July 23, 2024

Bob Dylan once said Roy Orbison sang like a professional criminal. The comparison was intended as a compliment, with Dylan saluting the way The Big O always sounded as if he meant business.

Black & White Night 30 offers further evidence of the culprit’s ability to get the job done. Out next week on CD and DVD, it revisits a 1987 concert in Los Angeles.

Expanded and re-edited to mark the show’s 30th anniversary, it is built around hits such as Only The Lonely and In Dreams and reiterates the spine-tingling brilliance of a live performer who would pass away just 14 months later.

Originally filmed in black and white for an American TV special that launched a short-lived comeback, the show saw the Texan singer-songwriter accompanied by Elvis Presley’s Taking Care Of Business backing band.

A group led by country-soul guitarist James Burton, the ensemble developed their musical chemistry during The King’s landmark Las Vegas residencies and, with T. Bone Burnett as musical director, they add subtle, but tangible, nuances to some classic songs.

Orbison’s reputation was such that he had no trouble in enticing guests onto the stage: his male backing singers here include Bruce Springsteen, J. D. Souther and Jackson Browne. Elvis Costello adds harmonica and an extra guitar while Tom Waits plays a small electric piano.

Even in such elevated company, he is rightly centre stage. His unearthly, multi-octave voice allows him to improvise on a haunting Only The Lonely, while In Dreams, a three-minute melodrama that defies all the normal rules of pop composition, gains operatic power.

Other numbers, including Blue Bayou and It’s Over, are enhanced by a female chorus line of k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes and Bonnie Raitt.

Orbison’s melancholy ballads inevitably feature. But the singer, whose sunglasses and dark suits gave him an air of mystery, was a rock ’n’ roller at heart, and he revisits his roots on rockabilly work-out Mean Woman Blues and 1958’s Claudette, written about his first wife Claudette Frady, tragically killed in a 1966 motor-cycle accident.

In the months following this concert, he cemented his standing by joining star-studded supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, but his welcome renaissance was cut short in 1988 when he had a heart attack and died in Nashville at 52.

This package, bolstered by backstage interviews and out-takes from another show hours after the main event, is a fine memento. It’s also an indication of what might have been had he lived a little longer.

Another significant anniversary is that of the first British punk album, originally released 40 years ago tomorrow. The Damned’s debut is already assured of its place in rock history, but this deluxe edition, out today on CD and vinyl, reiterates its rough and ready prowess.

Made in a dingy studio behind a London garage, Damned Damned Damned was fast and frenetic. It was produced by Nick Lowe, but the latter’s role essentially involved recapturing the honesty and enthusiasm of the band’s 30-minute live set.Happy Birthday to Roy Orbison's... - All Things Roy Orbison | Facebook

Recording took just two days and, with the tape reels later re-used for an Elvis Costello LP, there were no re-mixes.

Driven by the manic drums of Rat Scabies and Brian James’ raw, fuzzed-out guitars, the music, even with modern remastering, is rudimentary. But short, sharp songs such as Neat Neat Neat refute the notion that punk bands couldn’t play their instruments.

With punk a topic for academic dissertations and an exhibition at the British Library, this is a timely reminder of just how exciting the music could be, something not lost on two of the band’s original members — singer Dave Vanian and bassist Captain Sensible — who are still touring as The Damned today.

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