About the song
Welcome to my blog, where I share my passion for music and its history. Today, I want to talk about one of the most iconic songs of the 1960s: **Oh, Pretty Woman** by Roy Orbison.
Roy Orbison was a singer-songwriter who had a distinctive voice and a unique style of rock and roll. He was known for his emotional ballads, his dark sunglasses and his trademark falsetto. He had many hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such as “Only the Lonely”, “Crying” and “In Dreams”.
But his biggest hit was “Oh, Pretty Woman”, which he co-wrote with his friend Bill Dees. The song was inspired by Orbison’s wife, Claudette, who interrupted a conversation to announce she was going out. When Orbison asked if she had enough cash, Dees joked, “A pretty woman never needs any money.”
The song was recorded on August 1, 1964 at Fred Foster Sound Studio in Nashville, Tennessee. There were four guitar players at the session: Orbison, Billy Sanford, Jerry Kennedy and Wayne Moss. Sanford played the famous intro riff, which he improvised on the spot. Other musicians included Floyd Cramer on piano, Henry Strzelecki on bass, Boots Randolph and Charlie McCoy on saxophones, Buddy Harman on drums and Paul Garrison on percussion. Dees sang high harmony with Orbison. The recording engineer was Bill Porter.
The song was released as a single on August 15, 1964 on Monument Records. It was an instant success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks from September 26, 1964. It was also Orbison’s third and final number one in the UK Singles Chart. The song sold over seven million copies worldwide and was certified gold by the RIAA in October 1964. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock and Roll Recording in 1965.
The song is a classic example of Orbison’s power pop style, with a catchy melody, a driving beat and a dramatic climax. The lyrics tell the story of a man who sees a beautiful woman walking down the street and tries to get her attention. He praises her looks and asks her to join him. He is unsure if she is lonely or taken, but he hopes she will give him a chance.
The song has been covered by many artists over the years, such as Van Halen, Al Green, John Mellencamp and Westlife. It was also used for the title of the 1990 film Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and the 2018 Broadway musical Pretty Woman: The Musical. The song also played an important role in a landmark legal case involving parody and fair use. In 1989, rap group 2 Live Crew recorded a parody version of the song called “Pretty Woman”, which used the same melody but changed the lyrics to be sexually explicit and humorous. The song’s publisher, Acuff-Rose Music, sued 2 Live Crew for copyright infringement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in favor of 2 Live Crew in 1994, stating that parody was a valid form of fair use and that it did not harm the original work’s market value.
“Oh, Pretty Woman” is one of the most memorable songs of Roy Orbison’s career and of rock and roll history. It showcases his talent as a singer and a songwriter, as well as his influence on pop culture. It is a song that celebrates beauty, romance and hope.