To borrow from the Rob Reiner/Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan hit movie of the day When Harry Met Sally, George Harrison’s Cloud Nine comeback album twenty-five years ago could alternately be titled “When Harri(son) Met Lynne”. By 1987, Jeff Lynne had ceased to make neo-Beatles-influenced music with Electric Light Orchestra, while Harrison simply had stopped making music, period. After a long series of very public well-intentioned but ill-fated charity causes (the Concert for Bangla Desh cost George $2.25 million in personal tax), business lawsuits, scathing British press attacks, boring critical reviews, and diminishing album sales, Harrison mercifully left the music business for five years making Monty Python movies with his Handmade Films and tending to his garden at Friar Park.
But according to Tom Petty, in October 1987 there they were, the ex-Beatle and the ELO exile, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, all beaming smiles backstage, first in Birmingham England and then again in London’s Wembley Arena when Petty and the Heartbreakers toured the UK as Bob Dylan‘s band. “George had given me his unreleased Cloud Nine album, it was just about to come out. He had given me a cassette of it, & when I got home (to Los Angeles) I put it on and thought,’Man, this is amazing! The sound and the songs and everything, Lord this sounds good,and original, and different.Man, that Jeff Lynne just blows my mind.’ I was playing it all Thanksgiving Day 1987.”
Later that Thanksgiving day Petty would find himself stopped at a traffic light, only to spy none other than Jeff Lynne sitting in the car next to his. Coincidence? Fate? Urban planning? We’ll never really know for sure, but of this we are certain: George Harrison’s Cloud Nine set off a musical chain reaction which would revitalize not only the Quiet Beatle’s music career, but result directly in Petty’s Full Moon Fever, Roy Orbison‘s Mystery Girl, and spawn the super group the Traveling Wilburys. – Redbeard