December 4 marks the anniversary of Roy Orbison’s last-ever performance, which took place at the Front Row Theater, Highland Heights, Ohio, in 1988, a mere two days before his passing.
In recognition, Universal Music Enterprises (Ume) has teamed up with Roy’s Boys LLC, the Nashville-based company founded by the late icon’s sons to administer their father’s catalog and safeguard his legacy. Together, they are releasing One of the Lonely Ones globally on December 4, available in CD, 180-gram vinyl and digital form. You can hear the sample track “Sweet Memories” in the video below.
Recorded between January and August of 1969, One of the Lonely Ones is a complete Roy Orbison studio album that has never before been released in any form. The 12-track album was recently discovered by Roy’s sons when they were preparing for the release of The MGM Years box set (also available digitally and on CD and 180-gram vinyl Dec. 4). Born from tragedy, One of the Lonely Ones is a testament to Roy’s unparalleled ability to turn heartbreak into art.
Things were looking up for ‘The Big O’ in 1968. In the middle of the summer, Roy met Barbara, the woman who would be his wife for the remainder of his life. With a new album due out, Roy was on tour in the U.K. promoting “Walk On” for his forthcoming album Roy Orbison’s Many Moods. Then on September 15, tragedy struck when his home in Hendersonville, Tennesee burned down, killing his two oldest sons Roy DeWayne, 10, and Anthony, 6.
To recover from the tragedy, Roy went back to work, recording a new album in January 1969. After taking a break in March to marry Barbara (and go back on tour), he resumed recording in July and finished in August. The album never saw the light of day, however. Due to his self-imposed exile during the latter part of the previous year, Roy’s label MGM Records had pushed back the release of Many Moods to May of 1969, thereby knocking his aggressive release schedule out of whack. MGM ultimately made the decision to shelve One of the Lonely Ones.
Now 46 years later, the world will get to hear One of the Lonely Ones, an album featuring full band, choir and orchestra, with Roy Orbison sounding his strongest. The album does not contain demos, outtakes or alternate versions of previously released songs. One of these tracks has recently gained a lot of attention in the U.K.—Roy’s cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a tribute to his friends Gerry and the Pacemakers, who had a hit with it in 1963, and subsequently toured with Roy and the Beatles. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has also been the theme song for Liverpool Football Club and other soccer teams around the world for half a century. A music video for Orbison’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is currently in the works.
Another standout on One of the Lonely Ones is a cover of Don Gibson’s “I Will Always,” a track that was quite literally lost for several decades. Roy’s son Alex Orbison explains, “Roy was picking these deep love songs for his love of Barbara and starting over again. The song was listed as ‘missing,’ and was truly lost for 45 years.
“When we went through all of the source tapes we found ‘I Will Always’ in the middle of seven or eight takes of another song. It seemed like they were not getting the other song perfect so they tried a run-through of ‘I Will Always,’ which they did nail on the very first try, and then they went back to the other song. ‘I Will Always’ was not listed on that reel, so if we had not searched through all the source tapes – about 100 hours of listening – then it likely would have been lost forever.”
Five songs were co-written by Bill Dees (co-writer of “Oh, Pretty Woman” and “It’s Over”). The guitar-heavy “Child Woman, Woman Child,” an ambiguous tale of a man hung up an immature woman, is a little sister of sorts to “Oh, Pretty Woman,” and was the very first track laid down for One of the Lonely Ones. “Sweet Memories,” a Mickey Newbury song Roy had attempted to record two years earlier, but didn’t release it as he felt the earlier version had not been up to par. A lyric video for “Sweet Memories” was recently made using old family photos, many of which have never been seen by the public until now.
One of the Lonely Ones was transferred from the original tape at the famed Blackbird Studio in Nashville, and the tracks were individually mixed by Chuck Turner (whose credits include Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and Marty Stuart) at the Cash Cabin under Alex Orbison’s supervision. Finally, the restored-to-stereo tracks were put in the capable hands of Richard Dodd for mastering.