2021 Song Draft- Round 7 Pick 3- Mike and Paul’s Music Blog selects- ‘Running Scared’- Roy Orbison.
Ok so far during the draft, I have 3 songs from the 1970s, 2 from the 1980s, and 1 from the 1990s. Time to go back, to the foundational times, and feature a song by, for my money, one of rock and roll’s best voices ever – Roy Orbison. Orbison’s voice seemed otherworldly at times, and gave his songs an added power emotion that would exist with someone else singing it.
While there are any number of songs I could feature, I have always loved Running Scared. It was released in March 1961, and went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, #9 on the UK Singles chart.
Written by Orbison and his songwriting partner Joe Melson, the song is a great example of the kind of melodramatic mini-opera type song that Orbison excelled at. Its unusual in that it has no chorus, and begins in a bolero style, with the insistent guitar strumming immediately setting the tension of the song. The singer is with his girl but is “running scared” that her former lover is going to show up and steal her away. As AllMusic puts its: “The keys to the building tension of “Running Scared” are the mounting layers of instrumentation to the arrangement, as orchestral instruments and backup voices slowly pile on over the first few verses to create an atmosphere of growing suspense.” You can feel the singer’s anxiety building, his insecurity about his status with his girl evident in his voice. Then the climax of the song, as his worst fears are realized, and there in front of them stands the former lover. What will his girl do? The music builds to a crescendo as she makes her choice. It’s a testimony to the power of Orbison’s powerful vocal performance that even though the lyric’s rhyme scheme kind of gives it away (“be” doesn’t rhyme with “him”), you aren’t totally sure what’s going to happen until the final line (“ You turned around and walked away with me.” A life time’s worth of drama, all in 2 minutes and 15 seconds!
A couple of interesting facts I discovered while researching the song, all according to Songfacts – Orbison and Melson claim they wrote the song in 5 minutes. The recording engineer for the session gave the song an exaggerated dynamic range – while most songs of that era had a range of 3 decibels, Running Scared had a range of 24 decibels.
This was the last song Roy Orbison ever sang live. As was his usual habit, he closed his December 4, 1988 show with Running Scared, just two days before his sudden passing from a heart attack on December 6.
As an added bonus, I’ve also included a clip of Orbison performing Running Scared live as part of A Black and White Night, a 1988 concert film that featured Orbison backed by an all star band, and I mean all star – Elvis Presley’s TCB band, along with Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, J.D. Southern, k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie Raitt, among others. It gives you a sense of Orbison’s incredible talent to hear him sing the song live, and its also a kick to see all these famous musicians in the background and happy, in fact honored to be backing Orbison.
The Big O! What a voice! Loved his music. Love this song.
I was so excited to see him making a comeback both solo and with the Wilbury’s. I was working at the oldies station the morning he died. Will never forget seeing the “Urgent’ bulletin come across the news wire.
One of the most amazing voices for sure. Stellar pick!!
Thanks! Yes was quite a shock when he passed. I am also glad he was getting some well deserved attention during that time. Part of me feels that he was the biggest name in the Wilburys and obviously I don’t say that lightly.
This is another voice that I grew up with. Along with Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Gene Pitney, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Johnny Horton & Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison was played a lot in my home. You can’t mistake that voice. He gives me chills…
One of the most remarkable voices in popular music! When he hits those notes at the end of Only the Lonely it’s just unbelievable. I almost posted that but really like the dramatic tension of Running Scared.
What a great voice Roy O had- if I were going to select my favorite Roy song I think I’d go with this one…
Crying was on my list. I think that ranks up there with this one.
Mine is Only the Lonely.
Agree with both of these. All amazing performances
I think it was Tom Petty that told his mom after joining the Wilburys…Mom…I’m in a band with Roy Orbison! He was the main guy Tom pointed out. Roy’s voice was unbelievable. This song is a mini-pop opera.
I liked his solo album also that he made right before he died. Great pick Paul!
Mystery Girl (pretty sure that was the name of it) was fantastic!!!!
Yes it was…I just wished he could have completed his comeback.
Yes great great album. You got it was my my fave on it
Thanks Max. Yes I would venture that Roy was the most important Wilburys. Others may disagree but he took the group to that higher level.
No it’s true…it’s amazing that a band had Orbison and Dylan…together.
I’ve watched ‘Black and White Night’ to many times to count. Good pick Paul. Ive had my finger on a couple Roy tunes. Maybe Ill let you do the honors. He had to be in our picks.
Thanks CB. Yes one of my favorite concert films. I love watching the other musicians – it’s clear they are so thrilled to just be on the same stage with Roy
Great choice and write-up, Paul. I left most of my comment at your blog.
Oh yes. This is wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
I don’t think I’ve actually heard this one before, another casualty of being younger than everyone else in the draft – I know other Orbison songs, including the one U2 wrote for him. When I hear the phrase “running scared” it always makes me think of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’.
Glad to introduce you to it! I think the one U3 wrote for him was Shes a Mystery to Me off his posthumous solo album Mystery Girl?
Yup, that song is really good IMO, as was this one. He had a very unique voice.
excellent singer and a great song I don’t often think of when I think of Roy.
Yes it’s a pretty short song but man does it back a lot into it
Wonderful addition to the draft. I love Roy’s Running Scared. It must have been hard to narrow down the one song from Roy to pick, but I really like that you picked your fave instead of maybe his most famous. I savored both versions you’ve included. And then couldn’t stop with just one song from the Black and White Night concert. Leah is my favorite from that concert, so I listened to it, and now I’m in tears, so thank you for that. 😉 It is touching to see those superstar musicians serving as background instrumentalists and singers for him, and clearly relishing their roles.
Thanks Diana.! Yes thought about Only the Lonely but just love Running Scared. Yeah I love Black and White Night and like you actually started watching other parts when researching for the blog post. Watching the other musicians is one of my favorites parts of it. Springsteen looks like a little kid who’s gotten his fondest wish granted. And the glances between him and Costello a couple of times that seems to say can you believe this?
I agree about the glances between Costello and Springsteen. 🙂
A fantastic pick, Paul. I love this song, and it’s probably my favorite of Roy Orbison’s many great songs. I wrote a post about it on my blog two years ago.