Roy Orbison's 75th Celebrated With New Singles Set
Roy Orbison's 75th Celebrated With New Singles Set

The B sides disc is just as interesting as the run of hits, for a number of reasons. Because Orbison wrote so much of his own material with partners Melson and Dees, and because he had such good outside material to draw from, both sides of his singles were generally strong, and Orbison's Monument 45s could be turned over at school dances or suburban basement parties without losing listeners' interest.

Some of the B sides, in fact, were hits themselves, including "Candy Man" (the rocking flip side of "Crying"); "Workin' for the Man," which nearly matched the chart success of 1962's minor hit "Leah"; and the anomaly of "Blue Bayou," one of Orbison's most renowned performances, which didn't match the chart success of its lesser-known "other side," the uptempo 1963 hit "Mean Woman Blues," Orbison's cover of a Ray Charles-style track from Elvis Presley's 1957 "Loving You" soundtrack. (There's some disagreement about which side was in fact the A side: The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits indicates "Mean Woman Blues" was the A and "Blue Bayou" the B, though the latter appears on the A disc of the Monument singles set.)

Ironically, another B side that might've been expected to surpass the A side was the flip to "I'm Hurtin'," which only made it to No. 27 at the end of 1960. That B side: an orchestrated version of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You"-two years before Charles changed the course of music with his version in 1962, which was a multiweek chart-topper on the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts. And consider "Love Hurts." The composition by Boudleaux Bryant had its greatest chart success not with Bryant's protégés, the Everly Brothers, who cut it themselves in 1960, or by Orbison, for which it was the B side of "Running Scared." Instead, Nazareth's power-ballad version went to No. 8 on the Hot 100 in 1976.

Barbara Orbison is particularly excited that "The Monument Singles Collection" has been released in the mono sound of the original 45s. "The mono tracks, those are the tracks that Roy signed off on," and have the organic feel of the studio recordings, she says. The stereo tracks, she notes, were retouched by technology.

"We always used stereo mixes in the CD era," says John Jackson, VP of A&R and content development for Legacy Recordings. "Barbara wanted to make sure we had all the right [Monument] label logos and the mono mixes as they came out on the 45s.

"This was really Barbara Orbison's vision," Jackson continues. "She wanted to expose the fact that those were actual singles, that's how the history happened. She wanted to celebrate Monument as a label, and Fred Foster, who developed Roy from a Sun Records guy to an international superstar."

Tracking down the original mono recordings was a job for the set's producer, longtime reissues and catalog specialist Gregg Geller.

"This music hasn't been released in its monophonic state since it was first released in the early and mid-1960s," Geller says. During Orbison's Monument years, singles were released in mono and albums in mono and stereo, as it was for almost every artist. By the late '60s, Geller says, "mono was discontinued, so from that time on, we only used stereo tapes."

It's a bit ironic that after nearly 50 years and a constant evolution from mono to stereo, analog to digital, vinyl to tape to CD to MP3, the craving for authenticity and historical accuracy has brought music back to mono.

"I'm constantly impressed with the quality of the Monument recordings, which largely has to be attributed to Bill Porter, the engineer on those sessions," Geller says. In addition, the sustained musical quality of all of Orbison's sides made it likely that unlike some early-'60s hit releases, it wasn't always predetermined which recording was going to be the A side.

"You cut the best possible record you could make with each song, then you can decide which one it was going to be," Geller says. Most B sides and album filler tracks of the era were recorded based on keeping specific music publishers happy, but in the case of Orbison, covering Gibson and Bryant for his B sides showcased how good his own writing was.

Sony-which has previously staged catalog campaigns for major artists including Presley, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis and Billy Joel-will release a disc of the A-side singles exclusively through Walmart. Recognizing that the "Monument Singles Collection" is the heart of the 75th-birthday campaign promoting Orbison's legacy, the label is also preparing a radio show targeting triple A, Americana and noncommercial outlets, Jackson says, "ready-made for a holiday weekend."