Two Generations, One Song- Oh, Pretty woman

The song Oh, Pretty woman was an impactful song throughout much of thesecond half of the 20th century. Paw Print Editor Jadyn Westcott discusses the journey of the masterpiece through the creation in the 60s to Van Halen’s rebirth of the classic in th 80s

Two Generations, One Song- Oh, Pretty woman

Jadyn Westcott, Paw Print Editor

For a long time, I only listened to the Roy Orbison original version of “Oh, Pretty woman” because I tend to have a bias towards the original artist and I also appreciate the Roy Orbison version because of how obscure it is. My father told me the van Halen version was much more popular because of the time it came out but believed the Roy Orbison version was better. However, I believe there is a solid argument for both songs. 

Roy Orbison originally wrote the song in 1964 with Bill Dees and performed and released it in august 1964. The song was written about Roy Orbison’s first wife Claudette Frady. the story goes that the words were inspired buy his friend Bill Dees who remarked after Frady asked Orbison for some money to go shopping “I said ‘does this sound funny? Pretty woman, don’t need no money.”  Van Halen would cover the song in 1982, giving the song a strong resurgence in popularity. ( a lesser known cover was released by Al Green was recorded in 1972.)The song became so popular that A popular movie starring Julia Roberts called “Pretty Woman” was released in 1990. The idea to cover the song came about when David lee Roth suggested that the band cover the Motown single dancing in the streets, however this would happen later on because the band’s guitarist Eddie van Halen, suggested covering Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” instead. The song hit the number 12 spot on the top 100 for singles while it was a single. It was later a part of the Album “Diver Down”  which was demanded by Warner Bros because of the success of the single.

Whether or not one version is better than the other, that I’ll leave up to the gods of rock and roll, because I could never give you an answer. It seems like although Van Halen’s version is not radically different from the original like Jimi Hendrix’s cover of  Bob Dylan’s”All Along The Watchtower”, It is its own song and a creation of Van Halen, it’s very different from the Roy Orbison original, which is why I’m not saying one is explicitly better than the other.

 Van Halen’s version of Oh, pretty woman is something different from the first second that you turn it on. The guitar riff in the first few seconds which then leads into a larger guitar chorus from Eddie Van Halen’s legendary fingers. It seems as if the guitar adds much more to the song, it creates a calm and intense element at the same time. While the original Roy Orbison version is carried by the vocals of Roy Orbison’s angelic voice without having as strong of a guitar presence as van Halen’s version. combined with David Lee Roth’s voice which is perfect for nearly every song he does with van Halen. Although David Lee Roth does not stand out as an especially talented singer, his voice is perfect for the sound of Van Halen and helps the band make the song all its own. His voice really made me feel the song through the lens of van Halen, for instance, the growl at around the minute mark comes naturally as opposed to Roy Orbison’s Growl is kind of creepy. And when Roth says “Pretty woman Yeah yeah yeah” I feel like this beautiful Woman has just crossed my path, like I’ve finally won her over, like I’m amazed by her presence in and of itself. I can really feel it. 

While on the other Roy Orbison means every line of the song. For instance, the line “ are you lonely just like me?” is a pure line from Roy Orbison who wrote many other songs about being lonely. in addition other lines like “Pretty woman give your smile to me” feel like lines straight from the soul of Roy Orbison who wrote the song with his friend Bill Dees about his first wife after getting back together with her following some infidelities in their relationship. It feels like Roy Orbison is so glad to have his wife that he dedicated the song to her while in Van Halen’s version the emotional heartfelt lines sang by Roy Orbison really don’t feel as believable from David Lee Roth while parts of it feel more believable from Roth as previously mentioned. In Roy Orbison’s version the guitar is much calmer which makes sense because it was written in 1960 when rock was much softer while Van Halen had a much more hard rock sound because of their unique style in addition to the fact that rock had evolved throughout the 60s and the 70s. So, each song is great in its own right, you really cannot compare the two. Oh, Pretty woman is not one song, but two songs that had their impacts on emotion and on their respective time periods. You can hear my opinion of it, however you can decide which one is better. Here are the links to both versions

Roy Orbison original(1964):

Van Halen cover(1982):