Directed By: Tony Mitchell
Starring: Roy Orbison, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen
Trivia: This was shot in its entirety at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles
A contemporary of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, singer / songwriter Roy Orbison reached the zenith of his popularity in the 1960s with hits like (Oh) Pretty Woman, Crying, and Only the Lonely. His exceptional singing voice, coupled with his emotional ballads, influenced the likes of Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen (the latter of whom delivered a heartfelt speech during Orbison’s 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and his In Dreams played an integral part in David Lynch’s 1986 film, Blue Velvet. Directed by Tony Mitchell, Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night was shot during a live 1987 performance at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles, with Orbison joined on-stage by superstars like Springsteen, Costello, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne. Featuring many of his greatest hits, Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night was as much a tribute to the legendary performer as it was a rock and roll event.
Initially broadcast on the Cinemax cable channel, A Black and White Night contains live performances of 17 of Orbison’s best songs, kicking things off in grand fashion with Only the Lonely. Other highlights include the all-star filled rendition of Dream Baby, which features (among others) backup vocals by Bonnie Raitt and k.d. lang, Tom Waits on piano, and Bruce Springsteen on guitar (who also joins in on the vocals); and Ooby Dooby, a fast-paced rockabilly tune that was Orbison’s very first hit, and the song that landed him a contract with Sun Records in 1956. As the title suggests, the entire film is presented in black and white, which sets the perfect mood for Orbison’s unique brand of music; Leah and Crying just wouldn’t be the same in color.
My first experience with Orbison’s music came courtesy of Van Halen, whose cover of his (Oh) Pretty Woman hit the charts in 1982 (the video for their version played regularly on cable channel MTV, which I was addicted to back in the day). Even more influential was a 1988 episode of the TV sitcom Cheers titled Slumber Party Massacred, in which Carla (Rhea Perlman), upset at the prospect of becoming a grandmother, plays Orbison’s Only the Lonely. It was a brief snippet of the song (less than half a minute), but it was enough to hook me for life. From that moment on, I was a Roy Orbison fan, and immediately rushed out to buy a CD of his greatest hits. As for A Black and White Night, I’ve owned it on just about every format, and watch it every few years to remind me how beautiful rock and roll can be.