One of the more improbable comebacks in rock history was about to reach its summit when Roy Orbison suddenly died in December of 1988. Mystery Girl, released a couple of months later, would become his final triumph — capping a period filled with them.
Orbison passed even as “Handle With Care,” sung with the newly formed all-star Traveling Wilburys, was moving up the Billboard charts. That followed a period in which he’d been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, led a vital Sun Records reunion, recut all of his greatest hits, won a Grammy for a duet on “Crying” with k.d. lang, and seen his song “In Dreams” move back into the zeitgeist after its inclusion in the film Blue Velvet. Suddenly, Orbison — the yearning former rockabilly star — was everywhere. Then, alas, he was gone.
That made his sudden loss, and the album that would follow, resonate in ways it might not have before. Mystery Girl, which sees an expanded Legacy reissue on May 20, 2014, became a celebration, a valedictory, a mash note and a desperately sad farewell — all in one.
The Wilbury supergroup actually emerged from the sessions for Mystery Girl, and as such it also included Orbison’s bandmates Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Tom Petty — who brought along most of the Heartbreakers, since they were sharing studio time in guitarist Mike Campbell’s studios. Orbison collaborated with Lynne to create “You Got It,” which would become his first Top 10 hit since the early 1960s. Bono gave him a track, as did Billy Burnette and Elvis Costello, each of them seeming to arrive with a dream-like synchronicity. Orbison could also be found once again singing a trio of songs created in collaboration with Bill Dees, with whom he had worked on countless early-period classics, including “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
This expanded deluxe package features all of the original 10 songs, plus nine unreleased tracks — most of them early demos, though one — “The Way Is Love” — is a newly restored track that finds Orbison’s three sons providing new backing accompaniment to a leftover vocal track from their father. Also included is a one-hour documentary that not only takes fans through a song-by-song look into the creation of Mystery Girl but also includes archival footage from the sessions and interviews with Lynne, Steve Cropper (who sat in on “The Only One”), Campbell, Jim Keltner (drummer on six tracks), Burnette and Petty, among others. There are eight Orbison music videos, half of which have never before been seen — and a feature on the sessions for “The Way Is Love.”
But this album’s transformative quality can be found not with its famous guests but in that voice.
Unbent by age, it remained a clarion call of emotion — though utterly changed, anyway. While so much of Roy Orbison’s initial discography had been bound up in a depthless sadness, Mystery Girl opened up into sun-drenched vistas of joy. Orbison, more than just being famous again, was in love. His wife Barbara was the mystery girl in question, course. She inspired him toward this return, toward this album, toward ageless moments like “A Love So Beautiful,” which was cut in one thunderously enraptured take.
Orbison, for the briefest of moments, was born anew.