#124: Blue Angel by Roy Orbison
Peak Month: September-October 1960
9 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN Chart
CFUN Twin Pick Hit ~ September 3, 1960
Peak Position #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #9
Peak Position on Cashbox Singles Chart ~ #13
YouTube.com: “Blue Angel”
Lyrics: “Blue Angel”
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 and the Teen Kings began to perform “Ooby Dooby” at gigs around Texas.
Orbison sent the demo of “Ooby Dooby” in late 1955 to Columbia Records, but they weren’t interested. So Orbison offered but the song to a Denton band called Sid King and the Five Strings. They recorded “Ooby Dooby” on March 5, 1956, at a studio in Dallas. Then Orbison got a break and recorded the song at Sun Records later that month.
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” along with “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”. But the band’s follow-up singles failed to chart. The Teen Kings split up in December 1956 and Orbison stayed at Sun until 1958, with all six followup singles commercial flops.
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 was “Blue Angel”.
“Blue Angel” was cowritten by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. In 1935, Joe Melson was born, and was raised on a farm in northeast Texas. In his late teens Joe was lead guitarist and lead vocalist for a rockabilly band called The Cavaliers. Melson and Orbison met in Midland, Texas, in 1959. Roy Orbison and Joe Melson co-wrote Orbison’s hits “Only The Lonely”, “Blue Angel”, “I’m Hurting’”, “Running Scared”, “Crying”, “The Crowd”, “The Actress”, “Leah”, “Lana” and “Blue Bayou”. They duo co-wrote “Memories Of Maria” which was recorded by Hawaiian guitar player Jerry Byrd. They also wrote “Come Back To Me My Love” for Roy Orbison, which became a minor hit for Mark Dinning.
Joe Melson also recorded seven singles with Hickory Records between 1960 and 1963. He switched labels to EMP there he released two more singles in 1965. Though some of these discs got a spin by a few DJ’s across the USA, none of them were commercially successful. Over the past five decades Joe Melson has appeared in concert at rockabilly and nostalgia festivals. In 2002 Melson was inducted into the International Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame. Melson’s most recent single release was in 2014 with Australian recording artist Damien Leith.
Blue Angel” is a song about a female whose man in her life “said goodbye.” She’s learning that “love’s precious flame can burn in vain.” It also seems she wasn’t keeping her eye on the prize, as she “thought love was a game.” However, there is another male friend in her life whose watched her relationship unravel. He steps up and tells her if she goes steady with him “I’ll never say goodbye….If you just say your mine, I’ll love you ’til the end of time….I’ll lever let you down. I’ll always be around.”
In the early rock era there were plenty of songs with the word “angel” in song titles and song lyrics. This includes “Angel Baby” by Rosie and the Originals, “Fools Rush In (where Angels Fear to Tread)” by Brook Benton, “Devil Or Angel” by Bobby Vee, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning, “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” by Curtis Lee, “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares, “Rockin’ Little Angel” by Ray Smith, “Letter To An Angel” by Jimmy Clanton, “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, and “My Special Angel” by Bobby Helms.
“Blue Angel” also draws on doo-wop nonsense lyrics as an intro and bridge throughout the song:
Sha la la, dooby wah
Dum dum dum, yeh yeh, um
Sha la la, dooby wah
Dum dum dum, yeh yeh um
Other singles with nonsense lyrics from the early rock era include:
- The Chords “Sh-Boom” from 1954: “Day dong da ding-dong, a-lang-da-lang-da-lang. Ah, whoa, whoa, bip, Ah bi-ba-do-da-dip, whoa.”
- The Cues “Why” from 1956: “Doot-dat, doot-dat-a-lat. Doot-dat, doot-dat-a-lat.”
- The Five Satins “In The Still Of The Nite” from 1956: “Sho-dot-in-sho-be-doe.”
- Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby” from 1957.
- Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” from 1956: “De-dom-ah-de-dom-ah-de-dom-ah-de-do-dah. Ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, why do fools fall in love.”
- The Del Vikings “Come Go With Me” from 1957: “Dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-de-doo-be. Dom-dom-dom- dom-dom-dom-de-doo-be. Dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-be-doo-be. Dom Woa-woa-woa-woah.”
- The Silhouettes “Get A Job” from 1958: “Sha na na na, Sha na na na na…”
- The Elegants “Little Star” from 1958: “Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh, ratta ta tata too-ooh-ooh. Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh, ratta ta tata too-ooh-ooh.”
- The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You” from 1959: “Sha bop sha bop.”
- Little Anthony & The Imperials “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” from 1959
- The Flairs/Redwoods “Shake Shake Sherry” from 1961
- John D. Loudermilk’s “Language Of Love” from 1961
- The Coaster’s “Little Egypt” from 1961
- Joannie Sommer’s “Piano Boy” from 1961
- Ike Clanton’s “Sugar Plum” from 1962
- “Blue Moon” by the Marcels from 1961 and many, many more.
“Blue Angel” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Erie (PA), Vancouver (WA), Seattle, #2 in Manchester (NH), #3 in Cleveland, and Davenport (IA), #4 in San Francisco, #5 in Hartford (CT), Spokane (WA), Ottawa (ON), and Salem (OR), #6 in Portland (OR), Albany (NY), Denver, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and La Crosse (WI), #7 in New Haven (CT), Oxnard (CA), Duluth (MN), Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Springfield (MA), #8 in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee (WI), #9 in Corpus Christi (TX), Wichita (KS), Saint Charles (MO), and Montreal, and #10 in Phoenix.
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 “Love Hurts“, “Crying”, “Dream Baby”, “In Dreams”, “Candy Man” and many other Top 40 singles. Among these was “The Actress”.
On October 27, 1963, Roy Orbison appeared for his first time in concert in Vancouver at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In 1964, Roy Orbison topped the charts in the USA and Vancouver with “Oh, Pretty Woman”. He also had a Top Ten hit with “It’s Over” in the spring of ’64. On November 28, 1965, Roy Orbison returned to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
In June 1966, Orbison’s wife, Claudette, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Tennessee. Orbison had released ten singles since “Oh Pretty Woman” topped the pop charts. But only two of these had cracked the Top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100, with “Goodnight” charting best to peak at #21. His final single release in 1966 was “Communication Breakdown”. In 1968, tragedy struck again when two of his three children died in a fire that burned down his house in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
On June 13, 1976, Roy Orbison returned to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in concert.
In the 1980’s Roy Orbison enjoyed a resurgence of interest. He regularly performed in concert in Vancouver throughout the decade. On June 25, 1981, Orbison gave a concert at the Orpheum. The following January 17th, 1982, he was in concert at The Cave. Three years later he appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on June 22, 1984. During Vancouver’s centennial anniversary in 1986, Orbison was at the Expo Theatre on August 10th. And on September 3, 1987, he returned to the Orpheum. His ninth and final concert was at the Expo Theatre on May 28, 1988.
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. Two days prior, he gave his last interview and discussed the buzz at the time that Martin Sheen might play Orbison in a biopic about his life. In April, 1989, Roy Orbison’s 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. On November 23, 2018, a vinyl double album titled Unchained Melodies: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be released. It includes “Falling” as one of its tracks. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has previously released three albums featuring songs by Elvis Presley. And in 2017 there was a release of the album titled A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It featured “Love Hurts”, “Oh, Pretty Woman”, and others.
August 24, 2022
Cherie Hu, “30 Years After His Death, Roy Orbison Is Going On Tour Again – In Hologram Form,” Billboard, Los Angeles, January 11, 2018
Steve Pond, “Roy Orbison’s Triumphs and Tragedies,” Rolling Stone, January 26, 1989.
Unchained Melodies: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sony Music, November 23, 2018.
A Love So Beautiful: Roy Orbison & The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sony Music, November 3, 2017.
Tony Weber, “Roy Orbison Interview,” Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, December 4, 1988.
“Roy Orbison Concerts – Canada,” Setlist.fm.
“Who Has Performed Joe’s Songs?,” Joemelson.com.
“C-FUN-Tastic 50,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, October 1960.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.
I saw Roy Orbison in Cloverdale in 1962. I still have the poster somewhere.
Roy also played for the re-opening of the renovated Soft Rock Cafe on West 4th in 1983. The Gary Stephen’s band (of which I was a member) opened for Roy.