It’s kinda funny, but when I hear “Oh, Pretty Woman” on the radio or TV, I don’t think of Roy Orbison, I think of Julia Roberts, even though the movie “Pretty Woman” didn’t come out until 1990 and, really, has nothing to do with the song.
The story is told that while Roy Orbison and Bill Dees (whom Roy had been writing with for several years) were in the studio one day, Roy’s wife Claudette came by to tell him that she was heading to Nashville to do some shopping. Roy asked his wife if she had any money. Credit cards were still in their infancy and hadn’t really caught on yet. Dees is reported to comment “A pretty woman never needs any money”. From that comment, it took just 40 minutes to write what has probably become Roy Orbison’s greatest hit “Pretty Woman”. The most distinctive thing about “Pretty Woman” to me is the drummer. The beat is constant through the song and at one point, that’s all you hear is the beat beat beat of the drum. It turns out that the drummer was Buddy Harman who played on many famous songs in the Sixties. He played on over 18,000 records, including those for Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. He died in 2008 at the age of 79.
At one point in the song, Roy does a playful growl which he took from a Bob Hope movie. At another point, he says “Mercy”. I always thought he was talking about the woman and, well, just how pretty she was, but he used that word to cover up a note he could not hit correctly. The song peaked at number one in the fall of 1964, and was on the charts a total of 14 weeks. It hit number one also in the U.K. and ended up selling over 7 million copies. Beginning Aug 8, 1963 and continuing for 68 weeks (that’s almost a year and a half,) Roy was the only American to hit number one in England.
Remember, this was the middle of the tide of music we call The British Invasion”. A few Americans had number one hits in 1964, but after the Beatles came on the scene, not many did. The act that held number one just before “Oh, Pretty Woman” was The Animals with “House of the Rising Sun” and the act that came right after it was Manfred Mann with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. Roy held the spot for three weeks between those two British powerhouses.
I mentioned the movie “Pretty Woman” earlier. It starred Richard Gere and Julia Roberts and while this was not Robert’s first movie, I believe it was the one which put her on the map. This movie, more than anything she had done previously, put her on the road to super stardom.
Roy Orbison would never have another number one. He tried different things throughout the Sixties, but gradually faded away. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 37 on their list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. On December 6, 1988, he died of a heart attack at the age of 52. He worked right up until his death. Some say, he worked himself to death.
“Oh, Pretty Woman” entered the pop charts on September 5, 1964 and spent three weeks at number one.
Here is the video from the Black and White Night Concert, a famous concert Roy did in 1988. It’s kind of long, but such great music. I hope you enjoy it.