By the late '60s Roy Orbison's chart career appeared to be stagnating, but in 1969 he recorded this song written by the English songwriter Sammy King, which not only returned him to the UK Top 30 for the first time in three years, but also shot straight to #1 in Australia and New Zealand, outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In the US it peaked at #133.
One-time sales rep Sammy King carved out a successful career as a member of several '60s bands including The Voltaires, who at one time acted as backing group for Cilla Black. As a songwriter he penned several songs for Orbison as well as Malandra Burrows' 1990 hit, "Just This Side of Love."
This very innocent song is about having a good time at the penny arcade, which is an amusement center with coin-operated games. It's quite a contrast to lovelorn songs Orbison is famous for, and it's pretty obvious he didn't write it.
The line "roll up and spend your last dime" is a curious mix of American and British vernacular. "Roll up" is a British saying meaning to get in line (heard in The Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour
"); a dime is American currency. The UK band The Arrows also used a dime for their hit "I Love Rock And Roll
," because "put another sixpenny in the jukebox" would sound awkward.
King told The Yorkshire Evening Post: "The inspiration for the song came to me during a camping holiday with some friends in North Wales in 1969. I was enjoying the final moments of an unbelievable sunset. Within a matter of moments I had the first two lines of a song."
Claims have been made that The Big O did not pay King what was he was due for penning this hit. However the songwriter denied this was the case. He told The Yorkshire Evening Post: "There are a lot of myths about how Roy Orbison swindled me out of the song for a fiver and none of that is true. He was the perfect gentleman and very polite. I can't say it made my fortune because at that time I had to pay a lot of tax on the royalties but I still get them today and it pays for a few little extras for the wife and me. Over and above that, though, it was the prestige which mattered."
Supporters of Scottish Premier League football team Glasgow Rangers have adopted the song as an unofficial anthem. When King re-recorded the song in 2011 as the club's annual charity single, he became one of the oldest artists ever to make their UK chart debut. The 69-year-old saw the song enter the UK singles charts at #47 and #9 in Scotland.