[Review] Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)

Wakeman’s first solo album is a fantastic, instrumental journey that brings the historical figures of Henry VIII’s six wives back to life again.

Kronomyth 1.0: A ladies’ man.

Soon after joining Yes, Rick Wakeman was approached by A&M co-founder Jerry Moss to record a solo album. Wakeman, who had been toying with the idea of writing music based on the book The Private Life of Henry VIII, began sketching out pieces around the personalities of Henry and his six wives (the music for Henry himself was later scrapped). Thus began a love affair between English history and keyboard prog that continues to this day for Wakeman and his fans.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII is possibly the single greatest keyboard prog album ever written. Every song plays out like a rollercoaster of emotion and adventure, infused with humor and humanity and featuring an array of keyboards that are perfectly woven into complex, full-bodied arrangements. Every time I listen to this album, it brings me joy. Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and the rest of these storied ladies arrive like old friends.

While the earlier “Cans And Brahms” (from Fragile) was a pleasant enough diversion, The Six Wives of Henry VIII fully reveals the genius of Rick Wakeman for the first time. It’s my favorite of the Yes solo records (Olias of Sunhillow is a close runner-up), although Six Wives actually sounds more like a Yes/ELP hybrid. Wakeman and Keith Emerson are both sonic architects/saboteurs who can create grand cathedrals of sound and dismantle them in an instant with humor. It’s a process that Wakeman repeats with breathtaking ease on Six Wives, so that, despite the sheer number of notes on this record, each has its proper place.

Yes fans and the comparatively smaller number of Strawbs fans will no doubt pore over the musicians’ credits with interest. In the honorable mention department, Alan White is terrific on this album, and the cameos from Dave Cousins and Dave Wintour are also highlights. The album was released in a quadraphonic stereo mix that was later appended to the Deluxe Edition reissue.

Original LP version

A1. Catherine of Aragon (3:45)
A2. Anne of Cleves (7:50)
A3. Catherine Howard (6:36)
B1. Jane Seymour (4:44)
B2. Anne Boleyn ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’ (E.J. Hopkins/Rick Wakeman) (6:31)
B3. Catherine Parr (7:00)

All songs written by Rick Wakeman unless noted.

2CD Deluxe Edition reissue
A1. Catherine of Aragon
A2. Anne of Cleves
A3. Catherine Howard
A4. Jane Seymour
A5. Anne Boleyn ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’
A6. Catherine Parr
A7. Catherine of Aragon (first mix)
A8. Anne Boleyn ‘The Day Tou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’ (single edit)
A9. Catherine Parr (single edit)
B1. Catherine of Aragon (quad mix)
B2. Anne of Cleves (quad mix)
B3. Catherine Howard (quad mix)
B4. Jane Seymour (quad mix)
B5. Anne Boleyn ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’ (quad mix)
B6. Catherine Parr (quad mix)
B7. Catherine Howard (BBC TV 1973)

The Players

Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Mike Egan (guitar), Frank Ricotti (percussion), Alan White (drums) with Bill Bruford (drums on A1/B2), Ray Cooper (percussion on A1/B2), Dave Cousins (electric banjo on A3), Chas Cronk (bass on A3), Barry de Souza (drums on A3), Steve Howe (guitar on A1), Les Hurdle (bass on A1/B5), Dave Lambert (guitar on A3), Laura Lee (vocals on B2), Sylvia McNeill (vocals on B2), Judy Powell (vocals on A1), Barry St. John (vocals on A1), Chris Squire (bass on A1), Liza Strike (vocals on A1/B2), Dave Winter (Wintour) (bass on A2/B3). Produced by Rick Wakeman; mixed by Ken Scott, Paul Tregurtha, Dave Henshall (Hentschel) (A2); engineered by Paul Tregurtha and Ken Scott (A1/B3).

The Plastic

Released on elpee, quadraphonic elpee, cassette and 8-track on January 23, 1973 in the UK (A&M, ALMH/CAM-64361), the US and Canada (A&M, SP/QU5/8T-4361), Germany (A&M, 86 560 IT) and Japan (A&M, AML-173) with gatefold cover; reached #7 on the UK charts and #20 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (A&M, SP-4361 on screened A&M label) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on cassette in Australia (A&M, AM-24804) and Canada (A&M, CS-69859).
  3. Re-released on expanded cassette in the UK (A&M, CAM CR008) with The Myths and Legends of King Arthur.
  4. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the US (A&M, SP/CS/CD-3229) and Germany (A&M, 393 229-2).
  5. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2003 in Japan (A&M, UICY-9261).
  6. Re-packaged with Silent Nights on 2-for-1 compact disc in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM 0600-452).
  7. Re-released on remastered, expanded 2CD Deluxe Edition in 2014 in Europe (A&M, 5356238) with bonus tracks.
  8. Re-released on super high material compact disc on April 27, 2016 in Japan (A&M, UICY-25550).

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