Beatlemania ignited in March 1963 during the group’s second British package tour. The headliners were Chris Montez and Tommy Roe from the U.S., enjoying hits with “Let’s Dance” and “Sheila,” respectively. The Beatles were clearly surpassing them, but the American poor sports refused to give up the final spot of the show, saying they’d quit instead.
But in May and June, when the Beatles toured with one of their idols, Roy Orbison, he was cool with switching the order. Orbison was a founding father of rock from the Sun Records label, home to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The boys loved him for his operatic voice and because he wrote his own stuff, like fellow pioneers Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. The previous September, Lennon had penned their first British No. 1, “Please Please Me,” as homage to Orbison.
Twenty-five years later, the friendship led to Orbison’s membership in The Traveling Wilburys. That same year, Orbison released his Jeff Lynne-produced comeback album Mystery Girl and returned to the record charts with “You Got It,” his final hit before he died of a heart attack on December 6, 1988.
When it came time to make the video for the Wilburys’ second single from their album Volume 1, “End of the Line,” Orbison had already passed away, so the group plays the song on a train with a rocking chair reserved for him, empty save for his guitar. When his quavering, ghostly vocals come up, the lights flicker and the video cuts to his picture in a frame. The rest of the group listens meditatively, two icons from the ‘60s (Harrison and Dylan) and two worthy successors from the ‘70s (Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne) honoring a ‘50s master who blazed the trail for them all.
Harrison’s intro for the song recalls the extended intro of “I’m Looking Through You” on the American edition of Rubber Soul, and the video itself recalls the scene on the train in A Hard Day’s Night when the boys played “I Should Have Known Better” to Pattie Boyd and her friends.
The laid-back but persistent drums mirror the rhythm of a train that never stops even as one era’s innovations turn to the next era’s golden brown retro revival. The sepia tinge of the video underscores the passage of time and evokes the Western mythos that inspired the band’s name.
Perhaps even more than “Handle With Care,” “End of the Line” captures the friendship that infused the Wilburys project. Petty sings the verses and the others take turns on the chorus, except for Dylan. It’s a treat to see Dylan relaxed, happy to take the back seat and let his batteries recharge before his mid-‘90s career-reviving third act, just smiling at George like John and Paul did in their TV performances back in 1964-65.