“The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964)” collects 39 Orbison tunes on two discs (A-sides and B-sides, naturally) and includes a 25-minute DVD of a performance in Holland.
Orbison was a master of the 2:20 pop song, as only four of these tunes break the three-minute mark (and “Mama” is 3:01, which barely counts). Many radio staples are here: “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Uptown,” “Only the Lonely” and “Crying” will be instantly familiar to almost anyone.
But the joy of this collection lies in the lesser-known A-sides and the obscure B-sides, many of which are just as enjoyable as his major hits. In the A-sides, the excellent “Lana” has a fuzzed-out bass guitar line leading the way instead of his trademark guitar, which is surprising and way ahead of its time. “Working for the Man” has great vocal melodies for Orbison and his back-up singers. The swooning background vocals and great horn section of “Paper Boy” support his incredible, distinctive voice.
The B-sides are a bit stranger in lyrical and musical content, and often not as effective. “Shahdaroba” attempts to incorporate Middle Eastern sounds, and the result somewhat sounds like a ‘50s movie musical. “Indian Wedding” tries the same thing for flutes and a rumbling tom to appropriate Native American music in what is easily the strangest offering on the two-disc set. On the other hand, “Leah,” Orbison’s take on beach music, isn’t that bad.
The thing that ties all these odd experiments together is his unique, powerful-yet-fragile voice and his love for dramatic, memorable choruses. Those threads run through both discs, and from 1960 to now: If you like melodies, this stuff is timeless. You’ll hear past the vintage idiosyncrasies (strings everywhere!) and both the songs and his voice for the once-in-a-blue-moon talents they are. The A-sides are an excellent place to begin if you’ve never heard much Orbison; the B-sides will interest you if you’re more familiar with his work.
The DVD, however, is not as interesting. Orbison was famed for standing stock-still when he performed, and this is true of the performance captured in these grainy, black-and-white vignettes. The camera crew tries to get around this by taking shots of the band (not much motion there, either), the audience (ditto) and even Orbison’s back. Toward the end of “It’s Over,” the cameraman catches a dude yawning. But you can see some pretty sweet early ‘60s hairdos.
“The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964)” chronicles the height of Orbison’s career, as the torch was passed to The Beatles around 1965 (which corresponded with a label change for Orbison, to MGM). The works of that era certainly show why he’s still getting re-released. —Stephen Carradini