(Oh) Pretty Woman

Album: Greatest Hits (1964)
Charted: 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 two months later Claudette was killed when the motorcycle she was riding was hit by a truck. Orbison faced tragedy again when his two 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. When the film was shot, its working title was 3000; the song was added later and became the title.

    Other movies that have used this song include 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. 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. On March 7 1994, the Court ruled that 2 Live Crew's parody did not violate federal copyright laws, clarifying that parody constitutes fair use under certain circumstances. A key to the decision is the judgment that 2 Live Crew did not harm the market value of Orbison's original with their parody - in other words, nobody was rejecting "(Oh) Pretty Woman" because they could get the 2 Live Crew song instead.

    To this point, parody artists either took great care to avoid using copyrighted songs (by writing original backing music or sticking with songs in the public domain) or got permission from the publishers before doing their parodies. "Weird" Al Yankovic, who had been doing parodies for 15 years by this point, always got permission from publishers when needed, and even asked the artists if they were OK with his send-ups before releasing them. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    David - Akron, OH

Comments: 29

  • Graeme from ScotlandWhere was the original video for Pretty Woman filmed?
  • Aj from TorontoA great track to show Orbison's acumen on guitar. There are many stories of him writing this song while touring with the Beatles. John Lennon would later write Day Tripper, and if you compare the riffs and chord progressions, they are quite similar.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaLoved loved the drums on the opening. Grabbed my ears right away. Thanks Buddy and Paul. MERCY
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 4th 1988, Roy Orbison appeared in concert for the last time when he performed at the Front Row Theater in Highland Heights, Ohio...
    Sadly, two days later on December 6th, 1988 The Big 'O' would pass away at the young age of 52...
    The last song he performed in his fifteen song set was "Running Scared"...
    Between 1959 and 1989, as a solo artist, he had thirty Top 100 records; nine made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, "Running Scared" for 1 week in 1961 and "Oh, Pretty Woman" for 3 weeks in 1964...
    He made the Top 100 three more times as a member of a duo and a group; in 1980 with Emmylou Harris, "That Lovin' You Feelin' Again" {#55} and then with the Traveling Wilburys, "Handle with Care" {#45 in 1988} and "End of the Line" {#63 in 1989}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 14th 1964, Roy Orbison performed "Oh, Pretty Woman" on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!'...
    Three days earlier and three-thousand miles to the east he performed the song on CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in N.Y.C.
    {See the next post below}...
    R.I.P. Jimmy O'Neill {Shindig's host, 1940 -2013} and Mr. Sullivan {1901 - 1974}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 11th 1964, Roy Orbison performed "Oh, Pretty Woman" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    At the time the song was at #3 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; three weeks earlier on September 20th, 1964 it peaked at #1 {for 3 weeks}...
    {See the next post below}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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).
  • Malyssa from Bullhead, AzMy 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."
  • Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaI just loved the drum accompaniment that goes tik....tik...tik...
  • Angus from Largs, United KingdomOver 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.
  • Patrick from Torrance, Ca, CaThis 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.
  • John from Grand Island, NyIf 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.
  • Duck from Jacksonville, FlIn 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
  • Brad from Archer Lodge, NcThis 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!!!
  • Terry from Willmar, MnOnce 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".
  • Scott from Boston, MaThis 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?
  • Mandar from Pue, IndiaBeautyful Song. Close your eys & feel. Mandy
  • Andrew from Upland, CaRoy 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?
  • Christina from Nunda, SdThis is a funny song. I would have never be tis clever to come up with a song like this.
  • Maria from Ekaterinburg, OtherRockapella covered "Oh, pretty woman" too("Rockapella: Live in Japan", 2004). I think it's fantastic, very funny.
  • Greg from Victoria, CanadaOh 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!
  • Joey from Nowhere Land, CaWeren't The Beatles touring with Roy when he wrote this?
  • Sum Sum from New DelhiI liked the way it was featured in the movie "Pretty woman".
  • Carlyle from Clinton, Okfred 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 writer
  • Dawson from Draper, UtDerr C.J.
  • Dave from Phoenix, AzIn 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.
  • Mike from Berkeley, CaThis 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".
  • Tom from Trowbridge, EnglandCheck out Van Halen's cover of this; it's mind-blowing!
  • Cj from Cincinnati, OhThe title of this song is "Oh, Pretty Woman"
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