The Story Behind “Only the Lonely,” the Hit Roy Orbison Originally Offered to Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers

By the late 1950s, Roy Orbison was living in a small apartment in Nashville with his wife and baby, and he often used his car as a refuge to write songs. In 1958, Orbison’s friend rockabilly singer and songwriter Joe Melson tapped on his car window and asked if he could work with him on some songs.

From there on, the two co-wrote and recorded a series of songs, including “Uptown”—later released as a bonus track to Lonely and Blue in 2006—along with “Come Back to Me (My Love),” “Blue Avenue,” “Blue Angel,” “I’m Hurtin’,” and “Twenty-Two Days,” which all made it on Orbison’s 1961 debut Lonely and Blue.

The duo also co-wrote the opening track, and Orbison’s first big hit, “Only the Lonely (Know The Way I Feel).”

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[RELATED: 7 Songs You Didn’t Know Roy Orbison Wrote for Other Artists]

Elvis and the Everly Bros.

When “Only the Lonely” was written Orbison and Melson initially wanted Elvis Presley or the Everly Brothers to cut the song, but both turned it down. The Everly Brothers suggested Orbison record the song himself, and he released it on Lonely and Blue.

The opening track on Lonely and Blue, “Only the Lonely” went to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart and peaked at No. 14 on the R&B chart.

Though Presley initially turned down “Only the Lonely,” when the song was released he purchased a box of copies of the single and passed it on to his friends. Presley also called Orbison “quite simply, the greatest singer in the world,” during a performance in Las Vegas in 1976.

A Place of No Discontent

Orbison admitted that most of his shadier ballads, like “Only The Lonely,” were written in happier times. For Melson, the song was inspired by a real-life experience, when a girl broke his heart as a teenager. When she took off in a Cadillac, the words to the song came to him.

Only the lonely
Only the lonely

Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely
Know this feeling ain’t right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They’re gone forever
So far apart

But only the lonely
Know why
I cry
Only the lonely

“I’ve always been very content when I wrote all those songs,” said Orbison of his sadder songs in a 1980 interview. “By this, I’m saying that a lot of people think you have to live through something before you can write it, and that’s true in some cases, but I remember the times that I was unhappy or discontent, and I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t communicate, and I certainly couldn’t write a song, no way.”

He added, “All the songs I wrote that were successful were written when I was in a contented state of mind.”


Melson and Orbison’s collaborations continued beyond the first album. The two co-wrote the majority of the songs on Orbison’s third album Crying in 1962, including his hit title track.”Crying” went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later covered by Don McLean, who took it to No. 1 in the UK.

They also co-write songs on Orbison’s fourth release In Dreams, including “Blue Bayou,” which became a signature hit for Linda Rondstadt in 1977, along with Oh, Pretty Woman in 1964, and There Is Only One Roy Orbison and Orbisongs from 1965 before Orbison began working with songwriter Bill Dees.

The two worked together again on Orbison’s 1967 release Cry Softly Lonely One, Roy Orbison Sings from 1972, Milestones (1973), and I’m Still in Love With You (1975).

“Lonely No More”

When Orbison was in The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne, he wrote a sequel to “Only the Lonely” titled “Not Along Anymore.” The song was released on the band’s 1988 debut Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 and was the only track penned solely by Orbison.

You always said that I’d be back again
That I’d come running to you in the end
I thought that you were on your own
And now I find you’re not alone
I’ll see you through the rain
Through the heartache and pain
It hurts like never before
You’re not alone anymore

You always said that I would know someday
Just how it feels when your love walks away
I let you down I let you go
I lost you, how was I to know
I’ll see you through the rain
Through the heartache and pain
It hurts like never before
You’re not alone anymore

Photo: Clive Limpkin/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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