Powers founded on the supergroups of the now are pale comparisons to what the late 1980s had in store for audiences. McBusted are a strong contender, surely, but not close to the might and influence Traveling Wilburys had in their two short years together. Artists who have crafted some of the all-time greats, not just once, but consistently so. Traveling Wilburys that is, not McBusted. Generations of influence, and decades of musical experience, all siphoned off into a ten-track album that spawned from a light joke of a single turning into something far, far more powerful than could ever have been expected. Handle With Care indeed. It didn’t get much better for this supergroup than Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1.
There are a tremendous number of reasons for this supergroup to mark their debut as their best. It featured the strongest line-up out of the two, and that comes from Roy Orbison’s passing more than anything else. Bob Dylan. Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Tom Petty could clearly hold their own, but the warbling voice of the Pretty Woman singer holds a perfect resonance with the opening and closing tracks, Handle with Care and End of the Line. That bookend of perfection gives a great rise and fall. Their two singles are, naturally, the high points of the album and the whole of the supergroup’s existence, but sandwiched between those star-studded tracks are some wilder bouts of the creative process.
But the more time passes between now and first listening to Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, it is harder and harder to escape the implication that it is a two-track album. That is more the fault of YouTube algorithms pairing random songs together, but is there sincere love for other tracks from Dylan, Harrison and company? Absolutely. Quieter and forgotten ballads linger on both the A-Side and B-Side and feature an excellence rather typical of the ensemble. That consistency is at another level with tracks such as Congratulations and Tweeter and the Monkey Man tremendously stalwart inclusions on an album that isn’t as boastful of its ensemble as it would have been expected. That says more about the star power at the time for these artists, though, and what this supergroup did for their respective careers.
Petty or Harrison probably had the stronger discography around this time. The late 1980s were a tad barren for Dylan, whose Infidels and Slow Train Coming charms had diminished, Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra was beginning to wind down its album releases and Orbison was processing an excellent comeback album, Mystery Girl, which would be released next year. All included on The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 are strong, strong artists. Lynne described the death of Orbison as a “sickening” experience, and that much is true. Orbison’s vocals are a beautiful contrast to the Petty and Dylan choruses, the Harrison lyrics and the Lynne symphony crashing through. Five huge names, megastars at different points in time, all coming together to make a passion project that has both real desire and surprisingly broad appeal to it. Never a sleeper hit, but Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1 never feels like it garnered that true appreciation afforded to the individuals within this group.