image from gpb.org
Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees were writing when Roy’s wife interrupted them to ask for some money to go to the store. Dees shot back that a “pretty woman never needs any money.” RS500 From that, Roy came up with the idea of a man watching a pretty woman walk by and wondering if she might be lonely like him.
The path from inception to release was, as Dees says, “the fastest thing I ever saw.” KL He says they wrote the song on a Friday, recorded it the next Friday, and by the following Friday it was released. KL Chet Atkins called it the “best commercial record I ever heard.” HL
The flirtatious nature of the song was amusingly ironic, depicting Orbison (or at least the song’s protagonist) “as a trolling stud.” MA The image was far better suited to singer David Lee Roth’s machismo when his hard-rock band, Van Halen, took their 1982 cover of the song to #1 on the album rock chart and #12 on the pop charts. Six years later, Orbison died of a heart attack, but as a testament to the song’s timeliness, a version recorded live in September 1987 hit the adult contemporary and country charts in 1989 – twenty five years after the original.
Resources and Related Links:
- the DMDB page for “Oh, Pretty Woman”
- Roy Orbison’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- HL Michael Heatley and Spencer Leigh. (1998). Behind the Song: The Stories of 100 Great Pop & Rock Classics. London, England: Blandford Books. Page 16.
- KL Jon Kutner/Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 103.
- MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 32.
- NRR National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress The Full National Recording Registry
- RS500 Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (12/04).
- WK Wikipedia.org