Jan 05

ROY ORBISON – “Oh, Pretty Woman”

Popular10 comments • 2,586 views

#179, 10th October 1964

The song where doughy, doleful Roy Orbison finally gets the girl – of course we’re on his side from the start, and Orbison plays on his persona and our sympathies with a wonderful piece of three-minute theatre. From the opening, stuttering, is-it-a-riff-or-isn’t-it, everything on this superbly crafted record is tackling the same questions: will he dare to ask? will she say yes? The odds are frankly against it (Roy’s clumsy, perceptive chat-up line is asking if she’s as lonely as he is). He psychs himself up – “Mercy!” – he sends himself up – “rrrrrowwwwl” – he turns all courtly… and he falls flat. The section after his brave-faced “OK” tears me in two – half of me is swooning over every sob-soaked vocal nuance, half of me just wants to give Roy a hug. And then the ending, perfectly understated, that final drum hit drawing a line and giving us a chance to cheer our hero into the sunset. Listener, she married him.

(And then, for the Pretty Woman of the title was Roy’s wife Claudette, she cheated on him. Sometimes I really hate search engines.)



  1. 1
    SteveIson on 22 Jul 2008 #

    Such a clever bit of writing too…The middle 8 has such great unorthodox chord changes

  2. 2
    Tooncgull on 25 Sep 2009 #

    One of THOSE classic opening bars! Impossible to ignore, a finger-snapping swagger of a song, everything about it is excitement, raw attraction, adolescent lazy voyeurism, and the dream ending, all topped with an unforgettable bass line.

    Ten for me.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 19 Nov 2010 #

    The song get’s a less optimistic reading in the US version of Popular here:


    It’s that tension between the music and lyric which gives the song it’s edge – despite being roped in to soundtrack the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere movie – it never settles into one mood or another

  4. 4
    Mark G on 19 Nov 2010 #

    And then, for the Pretty Woman of the title was Roy’s wife Claudette, she cheated on him

    Yeah, but then she ‘walked on back’ and they remarried the next year.

  5. 5
    Cumbrian on 19 Nov 2010 #

    We had a bit of a conversation about this on the “It’s Over” thread a couple of weeks back.

    She died in a car crash a year after they got back together. Then 2 of the Big O’s kids died in a house fire. Then people stopped buying his records in such large numbers. And then, after starting a comeback that looked like it might have some real legs under it – he died.


  6. 6
    wichita lineman on 21 Nov 2010 #

    Claudette had another number one written about her by Roy. She’s the same Claudette that Don and Phil Everly were threatening to “squeeze to death” on the other side of All I Have To Do Is Dream.

  7. 7
    Dispela Pusi on 17 Dec 2010 #

    One of those tracks where I find it’s no longer possible to assess its merits with any degree of objectivity, simply because it’s been played to death. If you went only by the playlists of the commercial radio stations where I live, you’d imagine that Roy Orbison had never recorded anything else.

    I’d probably have assigned it a 7 back in the day, but for me, now, even a 2 would be pushing it.

  8. 8
    thefatgit on 7 Dec 2011 #

    “She’s walking back to me…” RIP Barbara Orbison.

  9. 9
    hectorthebat on 30 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 & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 20
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 39
    Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles (USA, 2003) 105
    NPR (USA) – The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    National Recording Preservation Board (USA) – The National Recording Registry
    Pause & Play (USA) – Songs Inducted into a Time Capsule, One Track at Each Week
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 43
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 23
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 43
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 222
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 224
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 29
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 16
    Mojo (UK) – The Ultimate Jukebox: 100 Singles You Must Own (2003) 57
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 68
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 55
    STM Entertainment (Australia) – The 50 Best Songs Ever (2007) 47
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  10. 10
    Gareth Parker on 8 Jun 2021 #

    Fine enough from Roy. A decent stomp, but no more than 5/10 for me.

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