Y‘all, I seriously hate everything this week. You know? Nothing has gone right. So now I’m here with a glass of wine and some comfort music. Tonight that comfort music is the incredible Traveling Wilburys: Vol. 1.
For those of you who were not around in the 1980s, the Traveling Wilburys consisted of Nelson, Otis, Lucky, Lefty and Charlie T., Jr. In real life, we call these people George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. No, seriously. This was one of the greatest talent pools possible in rock at the time (“Potentially ever!” - Mr. Brum), and it was formed because all five of these guys were dicking around in Dylan’s Malibu studio sometime in 1988 and decided that “Hey, maybe we could do a record. You wanna do a record, guys? That could be fun. I mean, I’m not all that busy tomorrow, or anything.”
So dudes made an album and then totally forgot about it by the afternoon. They didn’t even bother to give it a real name, just stuck “Vol 1.” on the cover and took a pot-smoking break. But! Once they remembered to show the album to their salivating agents, it proceeded to go triple platinum, in, like, three hours. Even though the members had scrupulously removed all trace of their real names to ensure that no one bought it just because of who was in the band. People knew. And they told their friends.
And that’s a good thing, because this album is total boss. Look at this video for the lead-in single and the song that inspired the five to cut a full album, the lovely, gentle Handle With Care:
(True fact: I’ve never seen this vid before. I’ve heard this song a thousand times but never seen this video. I might be smile-crying.)
Vol. 1 is the rarest kind of album – music for music’s sake. All these men had plenty of money; none of them were particularly young or sexy anymore, and they really had no need to create a crazy talented supergroup and record an album. It was a labour of love.
As a kid, I loved this album. I played it every day at my first job (age 14 – I was a cleaner at the kids’ club in my neighbourhood). Partly it was because I knew, I just knew, that some of the lyrics were vaguely dirty even if I couldn’t really understand what they were talking about, and I got a small thrill from that. Partly it was because I’d been raised on the Beatles and Dylan from a very early age, and it was fun to listen to them goofing around and having fun in the studio. Partly it was because the songs were simple enough to be accessible to a pre-teen or teenager; when Dylan sang, “I guess I must have loved you more than I ever knew/ My world is empty now cos it don’t have you,” by god I knew exactly what he was talking about. Vol. 1 is my growing-up soundtrack.
Allow me, please, to throw some songs at you:
And this hilarious Bruce Springsteen parody:
Ultimately, the Wilburys didn’t – and couldn’t – last long. Here’s the video for the last single off the album, “End Of The Line”:
The empty rocking chair is Orbison’s. He died shortly after the album was released. The Wilburys put out a second album in 1990 – called Vol. 3, just to fuck with everyone – but it never had the same magic as the original release. Vol. 1 stands as this shiny little moment in rock when five guys made a band, made some great music, and sent it out into the world to be loved.
I feel a little bit better now. Thanks, guys.