records. Sugar Shuffle, from her Love Bomb album, is like Deodato producing the Paris Sisters on a No Other outtake.

    Re 15: Thanks Billy, I’ll order one right now.

    Re 16: I don’t remember Design from the time at all, but they looked like a New Seekers-alike (four guys, two gals – one blonde, one brunette) and made a ton of flop records with KPM producer Adrian Kerridge and arranger Syd Dale. Most are unmemorable, but the first album has some gorgeous soft harmony pop tracks (Coloured Mile, Willow Stream), and they also covered Steely Dan’s Dirty Work in 1974.

  24. 24
    Alan not logged in on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Best song ever

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    punctum on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Ah, Lynsey de Paul, what a fragrant delight of punctum. “WSDWM” had two different versions; the guy who asks her for a dance at the end of the record (on the record) is Barry Blue, but on the version which got played on Radios 1 and 2 the suitor was none other than Ed “Stewpot” Stewart.* My favourite track of hers is the deliciously dirty funk of “Water” off the 1973 album Surprise. Also “Getting A Drag” invents Elastica.

    Pity about her subsequent 1983 epic “Vote Tory Tory Tory (For Election Glory)” but you can’t have everything.

    *No doubt WL will recall those strange pre-punk seventies daytime radio days when due to obscure and/or obfuscatory Musicians’ Union regulations acts had to come into the studio and re-record their hits so they could be played on R1 and R2. Diddy David Hamilton was particularly fond of this practice.

    (Design not as good as the Free Design, then. Still, quick off the mark apropos the Dan.)

  26. 26
    wichita lineman on 1 Nov 2010 #

    LdP does have a “difficult” reputation, so that 1983 faux pas doesn’t surprise me, depressing though it is (were there any pro Labour ditties in ’83? Longest Suicide Note In History Is Painless?). But I do have a MAM 10×8 press shot of her on my wall, politics notwithstanding. Yes I’m that shallow.

    Her Ooh I Do is one of the best ever post-Spector girl group singles, too. Posh vocals and castanet heaven:


    Design aren’t the Free Design, true enough, but their best songs on the first lp from ’71 are reminiscent of The Groop (remember A Famous Myth from Midnight Cowboy?), or a more bubblegum Mamas & Papas, so I wouldn’t dismiss them. Enough minor chords to keep me happy and some nicely unexpected, almost dissonant harmonies on Coloured Mile and the excellent Minstrel’s Theme too.

    As for Roy Orbison, his catalogue keeps on giving. I’m working my way through the (still cheap) albums after ’66. Zig Zag and Loving Touch are both floor-friendly late 60s album tracks. Fashion may have left him behind, but the quality of his work into the mid 70s is remarkably uniform. No desperate lurches into country or bubblegum – except for the comically grim Penny Arcade about the death-wish of gamblers: “come and spend your last dime!”

  27. 27
    punctum on 1 Nov 2010 #

    “Lost in a sea of glass and tin” – hello Gary Numan?

    Written by a Yorkshireman, if memory serves.

  28. 28
    vinylscot on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Spot on re Ooh I Do, WL. (Although it does sound a little OTT now, a bit of a g—-y p——e)

    I too went through a ton of Orbison LPs last year having bought 21 of them off you-know-where for less than a pound each (despite Record Collector’s somewhat optimistic/barking valuations)

    As a little aside, if any of you are vinyl collectors, what is your opinion of the Record Collector Price Guide and its rather “eccentric” vaulations? I won’t repeat my own thoughts, but mine was the first review of the new edition on Amazon, and the other two reviewers so far seem to agree with me.

  29. 29
    punctum on 1 Nov 2010 #

    I’m bound to say I agree with “Napoleon XIV” in particular (no, it wasn’t me!). The market is not so much declining as altering, and RCPC doesn’t seem to have gotten to grips with this at all. “Outdated” might be an apter description than “eccentric” – even MVE doesn’t price by these standards any more.

    An interesting corollary may be this recent post from Matt Woebot: http://cybore.me/?p=2233

  30. 30
    Billy Smart on 1 Nov 2010 #

    Re: 16. Aha! Yes, Punctum is right – I’ve just seen the new year’s eve 1974 Wheeltappers special and, indeed, Design did do a turn, introduced by Bernard Manning as “one of Great Britain’s leading recording artistes”! At this stage they are a (rather superannuated) boy/girl duo with skilled session backing. Most of the audience don’t look all that impressed with this noisy youngsters’ pop rubbish, and respond more warmly to the evening’s other acts; Charlie Williams, Kristine Sparkle, Brother Lees and Matt Monro, before 1975 gets seen in by Freddie Garraghty dressed as a chicken.

    Its an interesting social document.

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