Christmas Alphabet : R for Roy Orbison (Pretty Paper)

London 1963.

Roy Orbison was far from his Texas Home and assailed by a raging fever.

He was in Britain following a successful tour supported by a new Beat Group, The Beatles, who really seemed to be tearing up the place.

They were nice guys.

Every night they stood on the side of the stage to watch Roy – open mouthed as he effortlessly hit operatic notes and held the crowd, frantic when they’d performed, spellbound without moving a muscle.

Though the thermometer showed 102 and rising Roy had a job to do.

His producer and mentor Fred Foster had found a Christmas song from a fellow Texan, Willie Nelson, called, ‘Pretty Paper’ that might just give Roy another big fat hit.

No one could write a better heart tugging song than Willie and damn sure No One, absolutely No One, could sing such a song to rival The Big O!

So, in Pye Studios, the cream of London’s session men under the supervision of Bill Justis and Ivor Raymonde got everybody miked up and the Orchestra set because Roy was fading away before their eyes.

We’re only going to get one shot at this!

The term ‘Unique’ is thrown about far too carelessly when discussing the merits of great singers.

In the case of Roy Orbison no other description will do.

It’s the whispering sound of your subconscious.

It’s the whispering all around you of the West Texas Wind.

It’s the whisper of your thoughts and dreams and memories.

The ones you smile when you recall and the ones that make you wince.

It’s the sound of a bruised and battered heart that scarce knows how it’s beating on.

It’s a plea to The Moon and The Stars when all the earthly powers have turned away.

Turned away.

It’s the unique sound of Roy Orbison.

There’s quite a story behind Willie’s song.

On his regular visits to Fort Worth he had noticed a man selling pencils and paper outside landmark Department Store, Leonard’s.

Now this was a man you wouldn’t easily forget once seen.

For he was severely crippled and moved about by hauling himself along the sidewalk protected by heavy gloves and knee pads made out of old tires.

In all weathers he was there selling his wares.

‘Pretty Paper! Pretty Paper!’ he would call out to attract customers – hoping for a few more coins to drop into his cup.

Walking his farm in search of inspiration Willie remembered this cry and soon putting his own pencil to work a classic Christmas Song was born.

Characteristically Willie uses words sparingly to paint the picture.

The promise, the pleasure and the pathos of the Christmas Season are captured.

The love and the longing and the loss.

My how time does fly.

My how time does fly.

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Crowded street, busy feet, hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won’t pass him by

Should you stop? Better not, much too busy
You’re in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter he cries

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue
Wrap your presents to your darling from you
Pretty pencils to write I love you
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Now, I love the original version.

The backing singers and the Orchestra and the deliberate pace all evoke the era perfectly for me (I would have been 8 years old when the record was released).

But. But.

When I play, ‘Pretty Paper’ I always turn to the live version below.

The sheer majesty and magnetism of Roy Orbison’s voice cuts straight to the core.

Roy didn’t know the name of the man the song was written about.

But Frankie Brierton could have had no more tender salute than that so indelibly sung by Roy here.

Maybe we could all take a look around as we hurry on busy feet through the crowded streets.

Maybe we as we accumulate the pretty paper and the ribbons of blue we could stop for a moment and remember Frankie in all his dignity.

Maybe we could find a cup to drop more than a few coins into and spare a word of good cheer to one finding the days hard and the nights long.

Then we could say with a full heart Merry Christmas to all we meet.

55 thoughts on “Christmas Alphabet : R for Roy Orbison (Pretty Paper)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.