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Top 9 Best Traveling Wilburys Songs of All Time

Some will fondly remember the 60s and 70s as the era of the “supergroup.” Yawn… sorry dozed off briefly. These were musicians who often left the bands they were in to form something else they thought would be better. 

These bands were often born out of ego more than anything else. Perhaps the participants weren’t getting the attention they craved at any one time. Some of them even did it more than once.

And The Wilburys?

They never referred to themselves as a “supergroup.” That label was pinned on them, of course. Possibly by commentators who didn’t understand where they were coming from. But call them a “supergroup” to their face, and you would likely be facing some extremely upset people.

They were just the opposite of what had gone before. No egos, no pretense, no “look at me, aren’t I wonderful,” no self-opinionated importance of themselves. Just a bunch of friends doing what they loved to do.

They were all well-known and respected musicians and writers; of course, I am going to look at some of the stuff they produced. So, here are some of the best Traveling Wilburys songs of all time.

How Did They Get Together?

Best Traveling Wilburys Songs of All Time

George Harrison, contrary to popular opinion, missed playing guitar and anything else with his friends. Go around to his house, and it was likely a ukulele would be thrust into your hands. Time for a “uke jam.”

The break up of The Beatles was inevitable. In some ways, it cleared a path for him psychologically. It relieved him of the bitterness and ‘put-downs’ he had experienced in certain quarters. His wonderful song “Here Comes The Sun” talks about his hope for the future.

A free man…

Whereas before, his artistic side had often been suppressed internally, now he was free of all that. But, he missed the camaraderie of mates writing, recording, and playing together. He happened to mention it one night to his good friend, Jeff Lynne. He had been working with Jeff on his 1987 album, Cloud 9.

The idea of the Traveling Wilburys emanated from there. The members got together first to record a track for a forthcoming release from George. But, once finished, they realized how good “Handle with Care” was.

They decided to get together to record a full album…

Of course, they called it The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1. If in 1963, you might have suggested that George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Bob Dylan would be in a band together, then you might well have raised a few eyebrows. And probably been sent to the doctors for a check-up.

But, add on great talents in Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, and it happened. It was timely for both Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, who were both struggling a little bit creatively. The Wilburys changed all that.

The difference in writing and performing styles left some wondering what on earth the results of this collaboration might be. Many were quite surprised. So, let’s take a look at some of The Traveling Wilburys’ greatest songs.

Top 9 Best Traveling Wilburys Songs of All Time

Rattled

Let’s begin our look at the best Traveling Wilburys songs of all time by going back to the 50s in sound and style for this rockabilly romp. Plenty of everything going on and some great vocals from Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. One of the highlights for me is George going into Carl Perkins mode occasionally.

Taken from the album, The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1, it flies along. I am certain that Roy Orbison would have had a big smile on his face when they were recording this. Plenty of fun and innocence, it is one of the highlights of that first album.

Last Night

This is a song that was mainly the work of Tom Petty, with a few additions where necessary from the others. It is an interesting song after the opening eight bars, principally of percussion. You could almost be forgiven for hearing “Desmond has a barrow in the marketplace” start the vocal.

It is a song that shows why they all fit together so well. The combination of Tom Petty’s three-chord style along with a variant ‘Orbison-style’ almost Latin flavored bridge.

A simple song about a romance that has plenty of humor woven into the lyrics. Another example of how happy they are all to be working with each other. And one of the most popular Traveling Wilburys songs.

Heading For The Light

George’s struggles towards the end of The Beatles are well-documented. We certainly do not need to go into that here. But, he was on a spiritual journey as he saw it. And he firmly believed in the 2500-year-old doctrine of “All Things Must Pass.” And, so for him, eventually they did. 

In some ways, The Traveling Wilburys was almost the last piece of the puzzle. A journey that would take him from doubt and confusion to inner peace and a surety of things.

A George Song

George wrote most of the song, as always, with a little help from the others where needed. He also takes most of the lead vocal duties with Jeff Lynne. As you can guess from the title, it chronicles his journey from darkness into light. A journey that ultimately brought him out of despair.

Once again, a mid-tempo rocker that carries with it hints of his past musical influences. In many people’s eyes, one of The Traveling Wilburys’ best songs on that first album. It was released as a single in 1988.

Dirty World

This is a track that was a major contribution from Bob Dylan. Not your typical song from his extensive catalog, it is an uptempo, almost country-rock song. He delivers it in the way he did “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” half-talked, half-sung.

It has plenty of rhythm about it, though, as you try and get to grips with the lyrics. Plenty of electric rhythm guitars and some blasts from the horns make this an interesting track. Once the song gets going, it is quite obviously a Dylan song which gives the album plenty of variety.

Tweeter And The Monkey Man

Another track where the lead vocal is taken by Bob Dylan, which indicated that he had plenty of input in the writing. George Harrison later said that Tom Petty also had a part in the finished product.

Dylan takes lead vocals on the verses, and the others join in for the chorus. This was the only track on the first album where Roy Orbison did not contribute. However, it remains one of the most successful Traveling Wilburys songs.

It is a simple piece of rock n roll that has an almost folk feel to it, albeit with some interesting lyrics that some find quite dark. Tom Petty included it on an album with the Heartbreakers, and it has had several other covers.

Nobody’s Child

Whilst many celebrated the continuing and gradual collapse of Communism, there was always going to be another side of the situation. 

It is all well and good working for such eventualities and the collapse of a nation’s ideology. But what about those people that are most affected by it? Do we think about how to help them? Of course, we don’t; that doesn’t form part of our thought patterns. The help is usually provided by individuals who care about humanity.

Olivia Was A Driving Force

Olivia, George’s wife, brought the dire situation of the orphans just abandoned in Romania after the fall of Ceaucescu to the attention of the band. State-run orphanages were just left with thousands of kids inside and no help.

It was Bob Dylan who suggested they record an old 40s song, “Nobody’s Child.” George rewrote some of the lyrics to include an extra verse about the abandoned children.

Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal was released in 1990, and all proceeds from sales went to the Romanian Angel Appeal Foundation, which Olivia was creating.

Here We Go Again For George

He had been here before, of course. George had been at the front of an effort to raise money for the refugees displaced in the war in Bangladesh.

For the Nobody’s Child project, he asked some others to contribute material. He didn’t even get answers from Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or Michael Jackson. Contributions from Queen and Stevie Winwood turned up too late. Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr, and Barbara Bach also lent their support.

The song “Nobody’s Child” was first released in 1949 by Hank Snow. It was written by Cy Coben and Mel Foree. Today, it is still one of The Traveling Wilburys’ most powerful songs.

She’s My Baby

There must have been some sadness around when they finally got around to recording what proved to be their last album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. Ironically, there was no Volume 2.

This was the opening track of the album and the first recording following Roy Orbison’s death. It was written by all the surviving members, and each took a share of the lead vocals. Of all the tracks they recorded, this has always been my favorite. It rocks along at a great pace with some nice rhythm guitar riffs and breaks. It was released as a single in November 1990. And, who played the guitar solo? That would be Gary Moore.

Whilst they didn’t get a lot of chart success, this performed better than most. It rose to #2 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks in America. Roy, in his earlier days, was known to rock a bit. He would have loved this.

Handle With Care

So let’s bring this look at the best Traveling Wilburys songs of all time nearly to a close where it all started. As I have mentioned, this track was supposed to be an addition or a bonus track. Added on to George’s latest European release. 

It offered much more and was one of the prime reasons George suggested a band to the others. To write, record, play, and have some fun. No “supergroup” egos, just mates having a good time.

The First Single

It was appropriate then that this was released as the first single. George sang the verses, Dylan and Orbison the bridges. A country rock song, you can hear so much of The Beatles musically, and with a Dylan-esque structure to the lyrics.

It is full of joy, happiness, and a new camaraderie between them that can only exist in friendship. No one trying to steal the limelight, no one telling George to practice his songwriting a little more. It was a great choice as a first single, and you couldn’t find a better introduction to the band than this.

So Many Plans

Roy Orbison was the first to go in 1988, thus putting an end to plans for a film and some other stuff. Jeff Lynne was particularly affected and saddened by his sudden death. 

They never tried to replace him. How could you? As a tribute, the second single, “End of the Line,” showed Orbison’s guitar rocking in a chair in the music video when it came to his vocals.

End Of The Line

Even though the sadness and the poignancy of Roy’s guitar rocking in the chair is a reminder. And despite his photo on display in the background, there is still a positive happiness to this song. I suppose it reflects what they were all about. 

He was an important member of the Wilburys, and they recognized him as such. The song rocks along at a steady pace and is full of the atmosphere of mutual contribution. 

As the most well known Traveling Wilburys song, it is an appropriate ending to what was a spectacular period for us and them.

Looking For More Great Songs?

We have you covered. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best The Guess Who Songs of All Time, the Best Fleetwood Mac Songs, the Best Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Songs of All Time, the Best Cody Jinks Songs of All Time, and the Best Grateful Dead Songs of All Time for more great song selections.

You’ll need to listen to all those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Headphones Under $200, and the Best Headphones with Volume Control you can buy in 2023.

Best Traveling Wilburys Songs of All Time – Conclusion

George has now left us, a couple of years after Roy, as has Tom Petty, so only Bob and Jeff remain from what was a joyous, happy time in music. But it must be remembered it was just as important for them as individuals as for us, the listeners.

Chart Success?

Not really, but that isn’t why they did it. “She’s My Baby” did okay, but the songs were never commercialized for consumption. They were just some friends making music, writing, and playing what they wanted to do. Having fun.

They were a great band that left us with plenty of joy. Status without the egos. They didn’t need that, never did. 

One thing that may have brought a silent smile to George’s face was the success of “Cloud 9” and the Wilburys. It meant George finished the 80s as the most successful of the former Beatles. That might have raised a few eyebrows in certain quarters.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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