Joe Melson (born May 1935) is an American singer and a BMI Award-winning songwriter.
Melson was born in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. He was reared on a farm until he was sixteen. He attended high school in Gore, Oklahoma, and in Chicago, Illinois, before he returned to Texas to study at the two-year Odessa College in Odessa, the seat of Ector County. He studied and played music as a teenager and fronted a rockabilly band called the Cavaliers.
Beginning in 1957, first at his home in Midland, Texas, and then in Nashville, Tennessee, Melson teamed up with a virtually unknown Roy Orbison, with whom he would write a string of hits for Monument Records. Before their collaboration, Orbison had been solely a rockabilly performer. Although Melson himself was rooted in that music genre, he had begun writing rhythm and blues songs. Melson recognized the potential in Orbison’s voice, encouraging the singer to explore its power through their first collaboration, “Only the Lonely.” What resulted on March 25, 1960, was the first operatic rock ballad in the history of popular music. The song went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States and to #1 in the UK Singles Chart, which launched Orbison to international musical stardom. Not only did that song influence Orbison to write such operatic ballads as “In Dreams,” but a few months later it also induced Orbison’s friend Elvis Presley to record “It’s Now or Never,” based on the Neapolitan art song “‘O Sole Mio.”
Melson and Orbison followed up with similar sounds such as the dramatic “Running Scared” that went to #1 in the US.