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.