For those who grew up to the wistful, romantic sounds of "Only the Lonely" or "Crying" or "Pretty Woman," Roy Orbison's unexpected death was a tragedy.
But after listening to Orbison's "Mystery Girl" (Virgin Records) - the album he completed just before his death from a massive heart attack - you realize what a tremendous tragedy his death really was. Here was a man perched on the brink of the most amazing artistic and commercial comeback in memory, only for death to snatch it away.And pop music is worse off because of it.
If you have to die young, though, Orbison did it right. Consider that Orbison's "In Dreams" from the movie "Blue Velvet" had spawned a reawakening of interest in Orbison, putting different Orbison compilations back on the charts. Consider that his collaboration with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan (Traveling Wilburies) was not only a No. 1 album but was on virtually every critic's Top 10 list for 1988.
Then consider that Orbison's last work, "Mystery Girl," is a great, great album. Then you begin to get a sense for the tremendous loss his death brings.
That assessment of "Mystery Girl" has nothing to do with the fact Orbison is dead and now you have to pay respects to the dead. No, "Mystery Girl" stands on its own as a powerful statement of just how far along the comeback trail Orbison had come, just how much he had proven he was anything but a has-been.
The generations that did not grow up in the early 1960s will never realize how much the rest of us will miss Orbison and his music. Fittingly, with the careful craftsmanship of top-notch producers (why wasn't he using these folks to produce his other music the last 20 years?) Orbison left behind a brilliant package to remember him by.
On "Mystery Girl," Orbison has assembled a sort-of Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame to write and produce the 10 cuts. Oh, it still bears Orbison's unmistakable stamp (he co-wrote six of the 10 cuts).
But what Orbison has done is feed off the extraordinary talents of others, combining them with his own unique talent to produce the polish and substance that many of his earlier LPs lacked.
The exceptional single "You Got It" (his first Top 40 single in 23 years) was written and produced by Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Orbison, and ranks with Orbison's best. And the same writing-producing team also chipped in the gems "Love So Beautiful" and "California Blue."
Then you have The Edge and Bono (U2) writing and producing the seductive "She's a Mystery to Me," perhaps the best song on the album. T-Bone Burnette does "Dream You," while Elvis Costello writes and produces the witty "The Comedians" - a parody of his 60s hit "Running Scared." Albert Hammond, Mike Campbell and others add their writing and producing expertise.
Through it all Orbison croons those lonely ballads and he rocks like an old-time honky-tonker. Just the way he did in the old days.
Goodbye, Roy. And thanks.