3 Songs You Didn’t Know Bob Dylan Wrote for the Traveling Wilburys

When music lovers think of Bob Dylan, it’s his illustrious catalog of solo material that immediately comes to mind. But not to be forgotten is the multiyear stint in Dylan’s career when he made merry with some of the biggest musicians in the world. That period—from 1988 to 1991—was when he was in the supergroup known as the Traveling Wilburys, a collection of rock legends that also included Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.

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Let’s dive into three songs Dylan helped pen for the popular supergroup, here below.

1. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”

Written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne

From the Traveling Wilburys’ debut 1988 album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, this song was written primarily by Dylan, with Petty also offering important contributions. And like all songs on the band’s first LP, it is credited to every member. Dylan sings lead on “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” which is thought to be a tribute to one of his musical “children,” Bruce Springsteen. The lyrics for the track include titles of Springsteen songs and is set in the Boss’ home state of New Jersey. In it, Dylan offers,

Tweeter and the Monkey Man
Were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night
Selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop
Who had a sister named Jan
For reasons unexplained
She loved the Monkey Man

Tweeter was a Boy Scout
Before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way
Nobody gives a damn
They knew that they’d find freedom
Just across the Jersey Line
So, they hopped into a stolen car
Took Highway 99

2. “Wilbury Twist”

Written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne

From the band’s 1990 sophomore album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, this song hearkens back to the early days of rock and roll when the dance was as important as the song itself. The music video, which you can see below, includes a cameo from the late comic actor John Candy. In the song, credited to each of the band’s members, Dylan sings,

It’s a different dance (it’s a different dance)
For you all to do (for you all to do)
Spin your body (very versatile)
Like a screw (spin your body like a screw)
Better not forget on your shopping list
(You can stop and buy one, it’s the Wilbury Twist)

3. “Heading for the Light”

Written by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne

From Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, this song was spearheaded by George Harrison, the group’s de facto leader. Dylan, though, was Harrison’s first choice as a bandmate for a supergroup. And while it seemed impossible Dylan would join up, he in fact did, due to his relationship with the former Beatle. Each of the Wilburys are credited writing this song, which is all about getting on the right spiritual path. (Harrison seemed always concerned with a Buddhist sense of enlightenment.) On the song, Dylan strums the acoustic guitar, and Harrison sings,

I’ve wandered around with nothing more than time on my hands
I was lost in the night with no sight of you
And at times it was so blue and lonely
Heading for the light

Been close to the edge, hanging by my fingernails
I roll and I tumble through the roses and the thorns
And I couldn’t see the sun that warned me
Heading for the light

Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

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