Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Traveling Wilburys, Vol. Next

I've always felt conflicted about supergroups. They always look good on paper, and yet they never quite live up to the hype. I shouldn't say "never," since the occasional supergroup song is honestly super: I heard Asia's "Heat of the Moment" the other day and was instantly transported back to my childhood, when I was wholly prepared to become a rock drummer.

Asia wasn't just a rock group; it was a rock "super group," featuring a who's who of progressive rock: Steve Howe from Yes, John Wetton from King Crimson and blow-my-mind drummer Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake and Palmer (in the video for "Heat of the Moment" he played this sweet fill and then THREW HIS STICK IN THE AIR AND CAUGHT IT!!!). I was all about Asia for the very brief period of time in which they were popular. Critics, apparently, weren't as blown away by Palmer's stick throwing, and the band sort of imploded. I moved on to devote myself temporarily to other supergroups like the Power Station (with Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran), Hindu Love Gods (with Warren Zevon and members of R.E.M.), and Animal Logic, featuring Police drummer Stewart Copeland, jazz bass phenom Stanley Clarke and some piano teacher they hired to write songs and sing.

Asia is only one of many supergroups, as it happens, each of which has its moment and then doesn't. From the 60s-era Cream and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to the glut of the last couple of years (Them Crooked Vultures, Tinted Windows, the Dead Weather, Atoms for Peace, the Damned Things and Broken Bells), supergroups keep seeming like a good idea to successful but restless musicians. Sometimes they crank out some great music; other times they fail to thrive. Time magazine once described these phenomena as amalgams "formed by the talented malcontents of other bands," which is probably the clearest insight into why they tend to be short-lived.

My favorite supergroup, bar none, was the Traveling Wilburys. It was a classic blunder in many respects (a Beatle! Bob Dylan! Roy Orbison!) and their accomplished admirers from a later era (Tom Petty! That guy from ELO who produced Tom Petty!). They took fake names and pretended they were brothers, and they made no attempt to blend their voices; how could they, with sweet-toned George Harrison and Roy Orbison standing right next to road-worn Dylan and nasally Petty? They took turns singing, with one member playing point, and never quite sounded anything more than George Harrison and a bunch of friends horsing around. But I like when friends horse around, and regardless of how funny they sounded, you're still listening to some of the best songwriters ever singing each other's songs. Everybody wins and no harm done.

Roy Orbison died before the release of the band's second single, and George Harrison died in 2001, and the band has effectively died as a result. But the idea of the band never quite died. Get some friends together, have a good time, record some undeniably catchy tracks, make your fans happy while enjoying yourself. Harmless fun that I'd like to see some more folks have. So I put the question to some friends on Facebook: Who should populate a revived Traveling Wilburys?

Three of the original members, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, are still living. So we might give them honorary spots. But here's the very nostalgic and potentially entertaining list my friends came up with:

Kid Rock, hard-edged rocker and noted nostalgist.

Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.

Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits.

Elvis Costello, straight from heaven.

T-Bone Burnett, Grammy- and Oscar-winning producer.

Pete Townshend of the Who.

Robyn Hitchcock, of Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians.

And Sufjan Stevens, artiste extraordinaire.

A list this long looks less like a supergroup and more like a benefit concert. But I'm open for more suggestions. I just want to horse around and enjoy some good music; is that so wrong?

2 comments:

David A. Zimmerman said...

I forgot Neil Finn of Crowded House--my first choice!

Mark Nielsen said...

You missed at least one former supergroup from that era in the list above, probably more. Besides that Damn Yankees thing that Styx's Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent did (which I promise to never bring up again)... there was one I liked called Little Village. Here's the wiki lead:

"Little Village is an album by the supergroup of the same name, consisting of Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. They had performed as a group recording the John Hiatt solo album *Bring the Family* in 1987."

They did just the one record, nominated for a best album Grammy, but then presumably went back to their decent solo careers or studio/backup tour work (see Cooder, Keltner) or selling their great songs for bigger stars to cover (see Hiatt and Lowe, esp. early careers).

Just chiming in, catching up after being down too long. Tell you what, I'll write five letters to the managers of the artists on this list, you take the rest, and lets see if this re-boot will fly. Oh, and if we need a chick to sweeten the pot, I vote Sheryl Crow.

Mark "Townshend" Nielsen