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(Oh) Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison

Album: Greatest HitsReleased: 1964Charted:
1
1
  • Roy Orbison was writing with his songwriting partner Bill Dees at his house when he told Dees to get started writing by playing anything that came to mind. Orbison's wife Claudette came in and said she was going to go into town to buy something. Orbison asked if she needed any money, and Dees cracked, "Pretty woman never needs any money." Inspired, Orbison started singing, "Pretty woman walking down the street." Bill Dees recalls in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh: "He sang it while I was banging my hand down on the table and by the time she returned we had the song. I love the song. From the moment that the rhythm started, I could hear the heels clicking on the pavement, click, click, the pretty woman walking down the street, in a yellow skirt and red shoes. We wrote Oh Pretty Woman on a Friday, the next Friday we recorded it, and the next Friday it was out. It was the fastest thing I ever saw. Actually, the yeah, yeah, yeah in Oh Pretty Woman probably came from The Beatles."

    In the same book Bill Dees recounts how the distinctive growling cry of "Mercy" came about: "I can't do that growl like Roy, but the "Mercy" is mine. I used to say that all the time when I saw a pretty woman or had some good food. Still do."
  • Orbison and his wife Claudette had recently reconciled after some tough times, but as this song was climbing the charts, Roy found out she had been cheating on him and filed for divorce. In 1966, they remarried, but 2 months later Claudette was killed when the motorcycle she was riding was hit by a truck. Orbison faced tragedy again when his 2 oldest sons died in a fire at his home in 1968. He was on tour at the time.
  • This was Orbison's last big hit. His career faded fast, but was revived in the '80s when prominent musicians like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and George Harrison cited him as an influence and invited him to join various projects. He was inducted to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and joined The Traveling Wilburys with Dylan, Tom Petty, Harrison and Jeff Lynne. As he was enjoying this career revival, he died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988 at age 52.
  • With his dark sunglasses and plaintive voice, Orbison gave the impression that he was always longing and sometimes miserable, which was not the case. Speaking with the NME in 1980, he explained what's going on in this song: "There's a ballad in the mid-section of it there: he's very sure of getting the girl when he first sees her, and then he's not so sure, and then he gets desperate, and then he says forget it, and then she comes back. It's quite complicated, but it's probably in the presentation, or if I'm really singing like I know I can and I'm doing the job that I should be doing, then it could be that the voice quality in parts has a melancholy something."
  • This was used in the 1990 movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It also featured in the films Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Au Pair (1999).
  • In 1989, the controversial Rap group 2 Live Crew recorded a parody of this song, using the alternate title "Pretty Woman" for their album Clean As They Wanna Be. The Crew sampled the distinctive bassline, but the romantic lyrics were replaced by talk about a hairy woman and her bald-headed friend and their appeal to the singer. Orbison's publisher, Acuff-Rose Music, sued 2 Live Crew on the basis that the fair use doctrine did not permit reuse of their copyrighted material for profit. The case, Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music, went all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 1994, the Court ruled that 2 Live Crew's parody did not violate federal copyright laws. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France and Graham - Perth, Australia)
  • In 1964, Orbison was the only American artist to have a #1 UK hit, and he did it twice - with "(Oh) Pretty Woman" and "It's Over." (thanks, David - Akron, OH)
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Comments: 23

On June 4th 1966, Roy Orbison performed "Oh, Pretty Woman" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
Two years earlier on August 23rd, 1964 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #51; and on September 20th it peaked at #1 (for 3 weeks) and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 8 of those 15 weeks it was on the Top 10)...
As already stated above it reached #1 (also for 3 weeks) in the UK, and it also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, and Norway...
On the same 'Bandstand' show he also performed "Twinkle Toes", it entered the Top 100 on April 24th, 1966 and peaked at #39 (for 1 week) on May 22nd...
R.I.P. Mr. Orbison (1936 - 1988).
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
My name is Malyssa Tiffin. My whole life growing up I was raised by my grandfather and my grandmother because my real parents were in prison. I am writing this to tell you that as a child my grandpa Darold Brewer always sang to me and played the guitar his favorite song to sing was "Pretty Woman." You wanna know why?? This might sound crazy and no one ever believe it or my grandpa or me when I tell them but I SWEAR on EVERYTHING I LOVE that my grandpa and his brother were the original writers or the song "Pretty Woman."Malyssa - Bullhead, Az
I just loved the drum accompaniment that goes tik....tik...tik...Adrian - Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Over the next few days I hope to show why this song has the best lyric in popular music, not because of what it says but because of what it does not say. e.g The song is about a pretty woman; it's title is Oh, Pretty Woman but the words tell us absolutely nothing about her! The words tell us his story but underneath, between the lines, lies her story, an astounding story of street wisdom which explains why she turned at the end for no apparent reason. But I'll start by claiming that this is one of the very few songs to have all six recognized hooks: great intro, catchy tune, a repeated phrase, interesting story, good rhythm, sound effects. It took me a while to dawn on me that the reason the simple heavy beat seems so special is that it is the beat of his and her walk (2 to a bar), because when he stops and she stops, the beat dies away. Also it took a while to recognize the jungle roar of Orbison as a sound effect. Watch this space.Angus - Largs, United Kingdom
This was NOT Roy's last big hit. He continued touring with success and had several Top 40 US hits from 1964 to 1970 including two Top 25 hits in 1965 (Ride Away and Goodnight). He was at the top of the charts again and won a Grammy in 1980 for his collaboration with Emmylou Harris with "That lovin you feeling again" and of course "You Got It" went to #9 in 1989. Despite the fact the Disco Era took over in the 70's, Roy continued to be hugely successful overseas especially in Australia, England and Belgium. Oh Pretty Woman is without a doubt one of the greatest songs ever written and in my estimation THE greatest song ever sung. Nobody had pipes like Roy.Patrick - Torrance, Ca, Ca
If voices could be in the Smithsonian he would be my choice...might have to settle on the sunglasses however. In any event, one of the greatest voices in music history.John - Grand Island, Ny
In 1964, at the first class reunion of Andrew Jackson high school class of 1959,(Jacksonville, FL.) Roy Orbison sang "pretty woman" at the close of our first reunion dinner dance. One of our alumni, Jimmy Bazzel(now deceased) had a band that played for our dance. Some classmates swear that this actually happened. Roy was not a member of our class. Perhaps he had a friend who was. Can anyone confirm this story. Ajclassof59@aol.Com
Dick Fleming
Duck - Jacksonville, Fl
This song contains probrably the best bridge ever written. Listen closely, particularly to the piano- it's a totally different melody than the rest of the song. The transition back into the final verse is so seamless it's not obvious that the bridge is a totally different melody. Just really proves how great Orbison and Dees were at songwriting. Amazing!!!Brad - Archer Lodge, Nc
Once when Elvis was being interviewed, he was asked, "Elvis, besides yourself, who would you say is America's greatest singer?" Elvis quickly replied, "Roy Orbison".Terry - Willmar, Mn
This is one of the greatest songs of all-time. My dad said that Roy Orbison was one of the only artists he liked growing up in the 60s that his parents actually liked too. How could anyone not like Roy Orbison?Scott - Boston, Ma
Beautyful Song. Close your eys & feel. MandyMandar - Pue, India
Roy Orbsion is not underrated. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Had Two Number One Hits, Is Considered to be one of the best vocalists of all time, and Oh Pretty Woman is one of the most recognized songs in Rock N' Roll history. What else do you want?Andrew - Upland, Ca
This is a funny song. I would have never be tis clever to come up with a song like this.Christina - Nunda, Sd
Rockapella covered "Oh, pretty woman" too("Rockapella: Live in Japan", 2004). I think it's fantastic, very funny.Maria - Ekaterinburg, Other
Oh Pretty Woman...Pretty woman..who cares....The Big O was one of the finest voices ever and underrated. His hook up with the Travelling Willburys made him known to a younger audience but to us older folk he had such a fine voice.I'm glad he was able to make a comeback before he passed away!Greg - Victoria, Canada
Weren't The Beatles touring with Roy when he wrote this?Joey - Nowhere Land, Ca
I liked the way it was featured in the movie "Pretty woman".Sum Sum - New Delhi
fred Foster,Roy's friend and sometimes cowriter helped Roy finish the song Pretty Woman by adding the ending of "whatg's this I see. she's walking back to me" it was a much needed positive note to end the tune and give folks singing along "hope " something wa all need and that often comes from friends like Foster. Carlyle Williams,BMI writerCarlyle - Clinton, Ok
Derr C.J.Dawson - Draper, Ut
In an interview, Roy once said that he wrote this song in 20 minutes. He said the "really great" songs don't take long to write....it's the mediocre ones that take a long time.Dave - Phoenix, Az
This song is a true classic. From the guitar riff: the Beatles tweaked it slightly and wrote "Day Tripper", "Ticket to Ride" and a faster version: "Paperback Writer".Mike - Berkeley, Ca
Check out Van Halen's cover of this; it's mind-blowing!Tom - Trowbridge, England
The title of this song is "Oh, Pretty Woman"Cj - Cincinnati, Oh