354. "You Got It" by Roy Orbison

One question obsesses me with this song: What came first? What appeared first in the songwriter's mind and demanded the creation of this song? Was it the descending guitar scale that closes the choruses? Or was it the verse singing melody?

The chorus guitar scale is one of the catchiest instrumental cues in pop music, taking perfect advantage of the peak of that impassioned "baaa-by!" It also strikes me as one of those guitar melodies you kind of bump into as you're sitting around, watching TV, noodling around with the guitar in your hand while you're barely even noticing. That little phrase pops in there as you're absently working scales, and the moment you hear it, all the world disappears, and a song you know will be great begins.

But it could just as easily have been that vocal melody. It's the type of thing you start out humming in the shower, your vision completely unfocused, just singing for love of the sounds, sometimes just the satisfying feel of making sounds. If you do this a lot, just by the odds, you will eventually mistake your way into something you probably shouldn't have, some melody that will take you dripping from the shower, late for your day, searching for a sound recorder to get it down before it's gone. It will disappear as quickly as a dream, forever.

The best part about creating music is that, once you've given yourself permission to do so, any moment it can happen. The antenna is always up. Often, nothing happens. Then out of nowhere, like a signal from space, there is contact!

There is a certainty the moment you hear it. A triggered focus. The universe opens to you, and you gape into it with trance eyeballs. Your face feels like it's being sucked forward into a vacuum. Everything in the Earthly world goes dark.

The experience of the creative trance is life-altering, and somewhat life-destroying.

I'm in it right now, as I type this. I didn't start out that way; I was just pecking around on keys for a while. Then a way forward presents itself, and you don't even realize how everything around quickly fades out, like vignetting around a photograph. There is a feeling of fullness, like a water pitcher suddenly splashing at the brim that must be brought to its destination.

"You Got It" is one big, full water pitcher. The feeling of fullness felt writing this song is palpable in those pre-choruses (those passionate vibrato peaks), and so much so in that effusive upward shift into the celebratory "doo-doo-doo"s of the bridge, sung by Roy Orbison’s friends Tom Petty and Jeff Lynn, purely happy for him in this excellent moment.

What got them there? What sparked this song? Was it those beguiling opening vocal lines over that gorgeous chord pattern, a repeated line that resolves so sweetly the second time through on a seductively placed E? Did that send them on to ever greater musical heights? Or did one of them see the top of the mountain first, that declamatory downward guitar scale, and know that they needed to craft a fitting ascent to reach it?

Regardless, from late in a lifetime of setbacks, failures, and tragedies, this song was one of Roy Orbison's fullest days.

He only performed it once before he died.