Roy Orbison

Only the Lonely

Composed by Joe Melson / Roy Orbison

Song Review by

Other than "Oh, Pretty Woman," "Only the Lonely" is Roy Orbison's most famous and successful song. It is also the song that, more than any other, defined his career. When Orbison recorded "Only the Lonely" in 1960, he had only a couple of very moderate hits, and some moderate success as a songwriter, to show for about five years in the business. "Only the Lonely" changed all that, not just because it shot to number two, but also because it defined his image and musical identity. Prior to the song, Orbison had been typecast as an also-ran rockabilly singer at Sun Records. Although he wasn't a bad rockabilly act, "Only the Lonely" played to his true strengths: an operatic, pain-stricken pop/rock balladeer, a master of odes to heartbreak and maintaining dignitiy while fighting largely losing battles. The record screamed hit from its first few bars: a team of vocalists gently crooning "dum dum dum, dum-be-doo-wah" and other such syllables to an instantly memorable bittersweet melody, ending by singing the title phrase. That was the cue for a pause and Orbison to enter with his sorrowful yet strong tones, the backup vocalists continuing to act as a Greek chorus of sorts to his lines throughout the verse. The melody and phrasing got especially dramatic in the latter parts of the verses, as the backing arrangement kept dramatically pausing after three rapid bows of the violin in a row, leaving Orbison to muse alone, his range gradually ascending to Caruso territory. As the track progressed, it added symphonic violins that were quite advanced for a 1960 pop/rock production, the strings sometimes swooping in different ways as ripostes to various lines in Orbison's lyric. Roy hit a particularly glass-shattering note at a pause in the last verse, unveiling the full extent of his astonishing upper range. "Only the Lonely" is a great tune and a great production, but much of what puts it over is Orbison's attitude: he may be in wrenching misery, but that's not going to keep him from taking chances on romance in the future. Chris Isaak, who was probably more influenced by early-'60s stars such as Orbison and Ricky Nelson than any other late-20th century rock star, covered "Only the Lonely" on his Baja Sessions album.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Sings Lonely and Blue 1960 Master Sound/Legacy 2:25
Crying 1962 Sony Music Entertainment 2:26
In Dreams: Greatest Hits 1963 Legacy / Sony Legacy 2:29
No Image 1966 2:24
No Image 1967 Monument Records 2:24
The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison, Vols. 1-2 1976 Monument Records 2:30
The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison, Vol. 1 1978 Monument Records 2:28
Golden Days 1981 Sony BMG
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: 1960 1987
Various Artists
No Image 1988
Various Artists
No Image 1988 Sony BMG 2:28
Black & White Night 1989 Demon Records / Orbison Records 2:43
Only the Lonely 1989 Lt Series 2:47
No Image 1990
Various Artists
Teal Trutone 2:25
The Rock 'N' Roll Era: Roy Orbison 1960-1965 1991 2:28
Love Songs [Sound Solutions] 1992 Virgin / EMI Music Distribution 2:30
Schmuse Songs, Vol. 2 1992
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
No Image 1992
Various Artists
Rock 'N' Roll Love Songs [Dino] 1993
Various Artists
Dino Entertainment 2:28
Sings Lonely and Blue/Crying 1993 Sony Music Distribution 2:26
Monument Story 1994
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:26
Radio Gold, Vol. 3 1995
Various Artists
Ace 2:28
Hits You Remember [1989] 1995 BCI-Eclipse Distribution / Eclipse Music Group 2:24
Super Hits 1995 Sony Music Distribution / Sbme Special Mkts. 2:27
In Concert 1996 X5 Music Group 2:45
Oh! Pretty Woman: Greatest Hits 1996 Remember Records 2:47
Gold Collection 1996 TriStar Music 2:23
Ultimate Collection 1996 Sony Music Distribution
Very Best of Roy Orbison [Virgin 1996] 1996 Virgin
Live, Vol. 1 1997 Public Music 2:49
The All Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison [DCC] 1997 Monument Records 2:26
Whole Lotta Rock: 1960-1961 1997
Various Artists
BCI-Eclipse Distribution
Rock 'N Roll Relix: 1960-1969 1997
Various Artists
Eclipse Music Group 2:29
The Best Crooners Album in the World...Ever! 1997
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution
Combo Concert: 1965 Holland 1998 Orbison Records 2:36
Live 1998 Mastertone 2:27
Oh Pretty Woman: The Greatest Hits 1998 Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:26
16 Biggest Hits 1999 Monument/Legacy 2:26
Greatest Hits of the 60s, Vol. 1 [Platinum Disc #1] 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:26
Anthology 1999 Eagle Records / Orbison Records 2:37
Star Power: Best of Roy Orbison 1999 Bellaphon Records
Roy Orbison: Authorized Bootleg Collection 1999 Orbison Records 3:22
In Dreams [Video] 1999 White Star
The Great Roy Orbison, Vol. 1: Original Hits 2000 Platinum Disc 2:27
Roy, Gene & Dion 2000 WEA International 2:26
20 Golden Hits 2000 Teevee Records 2:27
Greatest R&R Love Songs 2000
Various Artists
EMI 2:24
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Realm Records 2:28
Rock Hits of the 60's 2001
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:28
It's Over 2001 Golden Stars 2:45
This Is 2001 Back Biter 2:26
Live at Austin City Limits 2001 Orbison Records 3:01
Gold 2001 Essential Collection (Netherlands) 2:28
The Big O: The Original Singles Collection 2001 Monument Records 2:27
Orbison 2001 Bear Family Records 2:29
Live in Alabama 2001 Eagle Records 2:28
A Year in Your Life: 1960, Vol. 2 2001
Various Artists
Definitive 2:27
The Love Album 2002 EMI Music Distribution 2:29
Oh Pretty Woman [Collectables] 2002 Collectables 2:27
Monumental Hits [Collectables] 2002 Collectables 2:25
50 All Time Greatest Hits 2002 Collectables 2:25
Big Hits from the Big "O" 2002 Balboa Recording Corporation 2:28
The Best of Roy Orbison [EMI] 2003 CEMA Special Markets / EMI-Capitol Special Markets 2:28
Capital Gold: Rock & Roll Legends 2003
Various Artists
Phantom Import Distribution
Oh Pretty Woman/I Like Love 2003 Dynamic 2:44
Oh Pretty Woman [Goldies Box Set] 2004 Goldies 2:45
Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll: 1954-1963 2004
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:25
Sweets for Sweden: The Very Best of Roy Orbison 2004 Virgin
In Dreams: Live 2004 Castle Pulse 2:37
Platinum Collection 2004 Virgin 2:31
No Image 2004 Sony Music Distribution 2:30
Hits! Hits! Hits! 2004 Orbison Records 2:28
No Image 2004
Various Artists
Solo lo Mejor de Roy Orbison 2005 Music Brokers 2:23
Live from Australia [DVD] 2005 Image Entertainment
Devil Doll 2005 Rajon Entertainment Pty Ltd. 2:40
Elvis and Friends [Daily Mail] 2005
Various Artists
Daily Mail 2:28
Ultimate Love [Disky] 2006
Various Artists
Music Club / Music Club Records / Musicclub
Magical Memories for Mum 2006
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Only the Lonely 2006 Not Now Music
The Essential Roy Orbison 2006 Legacy 2:26
Collection [Brilliant] 2006 Brilliant / Joan 2:39
Forever Roy Orbison [3 Disc] 2006 Madacy 2:27
Ultimate Roots of Rock and Roll 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 2:27
In Dreams: The Greatest Hits [Musical Memories] 2006 Musical Memories
The Very Best of Roy Orbison [Sony/BMG Australia] 2006 Legacy / Sony BMG / Sony Music 2:26
The Collection [Crimson] 2007 Crimson Productions
Roots of Rock 'N' Roll, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Play 24-7 2:26
In Dreams [Sony DVD] 2007 Sony BMG 2:28
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Hit Club
Black & White Night/Crying 2007 BMG 2:59
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
The Legend Lives On 2007 Immortal
Peace And Love [Madacy] 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 2:28
Playlist: The Very Best of Roy Orbison 2008 Legacy 2:25
Music Ages 2008 Music Ages / Proper 2:24
No Image 2008 Legacy Recordings / Monument Records / Orbison Records / Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 2:26
Gold Tin Box Collection: Greatest Love Songs 2008
Various Artists
sbc / Sony Music Entertainment 2:26
The Best of the Soul of Rock and Roll 2008 Sony BMG / Monument Records 2:26
Purely Roy Orbison 2008 Impact 2:27
Summer Holiday: 40 Summer Classics from Yesteryear 2009
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:26
The Last Concert: December 4th, 1988 2010 Legacy / Sony Legacy 4:31
No Image 2010 Fourmatt 2:27
1960 British Hit Parade: Britain's Greatest Hits, Vol. 9, Pt. 2 2011
Various Artists
Acrobat / Acrobat Music 2:27
Greatest Hits of 1960 2011
Various Artists
Great Voices of the Century 2:28
Hit Parade 1960 2011
Various Artists
Dynamic / dynamic records 2:26
100 Greatest 50s & 60s Hits 2011
Various Artists
Audiosonic 2:31
Only the Lonely [Music On Vinyl] 2011 Music on Vinyl
The Monument Singles: A-Sides (1960-1964) 2011 Monument Records / Sony Music Distribution
The Cruisin' Story 1955-1960 2011
Various Artists
Not Now Music 2:26
Lemon Popsicles and Strawberry Milkshakes [10 Disc Box Set] 2011
Various Artists
Go Entertainment 2:26
Running Scared 2011 AP 2:28
Opus Collection 2011 Starbucks
The Hits of the 60s [DST] 2012
Various Artists
Dst / Music & Melody 2:25
My Kind of Music: Here Come the 60s! 2012
Various Artists
USM Media
The  Roots of U2 2012
Various Artists
Complete Blues / Complete Roots / Snapper / Snapper UK 2:23
3/60: Rock 'n' Roll Jukebox 2012
Various Artists
Simply Rock 'n' Roll [2012] 2012
Various Artists
The Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame - Roy Orbison 2012 DLG Digital 2:26
America's Greatest Hits, Vol. 11: 1960 2012
Various Artists
Acrobat 2:26
Saturday Night Party: Rock 'n' Roll Party, Vol. 2 2012
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing 2:27
Blue Angel [Excalibur] 2013 Excalibur 2:21
The Absolutely Essential Collection 2013 Proper
Lemon Popsicles and Strawberry Milkshakes: Shakin' All Over 2013
Various Artists
Go / Go Entertainment 2:29
Crooners Romantiques 2013
Various Artists
Last Call 2:38
American Heartbeat 1960 2013
Various Artists
One Day Music 2:26
The Greatest Ever... Love Songs [Bellevue] 2014
Various Artists
Bellevue / Wienerworld 2:29
100 Rock n Roll Hits: Jukebox Classics 2014
Various Artists
4:Squared 2:24
The  Best Rock n Roll Album in the World… Ever! 2014
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:27
The Broons Jukebox Favourites 2014
Various Artists
Music Kitchen 2:26
No Image 2014
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:24
101 Hits from the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame
Various Artists
DLG Digital 2:26
1950's & 1960's Golden Memories
Various Artists
Play 24-7 2:27
1960: A Time To Remember The Classic Years
Various Artists
Tabak 2:28
300 Hits: Saturday Night Party
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing / Wienerworld 2:27
All Time Greatest Hits Skyline 2:28
American Classic Oldies, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Cherished Records 2:26
American Sounds of the 60's, Vol. 1
Various Artists
K-Tel 2:28
Best Loved/Golden/Super Sony Music Distribution
Bob Dylan Cover To Cover: The Originals, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Music Melon 2:26
De Pre Historie: 1960, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Eva 2:24
Decade of Hits: The 60's
Various Artists
Dynamic / Dynamic Nostalgia
Definitive Collection [2 Disc] Phantom
Dream Baby: 48 Classic Hits AP 2:26
Fab Hits, Vol. 5
Various Artists
Sound and Vision 2:23
For Ever Gold, Vol. 8
Various Artists
Eagle Records
Golden International Evergreens
Various Artists
Golden Oldies Hit Series, Vol. 4
Various Artists
Forever Classic Hits 2:59
Golden Tunes
Various Artists
Cherished Records 2:25
No Image Orbison Records 2:31
Oldies Hits A to Z, Vol. 13
Various Artists
Forever Classic Hits 2:59
Only the Lonely [S+V] Sound and Vision 2:23
Only the Lonely [Success] Success
Orbison Over England: The Eighties March 25 1980 the Fiesta Club Stockton Pilot / Pilot 2:38
Orbison Over England: The Seventies October 18 1975 the Queens Theatre Alchemy Entertainment Ltd.
Orbison Over England: The Sixties May 9th 1969 Batley Variety Club Pilot / Pilot 2:48
Popcorn Oldies
Various Artists
ZYX Music 2:25
Pretty Woman: The Best of Roy Orbison [Columbia] Sony Music Distribution 2:24
Sounds of the 60's, Vol. 1
Various Artists
Digilouge 2:25
Sweethearts & Stolen Kisses: Love Songs
Various Artists
The Extended Play Collection, Vol. 51 Cherished Records 2:26
No Image X5 Music Group 2:47
Tragedy: Rock 'N' Roll Heartbreakers
Various Artists
K-Tel 2:29
No Image
Various Artists
Phantom Records (England)
No Image
Various Artists
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