. . .
With his utterly soaring voice and flare for big arrangements, Roy Orbison was an absolutely key figure in the post-Elvis, pre-Beatles era, and also a key figure in the sub-genre of rock ‘n’ roll made by nerdy looking dudes.
And while — with the exception of the eternal marvel that is tomorrow’s song — he’s probably best known for his ballads, I prefer Orbison the rocker, and nowhere does he rock harder than on his cover of Claude Demetrius’s “Mean Woman Blues,” a bit of proto rockabilly that features a clever turnaround on the lyric.
Hmm, well I got a woman mean as she can be
Well I got a woman mean as she can be
Some-a-times I think she’s almost mean as me
In the course of its 2:23, “Mean Woman Blues” takes some twists and turns in the arrangement: sometimes Orbison is backed a flock of backing vocalists — their “sha-la-la-las” in the back have are fantastic — and sometimes its just Orbison singing against is drummer. That’s much of the fun of “Mean Woman Blues,” trying to figure out where it’s gonna go next.
Which makes sense: if you’re gonna tackle a song the Elvis fucking Presley and Jerry Lee fucking Lewis have both already tackled, you better bring something to the party, and Orbison does, capping it off with an absolutely turbulent, monster guitar solo. I spent some time trying to figure out who played that guitar solo, and came up blank, so maybe it was Orbison himself.
In any event, “Mean Woman Blues” was issued as a double-A side with “Blue Bayou” — covering all the bases here — and actually outdid “Blue Bayou,” which stalled out at #29, but “Mean Woman Blues” made it all the way to #5. Good job, kids of 1963! “Blue Bayou,” of course did much better in the hands of Linda Rondstadt, who took it to number #3 in 1977. Bad job, kids of 1977!
“Mean Woman Blues”
“Mean Woman Blues” live in 1965
“Mean Woman Blues” live in 1985
“Mean Woman Blues” from Black and White Night, 1988
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