"There's always a lot to learn from the old masters": Roy Orbison Jr on his late father's new album

Last week (November 23), Unchained Melodies, a new posthumous album by Roy Orbison with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was released via Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings in partnership with Roy’s Boys LLC. The release marks the 30th anniversary of the star’s passing.

A follow-up to last year’s A Love So Beautiful (which has sold 278,762 copies to date according to Official Charts Company data), the release once again sees Orbison’s music united with the London Royal Philharmonic. Produced by Don Reedman and Nick Patrick, Unchained Melodies marks the 30th anniversary of the star’s passing. According to the Monday Midweeks, Unchained Melodies is at No.6 in this week’s charts.

Here, Orbison’s son Roy Jr – who co-founded Roy's Boys to administer their father’s catalogue and safeguard his legacy – speaks to Music Week about the vision behind the project…

What was the vision you had for this new release?
Roy Orbison Jr: “Well the last album, A Love So Beautiful, was so successful and so loved that it was just a natural jumping off point to do this. It reached No. 2 on the charts behind Sam Smith, and sold quite a bit worldwide and digitally. So we jumped at the opportunity.”

Did that success take you by surprise?
“We’re always happy and grateful, but I’ve seen my dad do this alot, that’s his position of strength: being the underdog. The fellows that put it together, the producers, Don Reedman and Nick Patrick, they basically created a sub-genre of music, and that is quite an achievement. It’s been copied now by other companies, they even copy the artwork and the ideas and they do it with other orchestras, but this thing with the RPO is a series. The first one was Elvis, and I’m a big Elvis fan so I was jealous of that one, I was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do this!’ It’s something that my mother, Barbara, wanted to do 20 years ago. She was working with the Vienna Orchestra and the Sydney Orchestra and I think the Chicago or San Francisco one; she tried different iterations and she was never really happy with the direction and couldn’t find the right conductor. Don and Nick have great ears, great experience – they’re visionaries. They don’t choose all the hits, the interviewers are quick to mention, ‘The first one had all the hits and this one seems to be more carefully chosen’, but no, there are hits on both. The situation was that they are such big fans of Roy Orbison that when they got the chance to work with us, they wanted a shot at these songs. They didn’t know there was going to be a second one. This one, we didn’t do anything that different, it was with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, they did their part in Abbey Road and we made it a family affair. Every single living Orbison is on this album.”

In terms of presenting his music with the RPO, what do you think that does for Roy’s catalogue?
There’s always a lot to learn about the old masters, for sure. In this case, this is a style of music that is Roy’s domain. Roy invented orchestra pop in the late 1950s. Roy invented a style that became so dominant that it’s misinterpreted. People think that Chet Atkins invented the Nashville style, sophisticated country with strings, but that was Roy Orbison. Roy Orbison invented something that affected even certain branches of heavy metal. Instantly you had songs like Ben E King Stand By Me, soul music with strings, you had country music with strings, and then that went right up to friends of Roy’s, like Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra, and melodic bands like ABBA, and even Queen. These RPO albums sound great with Aretha Franklin, they sound great with The Beach Boys, there is a lot of people it’s going to sound great with but with Roy, it fit like a glove. He designed his music with background vocals and strings. He arranged the music as well, he wrote all those arrangements for these songs. To extend it out to a full orchestra is a natural evolution. That’s one of the reasons these do so well. What we did for a little fun though, some of the songs have a slightly different tempo, or they are even in a different key.”



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