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. Each of these artists already earned their own brand of fame as individual artists and as part of another big-name music group. Originally, the idea was to simply collaborate on the single, “Handle with Care,” but those involved agreed it was too good to simply become a limited release. 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 that was titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, which was 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, as well as a film, about the band. The final production of music the group released was in February 1991. There was a 2007 DVD box set that was released by George Harrison’s estate 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 personally chose Bob Dylan to become a Wilbury while Jeff Lynne chose Roy Orbison. The meaning behind the name “Wilbury” came from recording sessions that took place for George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album that began at the start of 1987. There were recording errors that took place that saw George Harrison jokingly comment to Jeff Lynne “We’ll bury ’em in the mix.” From that point forward, it became a term each time something went wrong while performing music. The name of Wilbury took form 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 at a time when Dylan’s career as a recording artist seemed to hit the skids. This project served as a revival for him, as well as for 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 of 1950s rock music. As for Jeff Lynne, working with his musical idol, Roy Orbison, was like a boyhood dream come true for him. 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 own star to begin with. 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 was classic. 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 that each had his own 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 bought a beloved icon into their midst. Also, due to the lack of professional studio availability at the time, 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” served as an inspiration for each member of the group to work on additional music material. This also led to filming the group’s creative process that was later edited by Harrison to use as a promotional film for Warner Bros. It was titled Whatever Wilbury Wilbury. The album’s recording took approximately ten days within the month of May 1988 as Bob Dylan was preparing 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, not only was there a mutual respect for each other as artists but also as people. As equal as they treated each other, George Harrison was respected as the band’s leader as it was he that had a natural 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 that also happened to be a Baptist minister. Even Monty Python’s Michael Palin got in on the act as it was he who wrote the fictional history of the Wilbury Family as linear 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 popular and 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 served as inspiration for the five-man 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 that the group could pick up where they left off. However, this also occurred at a time period that saw Bob Dylan 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 the intention to label the second album as Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, and on October 29, 1990, it was released as such. As was the case during the recording of the first album, 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 was 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 level of 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 successfully pull it off.

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 serious for its own good. In the least offensive manner possible, the buck against global authority and expectations was beautifully carried out by all five members of the band in a manner Harrison purposely engineered.

The legacy of the Traveling Wilburys recorded and released two studio albums, as well as a box set. In total, there were ten songs from the group that 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 that are called “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” It brought up a situation they had with an undercover cop whose sister was a 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 out as a man, only to become a woman at some given point in the storyline.

 

#9 – Wilbury Twist

The music video behind “Wilbury Twist” featured a handful of comedic celebrities that include 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, one that has become a standard despite the fact it failed to appear on any music charts at the time he released it. George Harrison, along with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty, agreed to record this single as a request from George Harrison’s wife, Olivia. The purpose behind the single was to raise awareness and funds for the Romanian orphans that were abandoned in state-run orphanages after the fall of Eastern Europe’s Communism. It was Bob Dylan that 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 made an appearance on Australia’s ARIA chart, peaking as high as number sixty-six.

 

#7 – Not Alone Any More

Roy Orbison was the lead vocalist to “Not Alone Any More,” a song that came 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 Any More.” 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.

 

#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.

 

#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 to come 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 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 what was a spiritual song.

 

#4 – She’s My Baby

On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “She’s My Baby” peaked as high as number two after it was released 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.

 

#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 as he worked with the supergroup, it served as an inspiration to record his first all-new material album since 1979. There were some fans who thought “You Got It” was a hit single from 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. The only name missing from the lineup was Bob Dylan but he was very busy at this time with his own solo career. Mystery Girl was Roy Orbison’s twenty-second studio album and 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 also 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 clearly 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. In the music video, it showed Roy Orbison’s guitar and photo rocking in a chair whenever his vocals were heard. It was the final track on the album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, which was released in October 1988. Shortly after Orbison died that year in December, “End of the Line” was released in January 1989. This was released during the same time frame as Roy Orbison’s twenty-second and final studio album, Mystery Girl.

That recording also had involvement from 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 as 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 relesed 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 it was 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.

Feature Photo: Takahiro Kyono from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Top 10 Traveling Wilburys Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021

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