Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Four). “Well It’s Alright, We’re Going to the End of the Line”.

The Traveling Wilburys were an English-American supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty.  The band recorded two albums, Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 1) (1988) and the mischievously and misleadingly titled Traveling Wilburys (Vol. 3) (1990).  Orbison died in December 1988, two months after the release of the first album.

Harrison had first mentioned the Traveling Wilburys during a radio interview with Bob Coburn on the Rockline Radio station in February 1988.  In answer to Coburn asking Harrison what he planned to do as a follow up to his 1987 album, Cloud Nine, Harrison replied:  “What I’d really like to do next is … to do an album with me and some of my mates ,,, a few tunes, you know.  Maybe The Traveling Wilburys … it’s this new group I got:  it’s called the Traveling Wilburys, I’d like to do an album with them and later we can do our own albums again”.

The band’s name derived from a slang term first used by Harrison during the recording of Cloud Nine with Lynne as producer.  ‘Wilbury’ referred to any small mistake in the performance, with Harrison saying to Lynne, “We’ll bury ‘em in the mix”.  Harrison originally suggested the name Trembling Wilburys for the band but Lynne suggested Traveling Wilburys, to which all members agreed.

The band name uses the American-English spelling, ‘Traveling’ in order to compliment the American / English membership of the band.  The ‘Wilbury’ joke was extended to the pseudonyms used by the band.  Taking on the guise of the Wilbury brothers, Harrison became Nelson Wilbury; Lynne became Otis Wilbury; Orbison became Lefty Wilbury and Petty became Charlie T. Jr. Wilbury.  Harrison had already used a number of pseudonyms in the past.  Take for example on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).

Additionally, as a session musician, he had gone under names such as L’Angelo Misterioso, George O’Hara and Hari Georgeson.  The five men stated that they were half-brothers and sons of the fictional Charles Truscott Wilbury Sr.  The real names of the band members never appear anywhere on any Traveling Wilburys release.

The band began with a meal between Harrison, Lynne and Orbison.  Shortly afterwards, they convened at Dylan’s home in Malibu, California to record a B-side for Harrison’s single, This Is Love (Cloud Nine, 1987).  Petty’s involvement came by chance due to Harrison leaving his guitar at Petty’s house.  When Harrison went to collect it, he took Petty back with him.  The resulting song was Handle with Care.  Those involved in the recording and Harrison’s record label felt that the song was too good to be thrown away on a single flipside and the five friends set out to record an entire album.  Recording took place in the home and garden of Eurythmics member, Dave Stewart.  Handle with Care is the opening cut on the resulting album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1.

The theme of travelling in the music of the Traveling Wilburys is most prevalent on the band’s second single and closing track of Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, End of the Line.  The single was released in January 1989.  The riding-on-the-rails rhythm of the song compliments the travel by train themed lyrics and the on-the-move nature of the band.  The whole band take on main vocal duties on the song, with the exception of Dylan.  Harrison, Lynne and Orbison take turns in singing the chorus whilst Petty sings the verses.  By the end of the song, the riding-on-the-rails rhythm has expanded into a freight train style rhythm.  Due to the video for the single being shot after the death of Orbison, the band opted to pay tribute to him with a single shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair next to a photo of their late friend.  The video shows the band members in a carriage of a steam train playing the song.

The song’s title refers to the train’s last stop whilst the lyrics contain the folk style wisdom derived from the band members’ past experiences.  As the song starts, Harrison takes the lead vocal with backing vocals from the other Wilburys.  The opening chorus sets the scene for the song, portraying the band members as free spirits:  “Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze, Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please, Well it’s all right, doing the best you can, Well it’s all right, as long as you lend a hand”.

In the first verse, with lead vocals by Petty, the band tell of how they are unconstrained by every day things:  “You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring, Waiting for someone to tell you everything, Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring, Maybe a diamond ring”.

Following this, the second chorus, with lead vocals by Lynne finds the band telling the listener not to take any notice of what anybody else says:  “Well it’s all right, even if they say you’re wrong, Well it’s all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay, Well it’s all right, everyday is Judgement Day”.

Verse two, with lead vocals from Petty, finds the narrator thinking of somebody he has left behind:  “Maybe somewhere down the road aways, You’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days, Maybe somewhere down the road where somebody plays, Purple Haze”.  “Purple Haze” refers to the Jimi Hendrix song, Purple Haze.  Purple Haze was released as the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second single in 1967 and was the opening song on the North American edition of his debut album, Are You Experienced?, also released in 1967.  Here, Petty is expecting his muse to associate the song with him whilst she is thinking of him.

The third chorus, with lead vocals by Orbison, continues the joyous celebration of being unfettered by worrying about the troubles of life:  “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’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, everything’ll work out fine, Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.  This verse is poignant due to “the end of the line” being an analogy for death as well as the end of the railway line.

The third verse, with lead vocals by Petty, tells of how the narrator cares little about material possessions and states that he doesn’t even mind if anybody is “by his side”, perhaps meaning a loved one or those who criticise him in general:  “Don’t have to be ashamed of the car I drive, I’m glad to be here, happy to be alive, It don’t matter if you’re by my side, I’m satisfied”.

The fourth chorus, sung by Harrison, begins with the lines, “Well it’s all right, even if you’re old and grey, Well it’s all right, you still got something to say”.  When the band formed, Harrison was 45 years old Dylan and Orbison were even older.  Whilst traditional societies have often emphasised the wisdom of older people, modern rock music usually considers even the relative middle age of 45 as being too old to be relevant.  This verse is notable for being adapted as the theme tune for the BBC series New Tricks (2003 – present) and sung by cast member Dennis Waterman.

As the fourth chorus continues, we find the line “Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live”.  “Live and let live” was the name given to the strategy used by soldiers of both sides in World War One to avoid killing each other if it could be helped, often via the negotiation of truces between low-ranking soldiers.  The war was essentially a pointless one, with the common man not having much to gain or a cause to fight for.  As a result, these truces were quite common.  The most famous truce occurred on Christmas Day, 1914 when the opposing sides took part in a football match.  Unfortunately, such truces were easily broken with high ranking officers organising raids to encourage the violence to start again or disciplining soldiers for cowardice if they objected to killing.  The punishment for cowardice was death.  In the context of this song, however, “live and let live” means something akin to “let sleeping dogs lie”; i.e. live your life without harming others if necessary.  The final line of the fourth chorus, “Well it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive” suggests that we should forgive those who have wronged you in order to be free of bitterness and therefore, happy.

The song comes full circle with the final chorus, with lead vocals by Harrison, which starts with the same two lines found in the first chorus.  The verse continues with the line, “Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine”.  The sun and clouds were reoccurring metaphors in Harrison’s songs, representing peacefulness and clarity.  For the best examples of this, see All Things Must Pass (All Things Must Pass, 1970); …

… Blow Away (George Harrison, 1979) …

… and Here Comes the Sun (The Beatles, 1968).

The song and the journey are neatly brought to a close with the line, “Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”.

In 2000, End of the Line was used at the close of the last episode of BBC television comedy One Foot in the Grave, Things Aren’t That Simple Anymore.  The song was played over a montage of clips from the lifetime of the show, following the death of its main character, Victor Meldrew.  Interestingly, Eric Idle, who provided provided the liner notes for Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 under the pseudonym Prof. Tiny’ Hampton, wrote and sang the theme tune for One Foot in the Grave.

Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day Two). “My Travelling Companion is Nine Years Old, He is the Child of My First Marriage”.

Paul Simon released his seventh solo album, Graceland, in 1986.  Prior to the album’s release, Simon’s career had hit an all-time low.  Following a reunion with former partner Art Garfunkel, which had been successful but contentious, Simon’s marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had fallen apart and his previous record, Hearts and Bones (1983), had been a commercial disaster.  In 1984, following a period of depression, Simon became fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music.  He planned a trip to Johannesburg in the New Year with producer Roy Halee, where he spent two weeks recording with South African musicians, who most famously included Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The album was recorded between 1985 and 1986 and featured an eclectic mix of styles ranging from pop and rock to a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya and andmbaqanga.  Simon faced much controversy for seemingly breaking the cultural boycott imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa at the time.  Furthermore, some critics felt that Graceland was an exploitive appropriation of African cultures.  Despite the controversy, Graceland was a major commercial hit, becoming Simon’s most successful solo album.

During the recording of the album, Simon would remain unsure of the album’s thematic connection.  He kept dozens of yellow legal pads with random words and phrases which he would combine in an attempt to define the album.  The album’s title was taken from a phrase written on one of the pads, “driving through wasteland”, which was changed to “going to Graceland”, a reference to the Memphis home of Elvis Presley.  In doing so, Simon believed that it represented a spiritual direction.  Just as he had taken his trip to Africa to collect ideas, he also took a trip to Graceland in order to revitalise his love for music.

The album’s title track tells of the singer’s thoughts during this journey following the failure of his second marriage.  As the song opens, we find the lines, “The Mississippi Delta was shining, Like a national guitar” in which the singer romanticises the spiritual home of the blues and the birthplace of modern music as we know it.  In the following lines, “I’m following the river down the highway, Through the cradle of the civil war”, the singer is driving through the area where many civil war battles were fought.

Following the chorus of the song, the second verse introduces us to Simon’s travel companion with the lines, “My travelling companion is nine years old, He is the child of my first marriage”.  Simon’s first marriage was to Peggy Harper from 1969 to 1975.  They had one son, Harper Simon.  However, Harper Simon was born in 1972, which would make the year of Simon’s trip to Graceland, 1981.  We know that the trip took place later, somewhere between 1983 and 1986.  Therefore, the child that Simon is talking about is more likely to be a metaphor for the emotional baggage which he carries from his first marriage.  With Simon’s marriage to Peggy Harper ending in 1975, we can date his journey to Graceland to 1984.  The idea of the “child” being a metaphorical one is made more apparent by the later line, “And my travelling companions are ghosts and empty sockets”, with the “ghosts” and “empty sockets” being the reminders of Simon’s failed relationships.  In several lines of the song, such as “But I’ve reason to believe, We both will be received in Graceland” Graceland is portrayed as a spiritual place, somewhere which the singer and other imperfect sinners can be unburdened of their troubles and regrets.  This can also be seen in the line in the chorus, “Poor boys and pilgrims with families”.

In the third verse of the song, Simon speaks of Fisher, describing the way “she” had physically left him but had then returned to let him know that she was leaving: “She comes back to tell me she’s gone, As if I didn’t know that”.  Simon also tells of how his sense of observation has been insulted by his wife telling him she has left him in the lines, “As if I didn’t know my own bed, As if I didn’t know that”.  In the same verse, Simon drifts into daydreaming thinking about his estranged wife with lines such as “As if I’d never noticed the way she brushed her hair from her forehead”.  Following this, Simon speaks of how vulnerable love makes people and the devastating effect his marriage break up has been on him with words spoken to him by Fisher:  “and she said, “Losing love, Is like a window in your heart, Everybody sees you’re blown apart, Everybody sees the wind blow”.

Some of the most curious lines of the song are found in verse five:  “There’s a girl in New York City, Who calls herself the human trampoline”.  Simon explained the meaning of “human trampoline” to SongTalk magazine, saying:

“That line came to me when I was walking past the Museum of Natural History.  For no reason I can think of.  It’s not related to anybody.  Or anything.  It just struck me as funny.  Although that’s an image that people remember, they talk about that line.  But really, what interested me was the next line, because I was using the word “Graceland” but it wasn’t in the chorus.  I was bringing “Graceland” back into the verse.  Which is one of the things I learned from African music: the recapitulation of themes can come in different places”.

As the Simon’s travelogue draws to a close, he sings of how the beauty of Graceland is the way in which “pilgrims” are received without question and do not need to explain themselves:  “And I may be obliged to defend, Every love, every ending, Or maybe there’s no obligations now”.

Musically, Graceland is notable for featuring guest backing vocals from Simon’s childhood heroes, Don and Phil Everly of The Everly Brothers.  Simon had previously paid tribute to the duo on Simon and Garfunkel’s album Bring Over Troubled Water (1970), which features a cover of the Everly Brothers’ Bye Bye Love (The Everly Brothers, 1958).

In The Story of Graceland as Told by Paul Simon, released by Legacy Recordings on the 25th Anniversary of Graceland, Simon stated, “I always heard that song as a perfect Everly Brothers song”.

Song of the Day: Travel in Music (Day One). “I Am A Traveller of Both Time and Space to Be Where I Have Been”.

Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s sixth album, released on 24th February 1975.  The band wrote eight new songs for what would become Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange recording studios.  Upon realising that due to the length of the tracks, they would not be able to fit all eight songs on one record, they decided to make Physical Graffiti a double LP by using the eight recorded tracks together with one outtake from Led Zeppelin III, three from Led Zeppelin IV and three from Houses of the Holy, including the unused title track.  The new songs written for Physical Graffiti included Kashmir, a monolithic eight minute piece which became a staple part of every Led Zeppelin concert from 1975 onwards.

The song was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with contributions from John Bohnam, over a period of three years.  The lyrics were written by Plant in 1973 immediately after Led Zeppelin’s 1973 US Tour in an area he has referred to “the waste lands” of Southern Morocco, whilst driving from Goulimine to Tantan in the Sahara Desert.  Despite the geographical location of the song’s conception, the song is named after Kashmir, a region in the Indian subcontinent.  In an interview with William S. Burroughs in 1975, Page mentioned that at the time of the song’s composition, none of the band had been to Kashmir.  Plant explained the reason for naming the song Kashmir to Cameron Crowe for his extended essay to accompany the Led Zeppelin boxset, The Complete Studio Recordings in 1993:

“The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on, it was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert.  Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock.  It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.  ‘Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …’ It’s one of my favourites … that, All My Love and In the Light and two or three others were the finest moments.  But Kashmir in particular, it was so positive, lyrically”.

In an article with Triple J Broadcasting Association for an article entitled Hottest 100 of All Time, in 2010, Plant spoke of the challenges which he faced writing lyrics for such a complex piece of music:

“It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me … Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is … not grandiose, but powerful:  it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments.  But everything is not what you see.  It was quite a task, ‘cause I couldn’t sing it.  It was like the song was bigger than me.  It’s true:  I was petrified, it’s true, it was painful, I was virtually in tears”.

The song has a very distinctive musical composition featuring a rising and falling guitar riff played on a guitar tuned to DADGAD.  It was inspired by Middle-Eastern, Moroccan and Indian music.  In the 1994 book, Led Zeppelin by Chris Welch, Page explained:  “I had a sitar for some time and I was interested in modal tunings and Arabic stuff.  It started off with a riff and then employed Eastern lines underneath”.

To add to the composition’s uniqueness, Kashmir was one of the very few Led Zeppelin songs to feature outside musicians.  Session players were brought in the studio to record the string and horn sections.  As well as the original Physical Graffiti version of the song, several alternative versions exist, including one entitled Driving Through Kashmir (Kashmir Rough Orchestra Mix) with a slightly different structure.  This version was released in February 2015 as part of the remastering process of all nine albums.

Additionally, and perhaps most impressively out of the alternative versions of Kashmir, Page and Plant recorded a live 12 minute version with a Moroccan / Egyptian orchestra for their album No Quarter (1994).

As the lyrics begin with the line “Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream”, we are introduced to the narrator, a powerful, mysterious and transcending figure.  This audible thought finds the narrator pausing from his travels to soak up the warmth and light from above, figuratively, and perhaps literally, recharging himself.  In the following line, “I am a traveller of both time and space, to be where I have been”, we are told that this is a journey of epic proportions, one which transcends the limitations of this dimension, both temporarily and in physical space.

Following this, “To sit with elders of the gentle race, this world had seldom seen” could refer to Revelation 4:4 in the Book of Revelation where John the Apostle is caught up in the heavens and sees the 24 elders seated on their thrones:  “And around the throne were twenty-four thrones and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads”.  Alternatively, this line and the next three, “They talk of days for which they sit and wait and all will be revealed, Talk and songs from lifting grace, whose sounds caress my ear, But not a word could I relate, the story was quite clear”, may refer to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and Lord of the Rings (1954).  Plant was well known to be a fan of Tolkien and often used imagery from his work.  Take for instance, the lyrics to Ramble On (Led Zeppelin II, 1969): “Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, My freedom I hold dear, How years ago in days of old, When magic filled the air, ‘Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair, But Gollum and the evil one crept up, And slipped away with her”.

Additionally, see the song titles, Over the Hills and Far Away (Houses of the Holy, 1973) …

… and Misty Mountain Hop (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971).

Following this, the line “But not a word I heard could I relate, the story was quite clear” is also likely to be a Tolkien reference.  In a number of Tolkien’s works, particularly The Silmarillion (1977), it is mentioned that when the elves sing in a language the listener can’t understand, they can sometimes still see the images that they are singing about.

Moving into the bridge section, the lyrics, “Oh, I been flying … mama, there ain’t no denyin’, I’ve been flyin’, ain’t no denyin’, no denyin’” could refer to the band travelling round the world before and during the composition of the song.

In the following lyrics, “All I see turns to brown, as the sun burns the ground, And my eyes fill with sand, as I scan this wasted land, Trying to find, trying to find where I’ve been”, we can clearly see the landscape which inspired Kashmir, “the wastelands” in southern Morocco.  Next, “Oh, pilot of the storm who leaves no trace”, perhaps refers to God, whilst following this, “like thoughts inside a dream” refers to the creator of the storm being as hard to visualise as the thought inside one’s dream.  The creator is elusive and mysterious but somehow very real.

The “Shangri-La” mentioned in the lines “Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream, My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again” refers to the fictional paradise from James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933).  In the novel, Shangri-La is a utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.  Shangri-La is often referred to in the same way that someone would refer to the Garden of Eden.  These lines suggest that the narrator of the song s haunted by the memories of the place which he speaks of and is attempting to return.

“Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin’ through Kashmir” finds the narrator once again speaking of the dusty road which inspired the song.  Following this, the “father of the four winds” mentioned in the following line possibly refers to Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds who is usually depicted as the controller of the Anemoi, the minor wind gods.  Alternatively, the “Father of the four winds” could possibly be another Tolkien reference:  Manwe, the King of the Valar, from The Silmarillion.

More travel imagery follows with “… fill my sails, across the sea of years, With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear”.  Here, the lyrics once again compliment the utter vastness of the composition, with the narrator, the “traveller of both space and time”, travelling across “years”, unsure of what he will discover on his journey.

The song reaches its climax with Plant singing “… well I’m down so down … let me take you there”.  Kashmir speaks of a dark time of reflection, of God, of existence and Plant attempting to find his place in the midst of all of this.

One thing to note about Kashmir is its curious placing on the album.  One may expect a song of such monolithic proportions to end the album but it is instead placed, if we were to think of Physical Graffiti as a double vinyl album, at the end of side two.  In an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Page said of this:

“Each side of the vinyl was sequenced to showcase whatever was on there, so it wasn’t square pegs in round holes.  Any of the four sides could be your favourite side.  All of them have an intensity to them, but some have got more rock roots than others.  A double album was so right for Zeppelin”.

Similarly, on the vinyl versions of Physical Graffiti, the colossal 11 minute In My Time of Dying closes side one of the album.

Once again speaking to The Guardian, Page said:  “Those songs – In My Time of Dying, Kashmir – are supposed to be:  That’s it.  Nothing follows that.  You need time to catch your breath after”.