Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Handle with Care - The Traveling Wilburys

SONG Handle with Care

WRITTEN BY George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty

PERFORMED BY The Traveling Wilburys

APPEARS ON The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)

I love this song; it's a joy to listen to (and a joy to watch the video) because it's obvious that the musicians were having a blast performing it. It's also so celebratory: things have been bad in the past, but now it's all looking up, so let's celebrate. The pure joy of being together and having a great time is all over this piece.

This song was the birth of the Wilburys, and the story of its creation is as follows... George Harrison had just come out of a long stretch of depression and hiding away from the public. He'd been slowly emerging from the shadows in 1986 and '87, sitting in on other people's gigs and playing in some all-star charity gigs. As he was getting his mojo back, he thought of recording again, and Dave Edmunds suggested that Jeff Lynne was the ideal producer for the project. He was right; the two clicked, and the result was Harrison's 1987 album Cloud Nine, which was both a critical and a financial success, and brought Harrison back into the public eye in the best way possible.

In April 0f 1988 Harrison and Lynne were in Los Angeles to clean up some loose ends associated with Cloud Nine's success; Warner Brothers wanted to release "This Is Love" as a single, and they needed a b-side. At dinner with mutual friend Roy Orbison, the three thought it might be fun for them to rent some studio time and come up with a collaboration to use for the b-side tune. Someone suggested they use Bob Dylan's Malibu studio, and on the day of the recording session Harrison stopped by Tom Petty's house to borrow a guitar and ended up inviting Petty along for the ride. And the rest is history at its magical best.

Been beat up and battered 'round
Been sent up, and I've been shot down
You're the best thing that I've ever found
Handle me with care

Reputations changeable
Situations tolerable
Baby, you're adorable
Handle me with care

I'm so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won't you show me that you really care

Everybody's got somebody to lean on
Put your body next to mine, and dream on

I've been fobbed off, and I've been fooled
I've been robbed and ridiculed
In day care centers and night schools
Handle me with care

Been stuck in airports, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized
Handle me with care



I've been uptight and made a mess
But I'll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care

The tune itself sounds very much like a Harrison/Lynne idea, with classic Orbison on the chorus, but everybody contributed to the lyrics, calling out more ways to be abused as they went along, and apparently cracking up as they did; reports of the session include tales of everybody falling on the floor laughing as the called-out suggestions got more and more ridiculous. But oddlt enough, the final version of the lyrics seem to mirror what George Harrison's life had been like up to then, including that last verse: "I've been uptight and made a mess/ But I'll clean it up myself, I guess/ Oh, the sweet smell of success..." The last two years had certainly been a time of cleaning up and regrouping for him, and Cloud Nine smelled very sweet indeed.

When Warner Brothers heard the final product they thought, quite rightly, that no way was this a b-side. The decision to go back into the studio and record a full album was an easy one, and the result was The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, recorded in May of 1988 and released in October. Unfortunately Roy Orbison passed away on December 6 of that year, so the full group would never assemble again. The remaining Wilburys recorded another album in 1990, but it just wasn't the same.

This video is the official Warner Brothers music video to promote the song. You get a pretty good idea of how much fun they had with this; the video is every bit as celebratory as the song. Enjoy!


  1. What a tour this would have been!

  2. I do not know if you have seen this?

    Enjoy. WHAT A JAM THIS WAS ! !

  3. I remember a report from that time that Tom Petty skipped all the way home (figuratively) to report that "Roy Orbison is going to be in my group". It seems he didn't mention that Bob Dylan and George Harrison were also going to be there.

    Peter Tibbles

  4. K - Wouldn't that have been something? It was so unfortunate that Orbison died so suddenly and unexpectedly so soon after the album was released.

    Peter - Petty, Harrison, Lynne, and Dylan were contemporaries, and part of a group who often played together - they sat in on each others gigs, played together at charity concerts, and played on each others albums; playing together as the Wilburys was just part of what they'd been doing together for years. What made it special was Roy Orbison, a man they all respected and admired, in the same way that Harrison and Joe Brown were thrilled to be asked by Carl Perkins to share the stage with him at a fundraising concert. I'll be willing to bet Petty wasn't the only one walking on air when Orbison agreed to join in the fun.

  5. I had fun listening to the song! Really good music and lyrics!