Handle With Care
Not Alone Any More
Heading For The Light
Tweeter And The Monkey Man
End Of The Line
When people complain about overuse of the word 'Supergroup', it's not the Traveling Wilburys they're talking about. For this was a band so super that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were the junior partners.
"One night, George and I had a bit of a smoke and a drink, and he said: 'You and I should have a group,' Jeff told us. "I said: 'Who should we have in it?' 'Bob Dylan,' he said. 'Oh yeah, okay... Bob Dylan... What about Roy Orbison as well, then?' And we both suggested Tom Petty. I didn’t imagine it would actually happen. But it did.
"It was so easy it was unbelievable. Everybody said yes immediately, without even questioning it. Roy was thrilled to bits, and I then got to be pals with him. He’d moved to Malibu, just a few miles up the road from where I lived, and called me one day: 'Hi Jeff, it’s Roy. I’m ready to work!'"
They originally came together originally to record a Harrison B-side, but ended up writing and recording a whole album. And from a distance of 35 years the original session – Vol. 1 – still sounds a little underplayed and a little over-produced (Lynne’s ELO-style sheen doesn’t quite match the rootsy flavour of the songs) but it's undeniably good humoured.
Handle With Care, in which all five members take vocal leads, is the highlight, there’s a great Springsteen parody in Tweeter And The Monkey Man, and Dylan gets loose and at his joyful best on the wonderful Dirty World.
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in October 1988
- Talk Is Cheap - Keith Richards
- Blood Fire Death - Bathory
- Barcelona - Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé
- Rattle and Hum - U2
- The Land of Rape and Honey - Ministry
- Copperhead Road - Steve Earle
- Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth
- Everything - The Bangles
- Look Sharp! - Roxette
- QR - Quiet Riot
- I Am Kurious Oranj - The Fall
- Rage - T'Pau
- The Serpent's Egg - Dead Can Dance
- In the Spirit of Things - Kansas
- Till I Loved You Barbra Streisand -
- Living Years - Mike + The Mechanics
- Bug - Dinosaur Jr.
- Choba B CCCP - Paul McCartney
- Ultramega OK - Soundgarden
- Amnesia - Richard Thompson
- Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys
What they said...
"Handle With Care" and End of the Line are the two masterworks here, although Roy's showcase, Not Alone Anymore – more grand and moving than anything on the Lynne-produced Mystery Girl – comes close in the stature, but its stylised melodrama is a ringer here: it, along with Dylan's offhand heartbreak tune Congratulations, is the only slow thing here, and the rest of the album just overspills with good vibes." (AllMusic)
"While the Wilburys were intended as a lark, songs like Heading for the Light, Not Alone Any More and Handle With Care offer idealistic, romantic messages from a fraternity of rock graybeards. 'Well, it's alright, riding around in the breeze/Well, it's alright, if you live the life you please, says the opening lyric to End of the Line. It is a comforting notion indeed, as the uptight, conformist Eighties draw to a close." (Rolling Stone)
"The clumsy conceit – has-been supersession masquerading as family road band – produces more or less the mishmash you'd expect. Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan have never sung like brothers to anyone, much less each other, leaving Tom Petty's chameleon, Jeff Lynne's teddy boy, and George Harrison's dork to blend as best they can. Harrison's the only lead guitarist; Lynne plays not piano or Hammond B-3 but a marooned synthesiser; Orbison and Harrison take solo turns on songs that obviously belong on their own sorry albums." (Robert Christgau)
What you said...
Greg Schwepe: In our household, The Traveling Wilburys' Vol. I could also be known as “The Blank Album” or “The Whiteout Album.” That’s because the cassette was played so much the white paint listing the tracks was worn off, leaving us to have to stick the cassette in the car player to determine what side was what because we couldn’t even tell by looking. Pretty sure there were long stretches where there may have been some arm wrestling to see who could keep it in their car to listen on the way to work. My wife won, more often than not.
To me this incredible album of five superstars had its genesis with George Harrison’s Cloud Nine album. Totally played the heck out of that one, and it was produced by…well, one Jeff Lynne. And when I immediately heard Handle With Care and George taking the lead on most of it, I was sold. Also didn't hurt that New World Record and Out Of The Blue were owned and played a ton growing up. Oh, and Tom Petty's Damn The Torpedoes.
While each member; George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Roy Orbison all take the lead on various songs, the interplay lets you know this is a total group situation as you have each of them singing a line or two or adding background vocals.
And then, well I’d heard of Roy Orbison, and by the end of this album, I really knew who was. Dang, that’s a voice! And we get Tom Petty, adding yet another great dimension to the album. And him and Jeff Lynne kept the party going on Full Moon Fever.
When this album was released I was more familiar with the spoof performances of Bob Dylan’s songs where I had seen comedians do a nasally imitation or from skits on Saturday Night Live. But now I was a total Dylan fan as Tweeter and The Monkey Man turned out to be one of my favourite tracks.
Just out and out feel-good music. You figure you get this much talent together you might mess up the end product, but not in this case. 9 out of 10 for me on this one. End of The Line brought about a fine ending to this little gem.
John Davidson: The idea behind the Travelling Wilburys reflects George Harrison's ethos of gentleness and friendship and the band of brothers Wilbury that he and Jeff Lynne assembled gel pretty well to play stripped back listenable rock'n'roll infused with an early-70s sensibility.
The curse of the supergroup may be mitigated to a degree by the fact that they are genuinely icons and genuinely doing it for the fun of it, but that's largely where my enjoyment ends. Without the hook of being a major fan of any of the participants it struck me at the time as an exercise in nostalgia for Beatles enthusiasts .
Dylan has had all the rough edges polished off and only Tweeter And The Monkey Man has a hint at his lyrical edge. Tom Petty is the clear winner in terms of sounds that he would go on to replicate in subsequent albums to good effect I never understood the appeal of Roy Orbison so his inclusion in the group was baffling to me and remains so today. (I read that Tom Petty was a huge fan).
Inoffensive nostalgic rock has its place, I guess, but I'd listen to the work of Petty, Dylan, ELO and The Beatles before I ever got round to putting this on again.
Uli Hassinger: I bought this record the year it was released. In the mid 90s I changed to CDs and gave all the records away. This was one of the albums I did not buy new as a CD because I wasn't very impressed of it. So this was the first listening for almost 30 years.
The album contains three really good songs which are Handle With Care, Not Alone Anymore and Tweeter And The Monkey Man. I especially like the remarkable old school singing of Roy Orbison. Tweeter belongs amongst Dylan's very best songs. Handle With Care has this Beatles vibe and the different voices match brilliantly.
Congratulations and Heading For The Light are ok too. But the other five songs are more or less a waste of time, totally inexpressive. It's like too many cooks spoiled the broth. Therefore it's a 5/10.
Alex Hayes: One of those magical instances of capturing lightning in a bottle, The Travelling Wilburys' Vol. 1 is an absolutely delightful record.
There was a period, around the time of the release of this album, where me, my Dad and his second wife Gail were in the habit of taking the car up to the Lake District most weekends to take in the scenery, and occasionally stop over. This album was a major part of the soundtrack to those days, and hearing any one of these songs immediately puts me in mind of shimmering lakes, winding lanes, beautiful sweeping valleys and great weekends staying at the Fish Inn up in Buttermere. No wonder I have such a fondness for this record!
For anyone that's been living on Mars for the last fifty years, The Travelling Wilburys were a supergroup composed of five legends of rock, all performing under the pseudonyms of the titular 'Wilbury' family. We've got Nelson (George Harrison), Otis (Jeff Lynne), Lefty (Roy Orbison), Charlie T. Jr. (Tom Petty) and Lucky (Bob Dylan). The group had been formed in a suitably off-the-cuff fashion by Harrison in April 1988. The original modest intentions for this union had been to throw together a song for the b-side to one of Harrison's singles, but, when completed, the resulting Handle With Care was far, far too good to be wasted in that fashion. Matters escalated, and we ended up with The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1.
There are several reasons why The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 works so well. Everything obviously hinges on the quality of the songs, and Vol. 1 is no slouch in that department (the aforementioned Handle With Care, End Of The Line, Heading For The Light and Tweeter And The Monkey Man being particular standouts). The album plays to each Wilbury's strengths, and there is enough room across the 10 tracks for each member to shine. There is also a surprisingly pleasing blend between the differing vocal styles. The harsher vocals from Petty and Dylan somehow sit remarkably well alongside the sweeter tones from Harrison and Orbison.
The album's single greatest strength however is just how upbeat and buoyant the music comes across as. I used the word 'modest' earlier, and it's an adjective that also sums up the intentions of this album very well. There are no highfalutin ambitions on display here. It's just the sound of five great artists having fun creating music together. That spontaneity and camaraderie really come across to the listener. The music here oozes positive. 'good time' vibes, regardless of any of the lyrical content.
That infectiousness rubbed off on the general public big style too. The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 was an immediate hit, helping to give the careers of all the individual Wilburys a shot in the arm. Sadly, only two months after the album's release, tragedy then struck. In December 1988, Roy Orbison passed away, just as his sterling contributions to Vol. 1 were starting to get noticed. Orbison's absence was certainly felt on the inevitable follow-up album. Two years later, the four remaining Wilburys attempted to capture that lightning again, and failed.
That sequel was rather cheekily titled The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 3. It was a practical joke that fooled quite a few people, including my Dad ('I don't remember them making a second one, do you?'). It's not a bad record, but nowhere near as charming as Vol. 1. It misses Orbison's falsetto, and I'm convinced Dylan was pissed up during the recording sessions. His vocals certainly come across that way in places. Vol. 3 was nothing like the commercial smash of the first album, and, taking the hint, the Wilburys retired, each remaining member returning to focus on their solo career (or, in Lynne's case, production).
Perhaps the member of the Wilburys that capitalised best on the success of Vol. 1 was Tom Petty, whose next two albums (Full Moon Fever and Into The Great Wide Open) had more than a little of a Wilburys feel about them, and sold millions. Fine records they both are too. It's no coincidence that Lynne produced both. Petty passed away six years ago today. I'll never forget the date, as it was also on my birthday. Talk about unwanted birthday gifts.
The Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 will always be an album I hold dear. It's often been the case that I'll be out somewhere and the opening chords of Handle With Care will start playing on the jukebox, immediately brightening up my evening. Of all the supergroups that rock music has thrown together down the years, I doubt another will ever possess the charm and personality of The Travelling Wilburys. A complete one off.
Richard Cardenas: Excellent record. One that still brings me joy. 10.
Alejandro Bravo: Great album.
Matt Roy: Great album!
Paul De Maria Mañas: Magical. It was an instant classic for me at the time and it has just got better. 10/10
David Williams: Corker.
Diego Figueira: 10/10.
Mike Canoe: Is Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 the most "dad rock" album ever? Quite possibly. At the time, Tom Petty was the only one whose music I was into. Everyone else seemed removed from me by at least a generation, in Roy Orbison's case, two.
When it came out, it seemed like a quirky way for a bunch of old guys to get together and goof off and have some fun. My opinion hasn't changed much but I enjoy the music much more now. Of course, I've also aged squarely into their target demographic.
Bob Dylan was in a rough patch for most of the '80s but two of his three songs resonate with me the most now. While I've read that Tweeter And The Monkey Man was a gentle parody of Bruce Springsteen, aside from the numerous "Jerseyisms," it sounds like one of Dylan's better rambling story songs. On Dirty World, he sounds like he's having more fun than he's had in a couple of decades.
Ultimately, it's a fun album by world-class musicians and songwriters riffing off each other and rocking, if gently, out of one decade into another.
Philip Qvist: I was a huge fan of ELO, liked Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and of course you have the legends that is the Beatles - even if I preferred George Harrison as a 60s and 70s songwriter, rather than as an 80s one. That said, I preferred Bob Dylan as a songwriter rather than as a singer, while I never really got into Roy Orbison. So when you get these five legends together, what do you get? An ego fueled mess, a classic or a bit of a mixed bag?
Well actually, what you do get is a pretty good album - even if it didn't totally set my pulse racing, or make me put this record on my list of Essential Classic Albums.
There are some great songs on it - I still like Handle With Care, Last Night and End Of The Line; and with this group of gifted songwriters you are hardly going to get a dud song on The Traveling Wilburys Vol 1.
I don't necessarily feel that all the songs mesh together, but that is hardly a surprise - and overall it is a rather good and enjoyable album that brings out memories of the late 80s, when I was still trying to find my own place in life.
Oh - and it does seem to be an album made by guys who were just there to have fun; after leaving their egos at the front door. It was probably the main reason for Vol 1's ultimate success.
Wade Babineau: Harrison had the success of Cloud Nine, Petty was back in form with Southern Accents and Orbison was marking a late career comeback. Dylan had completed a tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1987 and Lynne was working producer magic with the aforementioned Cloud Nine, Orbison's Mystery Girl album and laying down work that would result in Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever. They were all chatting amongst each other and the resulting album is a stars align moment.
Everyone gets their moment to sing and for my money there's not a bum track in the lot. Pleasantly surprising is the vocal effort of Dylan. He seemed engaged and having a great time in the studio and I think working with artists that were similar in their age and being around a legend like Orbison really pushed him to up the vocal game. Sadly Roy Orbison would pass away a few months after this album. Handle With Care, and End Of The Line were the hit songs on the charts, but the deeper cuts are just as well crafted. Not Alone Any More still sends a shiver. Tweeter And The Monkey Man remains a classic story song and Rattled makes the feet move everytime. 10/10.
Jacob Tannehill: The forces were aligned on this one. Not a bad song in the bunch. Those whose career needed a boost, got one, and those that maintained, continued! I still sing all the lyrics today. 10/10.
Chris Elliott: Dinner party rock guaranteed not to upset. It's not awful but it doesn't even come close to any of the individuals' best work - leaving it rather pointless as a record. It is very much more misty eyed nostalgia than anything else
Gary Claydon: A bunch of rock and pop giants having a ball and who could begrudge 'em that. Pleasant, undemanding, mildly diverting. I'd gladly listen to any of the individuals involved any day of the week but The Travelling Wilburys has never left a lasting impression. Ultimately, it's comfort blanket rock. Best bits, Harrison's guitar, Petty, Lynne's production. 5/10.
Mark Herrington: An album that meanders through the neural pathways , like a favourite local footpath. It’s familiar and undemanding , but there are no views to take your breath away or, steep ascents to make the heart beat faster. What it sets out to do, it does well though.
Final score: 8.22 (158 votes cast, total score 1299)
Join the Album Of The Week Club on Facebook to join in. The history of rock, one album at a time.