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Listen to the isolated vocals for Traveling Wilburys ‘Handle With Care’


The blend of voices that made up The Traveling Wilburys were as eclectic as they were iconic. Steering the ship was George Harrison, with his sterling Liverpudlian drawl that had evolved from a backup harmony into its own unique timbre over his career with The Beatles. Harrison imagined a group with major talent and no egos, and began assembling the members based on friendship.

First and foremost was Jeff Lynne, the Electric Light Orchestra leader whose light tenor voice was pristine and sterling. Lynne was also an experienced producer and arranger who was helping Harrison complete his Cloud Nine album. While having dinner one night, Harrison brought up his group idea and asked Lynne who he would pick as his ideal candidate. Lynne brought up Roy Orbison, with whom he was working on Orbison’s comeback LP Mystery Girl. Harrison preferred Bob Dylan, the gravelly voice folk legend who had gone through a period of Christian rebirth throughout the 1980s.

Orbison’s strident tenor was a thing of legend, adding an unmistakable element to the already perfect blend of Harrison and Lynne’s voices. Dylan was on the other end of the sonic spectrum: equally as unmistakable, but nasally, gravelly, and roughly hewn. The four would make a formidable band, and Harrison had the perfect song for the foursome to record. Dylan’s garage was available, but Harrison had a problem: his guitar was at Tom Petty’s house.

With a voice that landed somewhere between Dylan’s nasally whine and Harrison’s immaculate sense of melody, Petty was a generation older than his counterparts, but otherwise fit right in with the easygoing nature of the band. When all five harmonised together, each unique voice unexpectedly blended into one monster sound.

On ‘Handle With Care’, the song that Harrison had penned specifically for his friends to record with him, the former Beatle takes the lead. All five verses are sung by Harrison, with his bright tenor setting the stage for his bandmates to follow. The song’s bridge was specifically written for Orbison, who contributes his old-school coo to perfect effect. Although he was older, Orbison added just the right amount of vulnerability and fragility to give the song’s lyrics the proper gravitas.

In ways that only they could, Dylan and Petty sing the first chorus together, beefed up with the other members’ harmonies. This is where it becomes essential for all members to contribute: Petty and Dylan have an edge that keeps things from getting too sterile, while Orbison and Lynne especially are there to smooth out the rougher tones. Harrison sits in the middle, bringing them all together in a coherent manner.

Listen to the isolated vocals on ‘Handle With Care’ down below.