#818: (Say) You’re My Girl by Roy Orbison
Roy Kelton Orbison was born in Vernon, Texas in 1936. When he turned six his dad gave him a guitar. Both his dad, Orbie Lee, and uncle Charlie Orbison, taught him how to play. Though his family moved to Forth Worth for work at a munitions factory, Roy was sent to live with his grandmother due to a polio outbreak in 1944. That year he wrote his first song “A Vow of Love.” The next year he won a contest on Vernon radio station KVWC and was offered his own radio show on Saturdays. After the war his family reunited and moved to Wink, Texas, where Roy formed his first band, in 1949, called The Wink Westerners.
From 1951 into the mid-50s The Wink Westerners appeared with Roy Orbison on KERB in Kermit, Texas. The band performed at school assemblies and country jamborees sponsored by KERB. In 1953 they played at an International Lions Club Convention in Chicago. After high school, Roy Orbison met two friends in college named Wade Lee Moore and Dick Penner. They’d written a song called “The Ooby Dooby.” The Wink Westerners began to include the song in their performances, including on a TV show on KMID in Midland, which won them a half hour Friday night slot on KMID.
With the advent of Rock and Roll, the Wink Westerners renamed themselves The Teen Kings. In addition to the TV show on KMID, TV station KOSA in Odessa, Texas, gave them a half hour slot on Saturday afternoons. The CBS affiliate also had Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley guest star on Roy Orbison’s KOSA TV show. Johnny Cash got Orbison in touch with Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis. Orbison called Phillips who hung up the phone saying, “Johnny Cash doesn’t run my record company.”
Orbison had been approached by owners of Je-Wel Records who wanted The Teen Kings to make a record. The session took place in early March, 1956. This time, Roy and The Teen Kings, recorded The Clover’s “Trying to Get to You” and “Ooby Dooby.” The single was released March 19, 1956. That same day, Orbison took a copy to Cecil “Poppa” Hollifield in Odessa. He was a well-know record dealer in West Texas. “Poppa” Hollifield liked the record and played it on the phone to one of his connections in Memphis. The guy on the other side of the line asked him to send him a copy. His name was Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records. A few days later “Poppa” telephoned Roy to say that Phillips wanted the Teen Kings in Memphis in three days to record for Sun Records. Roy Orbison and the Teen Kings arrived in Memphis on Monday, March 26, 1956. The next day they re-recorded “Ooby Dooby.” Bob Neal, owner of Starts Inc., signed the group to a booking and management contract. They kicked off with an experimental tour of Southern drive-in movies theaters, performing on the projection house roofs between film showings. Most of the time touring with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Warren Smith, Sonny Burgess, Faron Young, Johnny Horton and then Jerry Lee Lewis and other Country and Rockabilly stars. “Ooby Dooby” peaked at #59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in Vancouver. However, follow-up singles failed to chart. The Teen Kings split up in December 1956 and Orbison stayed at Sun until 1958.
In March 1958, Roy Orbison was offered a spot on an Everly Brothers show in Hammond, Indiana. The Everlys needed a song for their new single and they asked Roy if he had anything. He sang his new composition “Claudette” and they asked him to write the words down. So he did, on the top of a shoebox. Soon Orbison was signed to Acuff-Rose Music Publishing in Nashville, and he also got a contract with RCA Victor where he briefly worked with Chet Atkins. The Everly’s “Claudette” was the B-side of “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” The A side went to #1 while “Claudette” climbed to #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to #1 in Vancouver. Orbison had more of his songs recorded by Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ricky Nelson and Cliff Richard.
By the fall of 1959 Orbison got a new record contract with Monument Records. They released “Uptown” which had strings as opposed to fiddles, which were not very common in Nashville. It was Orbison’s biggest hit since “Ooby Dooby.” But his next release was a smash hit. “Only The Lonely” Climbed to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, #2 in Vancouver and #1 in the UK. His follow-up single, “Blue Angel,” gave Orbison his first #1 hit in Vancouver, while peaking at #9 in the USA and #11 in the UK.
Orbison had another #1 hit in April 1961 here in Vancouver and in the USA with “Running Scared.” The song debuted at #11 on CKWX and #9 on CFUN. It climbed to #1 on April 15, 1961, on CKWX topping the charts for three weeks. The songs’ production and the performance were unusual for the time, as Monument Records was willing to spend more money on production than many other record labels.
The hits kept on coming for Roy Orbison with “Crying,” “Dream Baby,” “In Dreams” and many other Top 40 singles. Roy Orbison was one of the few hit-makers to hold his ground, increasing his popularity despite the British Invasion. “It’s Over” went #1 in the UK and Ireland in the spring of 1964. His next single that year, “Oh Pretty Woman,” was his biggest all-time hit. Orbison toured Australia with the Beach Boys in 1964 and internationally with the Rolling Stones ’65. While on tour with the Rolling Stones, one of the songs climbing up the pop charts Orbison released was “(Say) You’re My Girl.”
“(Say) You’re My Girl” is a song about a woman who is adored by two best friends. The guy she’s been dating has been cheating on her. This, despite knowing his best friend is in love with his girlfriend. Finally, she dumps the guy who’s cheating on her and she’s finally consented to have a dance with the other guy, her ex-boyfriend’s best friend. The guy she’s dancing with has stars in his eyes and hopes that she’ll never let him go. The song was one of a genre of songs where two buddies both have the hots for the same woman. In this case they are both aware they are attracted to her. A song that resembled “(Say) You’re My Girl” is the Elvis Presley chart-topping hit from 1961, “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame.” In the latter’s case the buddy has kept a secret to himself that he loves his buddy’s girlfriend and that she has recently been in his arms and has fallen in love with him.
The sub-genre which “(Say) You’re My Girl” is lodged is that of the love triangle. Love is often thought of as the domain of a pairing, a couple. Two’s company, three’s a crowd, goes the saying. However, sometimes a third person, a friend or another love interest, can be a catalyst for moving a couple closer together or split them apart. A friend may be the object of desire of one of the parties in the couple, perhaps dissatisfied with communication or sex or power dynamics in the primary relationship. Or a friend who is close to the couple may harbor secret, or open, fondness for someone who is in a relationship. A bridegroom who wishes she was the bride, for example. The undercurrents of nonverbal and, sometimes, verbal communication can create dynamics that lead to a lot of drama. Sometimes a person who had grown bored with their relationship will have an affair to spice up the relationship or to have a reason to have an argument with their primary lover. Not everyone is as “civil” as the guy in “(Say) You’re My Girl” who hangs around his best friend and his best friends girlfriend hoping to have a dance with her. But this friend who is smitten with his best friends girlfriend and is in love with her needs to also sit down and think about what he’s doing. It doesn’t always end up the way this song does where the best friend who is in a relationship cheats on his girlfriend and she leaves him. Often, the couple continue to grow closer and more solid. Having a buddy hanging around who is pining after the girlfriend of his best friend can become very awkward and undermining.
In 1966, Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident. In 1968, tragedy struck again when two of his three children died in a fire that burned down his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee. In the 1980’s Roy Orbison enjoyed a resurgence of interest. A duet of “Crying” with k.d. Lang climbed to #2 nationally on the RPM Canadian singles chart, though only to #35 on CKLG in February 1988. Orbison won a Grammy Award for the duet. Next Orbison sang with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, in a group called the Traveling Wilburys. Their single, “Handle With Care,” climbed to #9 in Vancouver and #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. Roy Orbison died dead at 52 from a heart attack on December 6, 1988. In April, 1989, his posthumous single, “You Got It,” climbed to #6 on CKLG in Vancouver.
In January 2018 it was announced that Roy Orbison will be going on tour again, in hologram form.
January 30, 2018
Cherie Hu, 30 Years After His Death, Roy Orbison Is Going On Tour Again – In Hologram Form, Billboard Magazine, Los Angeles, January 11, 2018
Ethel S. Person, Love Triangles, The Atlantic, Boston, MA, February 1988.
Steve Pond, Roy Orbison’s Triumphs and Tragedies, Rolling Stone, New York, NY, January 26, 1989.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.