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There are "supergroups," comprising people who have made their names playing with somebody more famous than they, and there are Supergroups. What started as a throwaway session for a George Harrison single turned into a meeting of five of the greatest rock and roll stars, representing three generations - Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison.

All had worked in various combinations before, but Lynne was the lynchpin for the project. A veteran of bands whose popularity had been largely limited to the United Kingdom - The Idle Race and The Move - Lynne and former Move leader Roy Wood had formed the Electric Light Orchestra, who reached international fame, Wood dropping out relatively early on. Having produced Harrison's Cloud Nine album, it was logical that Lynne produce an extra track for a European single released of "When We Was Fab." Lynne was currently producing Mystery Girl, the intended comeback album by Orbison, best known as the balladeer behind such late '50s and early '60s hits as "Crying," "It's Over," and "Blue Bayou." Soon, the Texan was drawn into the project. Looking for a quickly-available studio, they called Harrison's friend, Bob Dylan. By the time they'd all arrived, Petty (who'd toured with Dylan, and had produced a Del Shannon album with Lynne) had arrived. The song - "Handle with Care" was written by the group - mostly Dylan - with everybody participating in the music-making.

It was quickly decided that the song was too good - and too valuable a property - to be an obscure "B" side. Contractual obligations were somehow sorted out, and work began on the first album. The group assumed pseudonyms, sharing the Wilbury surname: Harrison was "Nelson"; Orbison, "Lefty"; Lynne, "Otis"; Dylan, "Lucky"; and Petty, "Charlie T. Jnr." Nevertheless, the group's true identities were among the worst-kept secrets in pop music history. Released in late October, 1988, Volume One rose to the No. 3 position on Billboard's pop album chart, and eventually sold more than three million copies in the United States alone.

Sadly, Orbison was not to share the success, succumbing to a heart attack on December 6 of that year.(The Mystery Girl album, released posthumously, sold more than a million in its own right).

Two years later, almost to the week, a second Wilburys album, Vol. 3, was released. Though there had been rumors that Del Shannon would join in Orbison's stead, it never came to pass; the remaining members now adopting the names "Clayton" (Lynne); "Spike" (Harrison); "Muddy" (Petty)' and "Boo" (Dylan). Though Vol. 3 had much of the same informal charm as its predecessor, Orbison's loss was felt by the members and audience alike. There was no chance of a tour, and the album wound up selling "only" a still-respectable 1 million copies.

Despite the Wilburys' star power and the albums' commercial success, both compact discs were pulled from circulation relatively soon, and remain out of print.

© 2004