Never heard of the Traveling Wilburys, you say? You will. They are unquestionably the worst-kept secret in pop music.
The Traveling Wilburys (Otis, Charlie T. Jr., Nelson, Lucky and Lefty) are none other than rock superstars Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty.Some time ago, the super-star quintet got together casually at Dylan's Malibu home to play a few riffs together, but liked what they heard so much that they decided to go into the studio and expand it into a full-fledged album.
And judging from character of the album, they had a whole lot of fun doing it. The album's tongue-in-cheek liner notes introduce the Wilburys as a race of people who took to traveling and whose music "was revered by the elders of the tribe who believed it had the power to stave off madness, turn brunettes into blondes and increase the size of their ears."
Or the group's bio, which quips, "Where there's a will, there's a Wilbury."
Add in the song lyrics, which alternately poke fun at Bruce Springsteen, Prince and themselves, and you have an irresistible collaboration.
The temptation is to write off such collaborations as the unimaginative workings of the idle rich (or is that idol rich?). Where "collaboration" LPs traditionally end up as collections of throwaways from solo efforts, this one is remarkably different: It has Lynne right up with Harrison, Dylan next to Petty, and all four paying homage to the master craftsman Orbison - who contributes some of his strongest material ever.
"Volume One" could have been a recording disaster waiting to happen. But it's not. It's one of the year's finest albums, a delightful mesh of everything that was good about 1960s rock 'n' roll.
To borrow a phrase from the Wilburys, "It's all right, even if you're old and gray, Well it's all right, you've still got something to say."
The lead vocals are shared, round-robin style, and though they're spread fairly evenly among the five, it's easy to see who wrote what. Dylan is Dylan, Orbison is Orbison, etc. And when you get all five harmonizing and sharing musical prowess, it's magical.
Like on "End of the Line," where the all-stars intone, "Maybe somewhere down the road a ways/You'll think of me and wonder where I am these days/Maybe someday when somebody plays `Purple Haze."'
It's easy to say the Traveling Wilburys are a throwback to 1960s music. But "Volume One" represents the best in rock of any age.