Top 10 Traveling Wilburys Songs

Traveling Wilburys Songs

The supergroup known as the Traveling Wilburys originally came as an idea from George Harrison and Jeff Lynne while Harrison was on his 1987 Cloud Nine tour. As of April 1988, the five-man band saw the talent of George Harrison and Jeff Lynne team up with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. These artists had already earned their brand of fame as individual artists and as part of another big-name music group. Initially, the idea was to collaborate on the single “Handle with Care simply,” but those involved agreed it was too good to become a limited release simply. As a result, all five band members recorded a full studio album, the Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1.

After Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988, the Traveling Wilburys released a second studio album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, released in 1990. This somewhat shortened the vision George Harrison had in mind for the group, as it was intended to have a series of albums and a film about the band. The group released its final music production in February 1991. There was a 2007 DVD box set that George Harrison’s estate released that was titled The Traveling Wilburys Collection. It featured a series of music videos and a documentary about the band’s short-lived existence.

In the Beginning

The concept behind the Traveling Wilburys began to take root after George Harrison mentioned he was doing an album with some of his closest peers in the music industry. For George Harrison, he chose Bob Dylan to become a Wilbury, while Jeff Lynne chose Roy Orbison. The meaning behind “Wilbury” came from recording sessions for George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album that began in 1987. There were recording errors when George Harrison jokingly commented to Jeff Lynne, “We’ll bury ’em in the mix.” From then on, it became a term each time something went wrong while performing music. The name of Wilbury took form and soon expanded to become the Traveling Wilburys by Lynne’s naming suggestion.

George Harrison, a fan of Bob Dylan and his music, invited him as a Traveling Wilbury when Dylan’s career as a recording artist seemed to hit the skids. This project served as a revival for him and Tom Petty, who was already friends with George Harrison and Jeff Lynne as of 1987. At the time, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were touring in Europe as Bob Dylan’s backing band. The rapport that was built, namely between George Harrison and Petty, grew as the two shared their fondness for 1950s rock music. As for Jeff Lynne, working with his musical idol, Roy Orbison, was like a boyhood dream come true. Jeff Lynne also worked with Tom Petty and Roy Orbison for their solo albums Full Moon Fever and Mystery Girl, respectively.

Each member of the Traveling Wilburys already established music styles that made each man his star. It was classic to see the blending of such talent come together as a band that made a niche out of pseudonyms as half brothers calling themselves members of the Wilbury family. For George Harrison, the formula of this talent pool meant each member had to get along with each other, and this wasn’t a problem for any of the men involved. They shared common interests, including the Monty Python comedy troupe, who Roy Orbison was able to impersonate with remarkable perfection.

When the band officially came together in 1988, it was hard to believe the Traveling Wilburys technically was a band that featured five men each with his taste of fame. When Roy Orbison was recruited to join the group, the excitement level of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Petty wasn’t much different than a group of teenagers realizing they’ve just brought a beloved icon into their midst. Also, due to the lack of professional studio availability, the recording of “Handle with Care” took place out of Bob Dylan’s garage studio in Malibu, California.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

The album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 came about after the song “Handle with Care” inspired each group member to work on additional music material. This also led to filming the group’s creative process, which Harrison later edited to use as a promotional film for Warner Bros. It was titled Whatever Wilbury Wilbury. The album’s recording took approximately ten days in May 1988 as Bob Dylan prepared for his upcoming Never Ending Tour.

The recording sessions for this album took place in the Los Angeles home of Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. In his kitchen, all five men sat in a circle to play acoustic guitar. Their vocal work was recorded in another room, usually timed at night after dinner. For each of these five men, there was mutual respect for each other as artists and as people. As they treated each other, George Harrison was respected as the band’s leader as he had the instinct to bring out the best in each person involved. Accompanying the Traveling Wilburys was also the “Sideburys” that featured Jim Keltner on drums, Jim Horn on saxophone, and percussionist Ray Cooper.

On October 18, 1988, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released through Warner Bros. As a means to be regarded as a group with its own identity, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty pretended to be sons of the same father but from different mothers. The fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr. was hammed up even further by Orbison as he described this father figure as a cad who also happened to be a Baptist minister. Even Monty Python’s Michael Palin got in on the act as he wrote the fictional history of the Wilbury Family as liner notes on the album’s cover.

The style of music that defined Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 deliberately contrasted against the contemporary music styles that were trendy at the time. This formula worked in the group’s favor as it was recognized in 1990 by the Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group. The critical and commercial success of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 inspired the five to keep this good thing going. Unfortunately, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988, bringing the five-man roster down to four.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3

The loss of Roy Orbison shook up Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. It also shook up the entire music industry and the fans. After Roy Orbison’s death, there was speculation Del Shannon or Roger McGuinn would join the Traveling Wilburys but it was determined by the remaining four members that Roy Orbison was not to be replaced. Now as a quartet, the men agreed to keep moving forward. Clean into 1989, George Harrison kept promoting the Traveling Wilburys, waiting for each artist to finish his solo artist schedules so the group could pick up where they left off. However, this also occurred when Bob Dylan was determined to capitalize on the revival of his solo career, which led to scheduling issues.

When the group began to record together again, it was intended to label the second album as Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, and on October 29, 1990, it was released. As was the case during the first album’s recording, Dylan’s tight schedule dictated the duration of the main album sessions. With Roy “Lefty Wilbury” Roy Orbison no longer with the band, the lead vocals were shared more prominently among Dylan, Harrison, and Petty. Just like the first album, a member of Monty Python’s cast, this time Eric Idle, used a pseudonym to write up notes about the Wilburys. Unlike the first album, however, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 wasn’t quite as successful as the first.

After the album’s release, Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Petty were eager to reunite again. As for George Harrison, he no longer shared the same enthusiasm of the Traveling Wilburys as he did in the beginning. There was talk of a potential 1991 tour but that never materialized, despite the fact the popularity was there for the men to pull it off successfully.

Traveling Wilburys Legacy

According to The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the Traveling Wilburys were described as the ultimate supergroup. The fraternal alter egos involved, along with the humor, served as the key element to what made the Wilburys so appealing. The lightheartedness that went into the supergroup’s presentation as half-brothers of some fictional family instead of exploiting each artist’s musical resume served as a piece of sunshine into the world that’s become too dark and severe for its good. In the least offensive manner possible, the buck against global authority and expectations were beautifully carried out by all five band members in a manner Harrison purposely engineered.

The legacy of the Traveling Wilburys recorded and released two studio albums and a box set. In total, ten songs from the group appeared on the music charts, as well as thirty-three registered collaborations.

Top 10 Traveling Wilburys Songs

# 10 – Tweeter and the Monkey Man

In 1989, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” peaked at number forty-one on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, coming from the album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. In this ballad, Bob Dylan served as the lead vocalist that featured George Harrison Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty singing as backing vocalists. It is the only song that excluded Roy Orbison’s vocal talent. The lyrical tale is about two drug dealers, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” It brought up a situation they had with an undercover cop whose sister was the love interest of one of the dealers. The verbal content in the song raised questions about one of the drug dealer’s gender as it seemed to toy with him, starting as a man, only to become a woman at some given point in the storyline.

Read More: Top 10 Bob Dylan Songs Of The 1970s

# 9 – Wilbury Twist

The music video behind “Wilbury Twist” featured a handful of comedic celebrities, including John Candy, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Harrelson, Eric Idle, Cheech Marin, Jimmy Nail, Ben Savage, Fred Savage, and Kala Savage. The highlight features attempts to master the song’s eponymous dance style as the band members perform the song. Fast, comedic, and dance-happy, “Wilbury Twist” seemed to serve as a friendly jab to famous 1950s and 1960s hits like “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again.” There’s even an offbeat reference to the folk classic, “Hokey Cokey/Pokey,” that’s had several versions of that song since the early 1800s.

# 8 – Nobody’s Child

The 1990 song “Nobody’s Child” was recorded by the Traveling Wilburys for Olivia Harrison’s charity project, Romanian Angel Appeal. It was a cover version from Hank Snow’s 1949 original that had become a standard despite failing to appear on any music charts when he released it. George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty agreed to record this single at the request of George Harrison’s wife, Olivia. The purpose behind the single was to raise awareness and funds for the Romanian orphans who were abandoned in state-run orphanages after the fall of Eastern Europe’s Communism. Bob Dylan suggested “Nobody’s Child” as a song for its relevance.

The first verse of Snow’s original was used, followed by a new second verse to address the situation of the children in Romania. The recordings featured the vocals of Dylan, Harrison, Lynne, and Petty, which took them forty-eight hours to do after receiving Olivia Harrison’s pleading phone call. “Nobody’s Child” was released as a charity single on June 18, 1990, followed by a music video that used animation and news footage of the Romanian children. On the Official New Zealand Music Chart, “Nobody’s Child” peaked at number nine. In the UK, it was a number forty-four hit. “Nobody’s Child” also appeared on Australia’s ARIA chart, peaking as high as number sixty-six.

Read More: Top 10 George Harrison Songs

# 7 – Not Alone Any More

Roy Orbison was the lead vocalist of “Not Alone Any More,” a song from the 1988 album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The lonely yet romantic theme served as a trip down memory lane, as Orbison’s dark ballads of the 1960s seemed to influence the performance that went into “Not Alone Anymore.” Although this song was not released as a single and did not appear on any music charts, it was highly favored by many music critics and fans.

Read More: Top 10 Roy Orbison Songs

# 6 – Inside Out

Released as the second single from the Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 album, “Inside Out” became a number sixteen hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and a number fifty hit on the Canadian Singles Chart in 1990. The focus of “Inside Out” revolved around a world that has turned yellow due to the environmental issues that have plagued it. It was issued as a promotional single in the U.S. and as a commercial single among some other nations. According to George Harrison, he and the remaining bandmate roster of Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty had the musical part of “Inside Out” completed within an hour, which served as encouragement that the Traveling Wilburys could still carry on despite the tragic loss of bandmate Roy Orbison.

Read More: Complete List Of Tom Petty An The Heartbreakers Albums

# 5 – Heading for the Light

“Heading for the Light” was a number seven hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and a number eighty-eight hit in Australia after it was released in 1989. It was the third and final single from the Traveling Wilburys’ first album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Although George Harrison wrote the song, the entire supergroup received the credit. George Harrison and Jeff Lynne were the lead vocalists in this song, and it was issued as a promotional single in the U.S.

“Heading for the Light” was a song that illustrated the singer’s decision to trek on a sure path after dealing with personal issues as he reconnected with his spiritual side. The saxophone solos are credited to Jim Horn, acting like a transitional bridge from self-doubt to self-confidence. The backing vocals provided by Roy Orbison carried forth an ethereal presence while the guitar riffs by George Harrison seemed to set the overall tempo of a spiritual song.

Read More: Top 10 Electric Light Orchestra Songs

#4 – She’s My Baby

On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “She’s My Baby” peaked as high as number two after its release in 1990. It was a number thirty hit on the Canadian Singles Chart, a number fifty-eight hit in Australia, and a number seventy-nine hit in the UK. It was released as the first single from the Traveling Wilburys’ second album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. Now with a roster of four stars instead of five due to the untimely death of Roy Orbison, the vocal performance was shared between George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty as each sang a portion of the track. In the U.S., “She’s My Baby” was only issued as a promotional single.

Read More: Top 10 Tom Petty Songs

# 3 – You Got It

Technically speaking, “You Got It” is credited to Roy Orbison as it came from his final album before his death, Mystery Girl. At the time of recording, he was still a Traveling Wilbury member, but working with the supergroup inspired him to record his first all-new material album since 1979. Some fans thought “You Got It” was a hit single by the Traveling Wilburys, but this was not the case. However, the bandmates from that group, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, co-wrote this song, sang as backup, and played the instruments for it and the rest of the music on the Mystery Girl album. Jeff Lynne was also the record’s producer.

Even George Harrison, the brainchild behind Traveling Wilburys, was involved. Bob Dylan was the only name missing from the lineup, but he was very busy with his solo career. Mystery Girl was Roy Orbison’s twenty-second studio album. It was released posthumously on January 3, 1989, nearly a month after he died of a heart attack at fifty-two years old. “You Got It” peaked at number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was a number one hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. It would be the first time Roy Orbison had a top ten hit in twenty-five years. This single peaked as high as number three on the UK Singles Chart. The music video for “You Got It” came from the performance Roy Orbison did at the Diamond Awards Festival in Belgium on November 19, 1988.

Orbison died seventeen days later, on December 6, 1988. This single earned a gold certification from the Australian Recording Industry Association, Music Canada, and the Swedish Recording Industry Association. It also became certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry. Despite the credit of “You Got It” going to Roy Orbison as a solo artist, it still has the solid influence of the Traveling Wilburys that is heard in it from start to finish.

# 2 – End of the Line

“End of the Line” was a tribute song the remaining members of the Traveling Wilburys performed in memory of Roy Orbison. The music video showed Roy Orbison’s guitar and photo rocking in a chair whenever his vocals were heard. It was the final track on Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, released in October 1988. Shortly after Orbison died in December of that year, “End of the Line” was released in January 1989. This was released during the same time as Roy Orbison’s twenty-second and final studio album, Mystery Girl.

That recording also involved most of the Traveling Wilburys and had been mistaken as the supergroup’s second studio album. This is partly why the supergroup’s second studio album was titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. “End of the Line” featured George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison singing the choruses in turn while Tom Petty sang the verses.

When it was released as a single, it peaked as high as number two on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, a number twenty-eight hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and a number sixty-three hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the Canadian Singles Chart, “End of the Line” peaked at number eight. It was also an international hit, peaking as high as number eleven in New Zealand, twelve in Australia, and at number fifty-two in the UK.

#1 – Handle with Care

“Handle with Care” earned its name after seeing this label on a box inside Bob Dylan’s garage studio. After it was recorded and presented to the executives of Warner Bros., the appeal of the song was so great that it prompted the full studio album recording of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart and the Canadian Singles Chart, “Handle with Care” peaked at number two. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it charted as high as number forty-five, and it was a number thirty hit on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.

“Handle with Care” also made a top five chart impression on the music charts belonging to Australia and New Zealand. On the official UK Singles Chart, it peaked at number twenty-one. Of all the singles the Traveling Wilburys released as a supergroup, “Handle with Care” was the most successful. The survival-themed storyline behind the song reflected on a generation that came out of the shadows of the 1960s, heading into the 1970s with the ability to handle each obstacle with care.

After the song was written and recorded, the issue of coming up with a title came up. After looking around Dylan’s garage, George Harrison spotted the label “Handle with Care.” Given the song’s content and mixed music styles that meshed country, folk, and rock together, it was perfect.

Updated May 14, 2024

Feature Photo: Takahiro Kyono from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

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