Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells

May 25, 1973 – Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells is released in the UK.
# Allmusic 5/5 stars
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Tubular Bells is the debut record album of Mike Oldfield, released on this date in May 1973 in the UK. It was the first album released by Virgin Records and an early cornerstone of the company’s success.
Tubular Bells stayed in the British charts for 279 weeks. It climbed the charts slowly but steadily, and did not reach number one for over a year. In doing so it displaced Oldfield’s second album, Hergest Ridge, which had been at number one for three weeks. This made Oldfield one of only three artists in the UK to beat himself to the top of the album charts.
The first single released from the album was created by the original US distributor, Atlantic Records. This version was an edit of bits from part one which was not authorized by Oldfield. The single was released only in the US, where it peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on May 11, 1974, making Oldfield a One Hit Wonder on the US charts.
The album sold more than 2,630,000 copies in the UK alone (making it the all-time 34th best seller in the UK), and according to some reports 15 to 17 million copies worldwide. The album went gold in the USA and Mike Oldfield received a Grammy Award for the best Instrumental Composition in 1975.
The opening piano solo was used as a soundtrack to the blockbuster William Friedkin film The Exorcist (released the same year) and gained considerable airplay because of this.
Q (9/00, p.126) – 5 stars out of 5 – “…The most incident-packed of his ’70s releases: you’re never more than 2 minutes away from a crescendo or a beautiful interlude…
The cover design was by Trevor Key of Cooke Key Associates (with Brian Cooke), who would go on to create the covers of many Oldfield albums. The concept for the triangular bell on the album cover art originally came from the idea of a bell which had been destroyed. Oldfield had come up with this when he had dented the set of Tubular bells used to record the album when playing them.
The “bent bell” image on the cover is also associated with Oldfield, even being used for the logo of his personal music company, Oldfield Music, Ltd. The image was also the main focus for the cover art of the successive Tubular Bells albums. Tubular Bells has also been issued as a vinyl picture disc, showing the bent bell on a skyscape.
The album cover for Tubular Bells was among the ten chosen by the Royal Mail for a set of “Classic Album Cover” postage stamps issued on 7 January 2010.
An unknown English teenager playing over 20 instruments has produced the most important one-shot project of 1973. It is a debut performance of a kind we have no right to expect from anyone. It took Mike Oldfield have a year to lay down the thousands of overdubs required for his 49 minutes of exhilarating music. I will be playing the result for many times that long.
Oldfield has assembled the sounds of a wide range of musical instruments both in succession and on top of each other. At times there is a solo passage; on other occasions he generates an orchestral sound. Tempo and dynamics vary. There is no predicting what he will be doing three minutes hence. Yet there is constant unity as strands of one section of the piece carry into the next. The transitions are as impressive as the themes.
Some of Olfield’s instruments speak plaintively, others aggressively. There are no lyrics to Tubular Bells, but human voices to occasionally appear. The only talking role is that of the master of ceremonies, Viv Stanshall, who figures in the work’s most effective segment. Pealing bells and a church organ introduce a babbling undercurrent of instruments. Stanshall suddenly utters, “Grand piano!” at which point said piano enters with a clear statement. Stanshall names another instrument and it solos. Tension increases simultaneously with the crescendo of the music. Viv’s phrasing as he suspensefully announces the entrance of each guest instrument contributes to the building effect.
When he finally intones, “Plus — Tubular Bells!” the bells strike out triumphantly. It is a moment of exuberance rare to recorded music, a triumph over the recurring bass line that conveys a spiritual release. A female chorus “aaahs” away to supplement the semi-religious atmosphere. Just when one fears Oldfield may take the easy way out and end with a crashing din, he drops the bass and concludes side one with a guitar solo that is extremely peaceful.
Trying to convey what Tubular Bells bears musical resemblance to is fruitless. I remembered music by Sam Cooke, J.S. Bach and Dick Rosmini when I first heard the album, but the associations are as personal as yours will be. People will hear different things in Tubular Bells because they will bring to it their individual musical experiences, some of which Oldfield will no doubt have incorporated.
The segue between the female chorus and an instrument is so skillfully executed one doesn’t immediately notice the change. One passage carries a Hawaiian feel, another a bolero, while the coda takes us to a country hoedown. At one point a male voice expresses nuances of disgust and frustration without uttering a single word or stepping out of tempo. The only weak portion passes for a B horror film soundtrack, but it is brief.
I first heard this album in the home of a disk jockey who feels Tubular Bells will be a lasting work of the rock era. I cannot see into 2000, but I can say that this is a major work. And in the land of should-be, it is already a gold album.
~ Paul Gambaccini (November 8, 1973)
All songs written and composed by Mike Oldfield, except “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” (traditional, arranged by Mike Oldfield)
Side one
“Tubular Bells, Part One” – 25:30
Side two
“Tubular Bells, Part Two” – 23:20
DVD AUDIO (Surround Sound)
“Tubular Bells Part One” (5.1 surround mix)
“Tubular Bells Part Two” (5.1 surround mix)
“Mike Oldfield’s Single” (5.1 surround mix)
“Sailor’s Hornpipe” (Vivian Stanshall version)
The Ultimate Edition comes complete with 60-page hardback book with a foreword by Mike Oldfield, plectrums, poster, copy of Manor Studios recording brochure, concert ticket, postcard and recording information. The Ultimate Edition carries the white artwork, with the bell logo.
CD one – (As Standard edition)
CD two – (As Deluxe edition)
DVD – (As Deluxe edition)
Vinyl – (As Vinyl edition)
Bonus CD
“Tubular Bells (long)” (demo) – 22:55
“Caveman Lead-in” (demo) – 2:44
“Caveman” (demo) – 5:06
“Peace Demo A” (1971 demo) – 7:01
“Peace Demo B” (1971 demo) – 4:22
“Tubular Bells, Part One” (scrapped first mix Spring 1973) – 25:13


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