Saturday, November 29, 2008

Taveling Wilburys Volume 3

It's Saturday...time again for another long nerd-essay about a great album from the past!!! Last week I wrote a mini-novella about The Kinks and their album-- THE KINKS ARE THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY. This week, I'm in KC for Thanksgiving, so I didn't get to write nearly as much as I would have liked.

I like interesting, strange, weird music...and as most you know I dig classic rock--there's no classic rock more interesting, strange, and weird than The Traveling Wilburys. Most people have never heard of them, but everyone knows the band's members individually.
So sit back and enjoy another installment of Classic Albums Revisited:

Supergroup-defined (in the music world) as a group/band consisting of members whom are already famous. Most "supergroups" fall into one of two categories--awesome and lame. For every Blind Faith, CSNY, or Gorillaz...there are a dozen Damn Yankees or Bad Englishes out there, stinking up the joint.

The best supergroup, in my opinion, was formed in 1988 when former Beatle George Harrison got together with Rob Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and ELO-front man (mad genius) Jeff Lynne to form The Traveling Wilburys. Or should I say, "become" the Traveling Wilburys. The band had been friends for years, appearing on each others records--when Harrison's need for a B-side led to the formation of the band. Lynne was producing both Orbison and Petty, and over dinner they all decided to hop into the studio to record a song. But, as this was a rather spur of the moment decision--they had no studio to record in.

Ah! But their friend Mr. Zimmerman had a studio in his house! A quick call to Bobby Dylan got them a studio...and a fifth band member. The first Wilburys record, entitled VOLUME 1, came out to much critical and commercial success. This album is amazing and should be sought out by any classic rock fan. But of the two Wilbury records, I prefer VOLUME 3.

Yes, that's right. There are two records: VOLUME 1 and VOLUME3 (the numbering being a joke played on the record buying public at the behest of Harrison). I think VOLUME 3 jells better, overall. Shortly after VOLUME 1 was recorded, Roy Orbison died, leaving only Petty, Harrison, Dylan, and Lynne to carry on. I like Orbison's songs on VOLUME 1, but his voice is so different than the others (who all have pretty different-sounding voices) that he seemed a bit out of place on the first Wilburys record.

A lot of people dismiss the Traveling Wilburys as a joke-band. And in some respects, it's hard to argue against this. The songs are hardly serious, but they are fun. But just because something ROCKS doesn't mean it should take itself so damn seriously. That's the first reason I love the Wilbury records. You get all these famous guys together, at the peak of their game, and they're just letting it all hang out (so to speak). The second reason I like these records is that the songs are so collaborative. Unlike a lot of bands (supergroup or not), The Wilburys were all about sharing the spot light--in most cases the guys take turns singing lead vocals through out a single track. This old-school tactic make seem like not a big deal...until you hear Bod Dylan take over for Tom Petty (who took over for George Harrison) in a less than sixty-second time span.

Take for example, "Where Were You Last Night?" This song starts out as a Dylan song, but then the second verse is sung by Harrison (with everyone doing the chorus). By the end of the song, everyone's had a turn at the mike. Awesome.

VOLUME 3, while a collaborative effort has the dreaded Jeff Lynne-production thumbprint. It's a very 70/80s-ish wash of sound that people either love or hate. Basically, Lynne makes everyone sound like his old band, Electric Light Orchestra. This annoys some people, but I can over look it--because the band's other major influence is Tom Petty. Petty was the youngest Wilbury, and on the first record he was the most reserved/underused Wilbury. VOLUME 3 sees Petty really stepping up to the plate in a big way.

"You Took My Breath Way" is a lengthy, mellow-rocker that sounds like it could have fit nicely on a Heartbreakers album. I like it because it's at once very heartfelt, and also tongue-in-cheek (which is the only way to take a song writer talking about writing a song). The cheeky "Cool Dry Place," is 100% a Wilburys song (because it's so crazy) but features a very Petty prominently. It's a surreal song, about trying to find a place to store one's instruments (apparently, you need a cool, dry, place). Petty's also behind my favorite track on the record, "Poor House," which is a very country-fied jam about getting cleaned out by...wait for it...a woman. "Poor House" is pretty funny too.

Dylan, the great poet of our time, has a lot of great moments on VOLUME 3, too. His best song (and my second favorite song on the record) is "If You Belonged to Me." Maybe it's the sexist in me, but I love this very un-PC song. The lyrics are crazy too, example:

You say let's go to the rodeo
And see some cowboy fall
Sometimes it seems to me you've
Got no sympathy at all

This same song goes on to refer to the narrator's competition as a "ruthless pimp." Only Dylan could reference pimps and rodeo's in THE SAME FUCKING SONG. I'm not doing it justice, this song--like all of Dylan's contributions to VOLUME 3 are bizarre, surreal, I-can't-believe-I'm-hearing-this type stuff. But the strangest moment comes at the end of the record (more on THAT later).

George Harrison and Jeff Lynne are in the mix, but it's really Petty and Dylan doing much of the heavy lifting. Lynne's big moment is on "New Blue Moon" but even that song is pretty collaborative (with some great guitar, I might add). Harrison, who was pretty used to being the fourth wheel, remains more upfront than when he was in The Beatles, but still remains in the background for much of the record. I'd say his best track is "Devils Been Busy." George's sitar/Indian-influence is felt heavily on this track (it's done right, not done overboard like on some of Harrison's solo records).

The piece-de-resistance, the crown jewel of VOLUME 3--the thing that makes this record better than VOLUME 1, is "The Wilbury Twist." This song is a pseudo-dance "craze" song, like "The Twist" or even (dare I say it) "The Hokey Pokey." Oh course, it's bent and twisted and crazy as all hell. I love it. The album comes with the complete lyrics--with these really crazy illustrations that accompany them. It's satirical and fun. It's everything that's great about the Traveling Wilburys distilled into one song:

"The Wilbury Twist"
Put your hand on your head (hand on your head)
Put your foot in the air (foot in the air)
Then you hop around the room (hop around the room)
In your underwear (in your underwear)
Ain't ever been nothin’ quite like this
Come on baby it’s the Wilbury Twist

Lift your other foot up (other foot up)
Fall on your ass (fall on your ass)
Get back up (get back up)
Put your teeth in a glass (teeth in a glass)
Ain't ever been nothin’ quite like this
It's a magical thing called the Wilbury Twist
Everybody’s trying to do the Wilbury Twist

China, Belgium, France, Japan
Thailand, Poland, Pakistan
Everybody’s trying to do the Wilbury Twist
Roll up your rug (roll up your rug)
Dust your broom (dust your broom)
Ball the jack (ball the jack)
Howl at the moon (at the moon)
Ain't ever been nothin’ quite like this
Everybody's talking ‘bout the Wilbury Twist
Everybody’s trying to do the Wilbury Twist

Puerto Rico, USA
England, Cameroon, Norway
Everybody’s trying to do the Wilbury Twist
Turn your lights down low (your lights down low)
Put your blindfold on (your blindfold on)
You'll never know (you’ll never know)
When your friends have gone (when your friends have gone)
It Could be years before you're missed
Everybody's trying to do the Wilbury Twist

It's a different dance (It's a different dance)
For you all to do (for you all to do)
Spin your body (very versatile)
Like a screw (spin your body like a screw)
Better not forget it on your shopping list
You can stop and buy one
It's the Wilbury Twist
Aint never been nothing quite like this
Better come and get it,
It’s the Wilbury Twist

I guess by now you’ve got the gist
Everybody’s crazy ‘bout the Wilbury Twist
Ooooooo, aah!

VOLUME 3 is an interesting, often over-looked album--by a "dream-team" band. Check it out. And be careful when you try to do the Wilbury Twist.

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