[Review] Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells (1973)

Oldfield’s one-man symphony performance, masterfully overdubbed, is one of the great musical works of the twentieth century.

Kronomyth 1.0: Hell’s bells.

“More experiments,” sighed the troll, “and I hardly gets a mention, the wanker…”

We walked between that interstitial span, naiad and man, that splits the cobalt blue from tan. I said, “I wonder where the years have gone.” Head bent, she nodded in assent, one ear on Oceana’s song.

There was a pixie that we knew who strung his small guitars with strands of dew; he loved the horn pipe and the ocean’s call, but mischief most of all. And so it was he did deflower a virgin with a contraption of his own contrivance: bells twisted in a most peculiar fashion forged in a hillock of the highlands. When struck the steel suggested ocean waves, warm fires under toadstools, gentle winds. The instrument became the sounds it played, the sounds took on the shapes of streams and glens.

The troll, who knew The Exorcist by heart, was sold on this from the start, but lost interest after the first minute when he didn’t find any more deviltry in it. But his part’s been told and, declining our ocean stroll, won’t reappear.

I hold the naiad near and muse at how the woods and waters can be one, how creatures raised on currents and currants can come together even for one dance and then be done. And that’s the magic of these bells, how natural their humors intertwine: sea chanty, pixie poesy, madrigals, spilled as a splendid wine. Our time has come, the naiad knows, and veers, the ocean spray flecked on her face like tears, except no trace of sadness marks our parting, for we are only starting, starting…

Original elpee version

A1. Tubular Bells (25:00)
B1. Tubular Bells (23:50)

Composed by Mike Oldfield (except “Sailors Hornpipe” traditional).

The Players

Mike Oldfield (grand piano, glockenspiel, Farfisa organ, bass guitar, electric guitars, speed guitar, taped motor drive amplifier organ chord, mandolin-like guitar, fuzz guitars, assorted percussion, flageolet, honky tonk, Lowrey organ, tubular bells, speed electric guitars, piano, concert tympani, guitars sounding like bagpipes, piltdown man, Hammond organ, Spanish guitar, moribund chorus) with Steve Broughton (drums), Lindsay Cooper (string basses), Mundy Ellis (girlie chorus), Jon Field (flutes), Manor choir conducted by Mike Oldfield (bootleg chorus), Nasal Choir (nasal chorus), Sally Oldfield (girlie chorus), Viv Stanshall (master of ceremonies). Sound by Tom Newman, Simon Heyworth and Mike Oldfield.

The Pictures

Sleeve design and photography by Trevor Key.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, quadrophonic elpee, cassette and 8-track on May 25, 1973 in the UK (Virgin, V/QV/TC V 2001) and the US (Virgin, VR/TP 13-105). Reached #1 on the UK charts and #3 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Virgin, VP-4146).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in Brazil (Virgin, 1408290).
  3. Re-issued on cassette in Argentina (Virgin, 7131025).
  4. Re-released on picture disc elpee in December 1978 in the UK (Virgin, VP 2001).
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in the US (Virgin, VA 13135).
  6. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in June 1983 in the UK (Virgin, V/TCV/CDV 2001) [red/green label]. Re-charted to #28 on the UK charts.
  7. Re-issued on cassette in the US (Virgin, 90589-4).
  8. Re-issued on compact disc on July 11, 1992 in the US (Virgin, 86007).
  9. Re-released on super audio compact disc on February 20, 2000 in the US (Caroline, 50733) and on remastered compact disc on May 29, 2000 in the UK (Virgin, 849388).

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