Roy Kelton Orbison (April 23, 1936 – December 6, 1988), nicknamed "The Big O", was an influential American singer-songwriter and a pioneer of rock and roll, whose recording career spanned more than four decades. By the mid-1960s Orbison was internationally recognized for his ballads of lost love, rhythmically advanced melodies, three-octave vocal range, characteristic dark sunglasses, and sometimes distinctive usage of falsetto, typified in songs such as "Only the Lonely, "Oh, Pretty Woman", and "Crying". In 1989, he was inducted posthumously into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Orbison is most remembered for his ballads of lost love, and within the music community he is revered for his song-writing abilities. Record producer and Orbison fan Don Was, commenting on Orbison's writing skills, said: "He defied the rules of modern composition." Songwriter Bernie Taupin, composer of many lyrics for Elton John, and others referred to Orbison as far ahead of the times, creating lyrics and music in a manner that broke with all traditions. Roy Orbison's vocal range was impressive (three octaves) and his songs were melodically and rhythmically advanced and lyrically sophisticated. Three songs written and recorded by Orbison, "Only the Lonely," "Oh, Pretty Woman," and "Crying," are in the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone named those three songs plus "In Dreams" on its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." In 1989, he was inducted posthumously into the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.
From the stage in Las Vegas in 1976, Elvis Presley called Orbison "the greatest singer in the world", and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees referred to him as the "Voice of God." Multiple Academy Award–winning songwriter Will Jennings ("My Heart Will Go On," from the Titanic soundtrack) called him a "poet, a songwriter, a vision," after working with him and co-writing "Wild Hearts." Bob Dylan, later a bandmate of Orbison's in the Traveling Wilburys, wrote "Orbison … transcended all the genres. … With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. … his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal. … His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it.' His songs had songs within songs. Orbison was deadly serious–no pollywog and no fledgling juvenile. There wasn't anything else on the radio like him."