Roy Orbison, a name synonymous with dramatic vocals and deeply emotional ballads, rose to prominence in the early 1960s. While his career saw numerous hits and critical acclaim, his journey began with a song that perfectly encapsulated his signature style: Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel), released in 1960.

Credited to both Orbison himself and songwriter Joe Melson, Only the Lonely marked Orbison’s first major hit. It wasn’t just a successful song; it became a defining moment in his career. The track leans into the Rock and Roll genre, incorporating a driving beat and a prominent electric guitar line. However, Orbison’s signature elements – the soaring vocals and melancholic themes – take center stage. The lyrics delve into the solitary world of a heartbroken lover, their pain conveyed through Orbison’s powerful voice that cracks with raw emotion.

Only the Lonely wasn’t just a hit song; it was a critical darling. Described by The New York Times as expressing “a clenched, driven urgency,” the song resonated with audiences yearning for a more emotionally vulnerable side of Rock and Roll. Only the Lonely reached number one on the UK charts, staying at the top for two weeks and spending a total of 24 weeks on the singles chart. According to sources, it became the longest charting single of Orbison’s entire career.

Only the Lonely‘s success propelled Orbison into Rock and Roll stardom. It established the core elements of his sound – the dramatic balladry, the powerful vocals, and the exploration of themes like loneliness and longing. This song wasn’t just a debut; it was a declaration. Only the Lonely announced the arrival of a new voice in music, one that would continue to touch the hearts of listeners for decades to come. By analyzing this iconic track, we gain a deeper understanding of Roy Orbison’s artistic vision and the lasting impact he made on popular music.