Wednesday Weeper of the Week: “Crying” by Roy Orbison

This is the first in my newest series, and the title pretty much says it all. Each Wednesday I want to take a look back at a song that absolutely breaks your heart in the best possible way. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to these types of songs, from the subtle to the obvious, from the stark to the lush.

For the longest time in my life, I identified with them because I thought I was doomed to suffer the same kind of torment that the singers were feeling for eternity, so they made me feel less alone. Yet now, as I’ve come to the most settled, happiest part of my life, I still gravitate toward these songs. Maybe I’m morbid. Or maybe I just like to feel the biggest emotions, even vicariously, and sorrow has always had a bit more heft than happiness, right?

Choosing the first song to highlight was a no-brainer, really. What else could it be? I mean, the title pretty much spells it out where this song is going to take you. Roy Orbison wrote it with his songwriting partner Joe Melson about an actual experience he had with an ex-girlfriend. Apparently he wanted to say hi to her and tell her how much she still meant to him, but he backed off and lived to regret it.

Now, a lot of us have probably had experiences like that, but there very few songs as masterful as “Crying” in the world. Part of that is the structure and arrangement conjured by Orbison and Melson. They were really doing ingenious stuff in 1961 that still stands out today. That tympani at the start is like the sound of the narrator’s heart pattering a bit faster after seeing the girl. Notice how the first chorus is in the doldrums, Roy singing about as low as he possibly could as he hits rock bottom.

As the song progresses, he doesn’t even try to hold back his emotion and starts hitting those notes that range somewhere between the highest note on the musical scale and Jupiter. Pay attention to the rhythm while all this is going on; it keeps changing wildly from that original patter to this strange, bolero-like march. It all sets you up for the showstopper, Orbison bellowing from the loneliest mountaintop to a world of souls who understand his pain and need him to express it for them because he’s the only one capable.

By the time the strings screech to a halt and Orbison’s final “youuuuuuuuuuuu” spends itself, it becomes clear that crying in this case doesn’t just mean emitting tears from ones eyes. It’s the act of opening up one’s heart and letting the contents spill out unchecked because feeling the pain is the only way to deal with it.

I plan on writing on a whole bunch of other weepers in this column from week to week, and some of them will come from Orbison, I’m sure, since he was the master. But I doubt I’ll ever write about a better combination of song and performance, nor will I find anything quite so emblematic of how a sad song can reach our hearts like nothing else besides heartbreak itself.

(E-mail me at or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia.)



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