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article imageRe-Discovering The Magic Of Roy Orbison's 'Mystery Girl' Special

By Cate Kustanczy     May 21, 2014 in Entertainment
Roy Orbison’s 'Mystery Girl' was released two months after the legendary singer’s sudden passing. Now the 1989 album has been re-issued with new material. For the Orbison sons, the re-release is truly a family affair.
Orbison, known for his unique voice and romantic music, was one of the most popular singer/songwriters in music history. The Texas-born Orbison penned legendary hits like “Oh, Pretty Woman”, “Running Scared”, “Only the Lonely”, and “Crying”, songs that have become staples in pop music history; he also co-wrote Linda Ronstadt’s signature hit, “Blue Bayou”. Extreme highs and lows marked much of Orbison's life; he was given a riotous reception overseas when he opened for The Beatles in the early 1960s, and within a four-year span, saw 22 of his songs land in the Billboard Top 40. Tragedies included his first wife’s infidelities and sudden death, followed close by the death of his two eldest sons in a house fire. These events fueled much of Orbison's creative output, though his voice (praised by Elvis Presley, among many others) was just as expressive, possessing an incredible range and uniquely operatic timbre that earned him the nickname "the Caruso of rock."
Notable for his innovative songwriting style that integrated influences from classical, country, rock, and rockabilly, Orbison briefly faded from public view before enjoying a huge resurgence of popularity in the 1980s, first with a re-recording of his song “Crying” (done as a duet with k.d. lang) and as a member of the super-band The Traveling Wilburys with Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne. Confessed Orbison fanatic Bruce Springsteen inducted the singer/songwriter into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, but only a year later, Orbison passed away suddenly at the age of 52, having just completed recording new material for Mystery Girl.
Released posthumously in February 1989 on Virgin Records, the album went on to hit #5 on the US Billboard 200 chart and features the Grammy-nominated single "You Got It", along with memorable tunes like "California Blue" and "In The Real World", plus creative collaborations with a number of contemporary artists, including Traveling Wilbury cohorts Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, as well as Elvis Costello and U2’s Bono, whose haunting ballad “She’s a Mystery To Me” was composed one night in the late 1980s, amidst repeated listenings of David Lynch’s soundtrack for Blue Velvet (which features Orbison’s hit song, “In Dreams”). Playing his own composition for his U2 colleagues the following day, it was noted how perfect the song would be for Roy Orbison; the singer himself attended the band’s concert later that evening, asking Bono post-show if the band might have a song for him to sing. The song’s chorus provided the title to what would be Roy Orbison’s final album.
Such a tale illustrates the silvery thread of serendipity that ran through much of Orbison’s life and career, something his son, Roy Jr. acknowledges.
“That’s a part of Roy’s magic,” he says of his late father. “He was in the right place at the right time. And it’s an internal thing, a zen thing... it’s because of who he was that the accidents happened. It couldn’t have been otherwise.”
Roy Orbison Jr. and brothers Alex Orbison and Wesley Orbison, along with their late mother Barbara Orbison, are the driving forces behind Sony Music Entertainment's 25th anniversary re-release of Mystery Girl, via Legacy Recordings. The reissue (out now) comes in various formats: Mystery Girl Deluxe (including the vinyl version, out June 10th) features the album’s ten original songs plus nine previously unreleased demos; the expanded CD version holds the ten original songs and five bonus tracks. There's also Mystery Girl Unraveled, a documentary featuring archival footage and interviews along with eight videos, four of them previously unreleased.
Extras on the  Mystery Girl  include “The Way Is Love”  with (L-R  seated) Wesley Orbison  Roy O...
Extras on the 'Mystery Girl' include “The Way Is Love”, with (L-R, seated) Wesley Orbison, Roy Orbison Jr., and Alex Orbison , and producer John Carter Cash (standing, right, with Chuck Turner) contributing backing vocals and playing to a vocal line previously recorded by Roy Orbison. The session took place at Johnny Cash’s Cabin studio.
Shawn Huesman / Orbison Archives
Orbison’s magical serendipity played a role In locating some of the material for the reissue. “We had gotten everyone in the office to look, because we needed to look through so much stuff,” he recalls. “I had got tired, leaned my hand back to rest on the wall, looked around and, oh man… what’s this? “Alright guys, I found it!” It was one of the actual demos we wanted to put on Mystery Girl. We just knew it existed.”
It was a true family affair to organize the reissue. “We were all following Roy’s blueprint,” Roy Jr. explains. “Believe it or not, it was fairly easy to follow the songs in order, to let him speak, to let him do his thing. Luckily, we knew him so well, so we could say and feel which way it was supposed to go.”
“There had to be an Orbison at hand,” Alex explains, his clear blue eyes widening. “The crucial point was being able to say, ‘Oh no, that’s not the obvious choice, this is the obvious choice.’”
Mystery Girl Unraveled, the hour-long documentary about the album’s inception, offers tantalizing snippets of Orbison at work; scenes of the singer laying down vocals, pen in-hand, giggling at points and sipping cola, are especially touching. What becomes apparent throughout the project is the central role Barbara Orbison played in her husband’s career. Married in 1969, the German-born Barbara became a force in Orbison’s professional life and was, in many senses, responsible for solidifying the artist’s legacy and presenting it to a whole new generation of music fans. She passed away in 2011 — on December 6th, the same day her husband had passed in 1988.
Barbara Orbison in August 2009. “Barbara was Roy’s shield ” Alex Orbison says of his late moth...
Barbara Orbison in August 2009. “Barbara was Roy’s shield,” Alex Orbison says of his late mother's relationship with the singer/songwriter. "Our dad was so mellow and easy-going, and Barbara had it figured out: if you don’t like something, say something to me, and then I'll say it, and people can think whatever they want."
Bjoern Kommerell
That family-first approach started with Orbison’s own upbringing.
“Our dad was a family man first and foremost,” Alex states. “He had those values and nurtured that [...] all the way back from our grandparents, my dad's parents. Orbie (Orbison’s father) was on the road a lot; Nadine (Orbison’s mother) was watching the kids and making sure everyone was on time; our Uncle Sammy on the road selling merch with our dad and helping out. Barbara never wanted to overstep or anything, but the opportunity came around 1983, and she said, ‘Alright, well if things need to change, I’ll be the one to speak up.’ Everything started moving in a really positive direction. She ended up doing that for the remainder of her life.”
That sense of support and protectiveness is apparent in Mystery Girl Unraveled. “You can see her in the “Windsurfer” clip,” Alex notes. “If you listen really closely, you can hear Barbara: 'Why don’t we just start on the bass?' They had spent thirty-five minutes of filming with the drummer and my dad, trying to find a specific sound with a cowbell or a wooden block, and the session had stalled out. You can hear her suggesting the bass: 'Why don’t we get it moving?' They became like one. It was a relationship within itself, something we’d found in “You Are My Love”, the last bonus song. The words include the line, ‘We two are one.’”
“She is the mystery girl!” Roy Jr comments.
“I cry at different times during the documentary — but every time,” Alex continues, “and more than seventy-five percent of the time, it’s proud tears. I can’t watch performance of “In the Real World” without being so proud. Hearing those vocals... they're so free and unadulterated by anything else.”
How much do the Orbison sons feel the weight of their father’s legacy? Roy Jr. smiles. “It’s a...
How much do the Orbison sons feel the weight of their father’s legacy? Roy Jr. smiles. “It’s a case of, how much do we feel the *buoyancy* of the legacy! And… that’s a day-to-day thing.” // Photo: 'Mystery Girl Deluxe' cover
Legacy Recordings
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