It all started by accident; the Traveling Wilburys were never supposed to happen, but sometimes the best things in life come from the strangest of places.
It was mid-1988, George Harrison had just released his “Cloud Nine” album, and he needed to record a B-Side to his single “This Is Love.” Harrison and co-writer Jeff Lynne of ELO went to Bob Dylan’s home studio to record the track. It just so happened that Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Dylan were all hanging out in the studio that day, so Harrison decided they should all record a song together. That’s just the way George was: he was a very hospitable person, and it led to the recording of the jovial “Handle With Care.” The song was so good that they decided it needed a full-length album. Thus was the beginning of the super-group Traveling Wilburys.
The Traveling Wilburys were the dream team of rock and roll, and their first album displayed the perfect combination of all its members’ songwriting talents. On “Vol. 1,” each member adds his own special flavor, leaving egos aside during the recording. This mutual respect for each other allowed the Traveling Wilburys to produce a carefree yet focused album. A collaboration of this size has never sounded so pure.
One member in particular, Orbison, has never sounded better. He acted as the wise rock ‘n’ roll mentor of the group, crooning and growling in songs like Harrison’s “Handle With Care” and the Jerry Lee Lewis-esque “Rattled.”
In fact, the two now-deceased members of the band — Harrison and Oribson — take the spotlight on this album. On “Not Alone Anymore,” Orbison’s shaky voice is filled with heartbreak and emotion that one can only obtain though years of experience.
Harrison, on the other hand, sounds young again as he is surrounded by a band of friends for the first time since the Beatles. His voice resonates effortlessly in songs like “Heading for the Light” and the celebratory “End of the Line.” Plus, Harrison’s signature slide guitar licks underline most of the songs on “Vol. 1.”
The Traveling Wilburys weren’t about fame, money or glory. No, “Vol. 1” has become a legendary album not because of the band members, but because they became friends just to build upon the bond they shared in music.
This album is a perfect example of what talented musicians can do with a little bit of hard work and mutual respect, and it is no surprise that the result is nothing short of special. Was the music industry forever changed because of the Traveling Wilburys? Probably not, but thanks to “Vol. 1” the Traveling Wilburys is the only super-group in history that can truly be categorized as super.