You would think that a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty would rack up massive hit singles. Yet their band, the Traveling Wilburys, peaked at only No. 63 with their stellar track “End of the Line.”
Released in 1989, the song was the second single off their album Volume One, and it still sounds fresh today. Its infectious, rollicking rhythm suggests traveling with buddies on a beautiful day.
The Traveling Wilburys’ story began in 1988 in the wake of Harrison’s hugely successful comeback album Cloud Nine. Harrison was about to release another single from the album, the breezy “This Is Love,” and needed a B-side for the track. As fate would have it, Harrison, Lynne, Orbison, and Petty were hanging out in Dylan’s studio, and Harrison suggested that they record a song together.
When Harrison presented the resulting song “Handle with Care” to his record label, then-president Mo Ostin loved it so much that he urged the ex-Beatle to expand the experience into an entire album.
According to Ostin, Harrison took full charge of the project. The name “Traveling Wilburys” derives from Harrison and Lynne (who produced Cloud Nine) calling studio equipment “wilburys”; later, Lynne suggested adding “traveling” to the name instead of their working title “trembling.” Upon release, Volume One and its lead single, the aforementioned “Handle with Care,” became instant hits and drew great critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Orbison passed away only a few weeks after Volume One’s debut; therefore he was represented by an empty rocking chair in the video for “End of the Line.”
“End of the Line” charms on several levels. Everyone except Dylan takes turns singing lead, with their vocals perfectly blending at various points. Guitars jangle and the chugging rhythm (courtesy of master drummer Jim Keltner) compliment the jaunty lyrics celebrating life.
“Well it’s all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay,” Lynne sings. But the crux of the tune comes during Petty’s part: “Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive; I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive,” he drawls. Harrison sings of the joys of “riding around in the breeze” and living “the life you please.” Orbison’s section now sounds eerie, considering he would die a short time after its recording: “Well it’s all right, even when push comes to shove. Well it’s all right, if you got someone to love. Well it’s all right, everything will work out fine. Well it’s all right, were going to the end of the line.” Overall “End of the Line” is an enjoyable ride, a chance to eavesdrop on old friends making music together.
The remaining Traveling Wilburys would go on to record one more album, the humorously titled Volume Three. While not as successful as its predecessor, the disc also contains lighthearted tracks that exude cheerful bawdiness, “She’s My Baby” and “Wilbury Twist” among them. Amazingly the album fell out of print for over a decade, but along with Volume One has been remastered and recently re-released. Harrison’s 2001 death ensured that the Traveling Wilburys supergroup will never record again, but their ebullient music, embodied by “End of the Line,” lives on.