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The singer Bruce Springsteen called “unearthly”

Bruce Springsteen’s guttural roar is like the throbbing grumble of a greased motorbike engine, but it undoubtedly comes from one place: New Jersey. The star stings with a tangible earthiness and floats with a honeyed sense of nostalgia and reminiscence when he sings. However, there are folks out there – some of which are his heroes – who seem to purr from somewhere a touch more celestial, somewhere implacable and deeply romantic all the same. 

Bob Dylan once said of Roy Orbison, “He could sound mean and nasty on one line and then sing in a falsetto like Frankie Valli in the next. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera.” And it would appear that Springsteen was in agreement with his songwriting hero when it came to the silk and sandpaper tones that Orbison could switch between on a whim. 

In fact, in order to get himself into the right creative headspace for the recording of Born to Run, Springsteen would lay down alone in bed each night and spin Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits (and that is every night). Thankfully, Orbison had enough hits for Springsteen not to get sick and he coaxed him into the right creative space to craft a classic. 

This moment of solitude and escapism was essential for ‘The Boss’ when it came to understanding the nuances to be explored in different kinds of rock ‘n’ roll. As he explained: “Some rock & roll reinforces friendship and community, But for me, Roy’s ballads were always best when you were alone and in the dark. Roy scrapped the idea that you needed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus to have a hit.”

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But they also told a story wherein his voice acted like the prose-style, illuminating the melody with a topline of colour. “His arrangements were complex and operatic, they had rhythm and movement and they addressed the underside of pop romance,” Springsteen explains. Before moving on to the vital brushstroke of his vocals which made a huge impression. “They were scary. His voice was unearthly,” the ‘Boss’ profoundly adds. 

As such, Orbison wove his way onto the record – as he has much of pop culture – in more ways than one. With his voice swirling around his anguished skull at night, Springsteen lifted the curtain on his creative process when he purred the following ‘Thunder Road’ line: “Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / Hey, that’s me and I want you only.”

Even after Born to Run, this impression never left Springsteen who always looked to bring his darkness and light into music. As he once told Rolling Stone, “What made Roy’s music great is that it was so mainstream, but it had a very strange underbelly to it.” The same can be said for Springsteen, and when he looked to drag Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ up from the dirty demimonde into the all-American streetlight, he asked himself one unearthly question: “’How would Roy Orbison sing this song?”

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