Tubular Bells: The Iconic album That Defined Mike Oldfield’s Career

Tubular Bells is a progressive rock album Mike Oldfield released on 25 May 1973. It is a landmark in instrumental music. 

The Exorcist

FR!DAY ! AM !N ROCK still recall classic horror films, The Exorcist (1973). This masterpiece of the horror genre is a must-see for anyone with a fascination for the macabre. The film’s use of sound effects to create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere is particularly noteworthy. The theme song of the movie has become iconic, forever etched in people’s memories as a chilling reminder of the terror that unfolds onscreen. 

What makes the soundtrack of this film so exceptional is its ability to seamlessly integrate a collection of songs from the period, creating a soundscape that perfectly complements the story’s theme.

Soundtracks play an integral role in horror films, and The Exorcist is no exception. The film’s soundtrack is layered with sound effects that are designed to shock and unnerve the audience, leaving them unsure if what they are hearing is part of the film or not. The theme song of the movie. 

The opening theme in The Exorcist is Tubular Bells. It was actually cut down to just 27 seconds for the soundtrack, but it’s still instantly recognizable. However, later soundtrack compilations omitted the Tubular Bells theme due to copyright issues. So, if you really want to experience the full Tubular Bells/Exorcist vibe, you’ve got to listen to the full album.

Although “Tubular Bells” only features briefly in two scenes in the movie, it has become the track most commonly associated with it due to several reasons. Firstly, the song was featured prominently in the film’s opening credits, which immediately captured the audience’s attention. Additionally, the haunting and eerie sounds of the song perfectly complemented the film’s themes of possession and horror, further enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Furthermore, the commercial success of the film led to a surge in interest in the soundtrack, and “Tubular Bells” in particular. The album spent 279 weeks on the UK charts and went on to sell over 15 million copies worldwide. Its success solidified its status as a cult classic and one of the most recognizable pieces of music in film history.

Mike Oldfield

Mike Oldfield began his musical career by releasing a folk album with his sister as part of The Sallyangie. Despite their efforts, the band failed to achieve commercial success, and Mike found it challenging to establish himself in the music industry. He then played bass for The Family, formed a band called Barefoot with his father and brother, and eventually joined The Whole World, but none of these ventures brought him much recognition.

After his stint with various bands, Mike Oldfield continued to hone his musical skills and gained valuable experience playing on several albums by Kevin Ayers, including Shooting at the Moon (1970) and Whatevershebringswesing (1971). He also contributed mandolin to the Edgar Broughton Band’s 1971 self-titled album. 

In addition to his studio work, Mike also worked as a reserve guitarist in a stage production of Hair at the Shaftesbury Theatre. While performing with Alex Harvey, Mike grew bored of the job after only ten performances and was eventually fired after he decided to play his part for “Let the Sunshine In” in 7/8 time.

Despite this setback, Mike continued to experiment and push boundaries in his music, familiar with a range of instruments, including orchestral percussion, piano, Mellotron, and harpsichord. It was during this time that he began to write and develop his own musical ideas laying the foundation for his future success with the ground-breaking album, Tubular Bells.

Tubular Bells

Tubular Bells

When Mike Oldfield took over recording duties for Arthur Lavis at The Manor studio that he began to gain traction. The studio was owned by a young Richard Branson, who would go on to become a business magnate. Mike formed close bonds with the studio’s sound engineer, Tom Newman, and with the audience and The Manor’s Simon Heyworth, who refined his skills. Mike used the recording studio to create demos, but progress was slow due to the unavailability of everyone involved.

Richard Branson had the idea to expand his Virgin record store into a production company, and Heyworth suggested Mike to sign with them. Mike moved to The Manor, where he had access to the studio whenever he wanted, and Tom Newman acted as his producer. 

When it came to signing Mike Oldfield, Richard Branson was a bit of a newbie in the production business. In fact, he didn’t even bother to draft up a brand-new contract for Mike Oldfield. Instead, he borrowed a contract from Sandy Denny, former singer of Fairport Convention signed with Island Records, changed the name from Sandy Denny to Mike Oldfield, and swapped the Island Records for Virgin. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!

Mike Oldfield recorded over 2300 takes by himself until he successfully released the album Tubular Bells. released in May 1973, and struggling to make any sales at all. Why, you ask? Well, because the songs on the album were super long. It just ONE SONG divided into two parts due to the length of the original recording. 

But fear not, for Richard Branson had a plan.

He brought “Tubular Bells” to BBC Radio One DJ John Peel, who was immediately hooked. He grabbed a Tubular Bells and played it on his show, and the rest is history. Tubular Bells shot up to No. 23 in July 1973 and reached No. 1 in August, selling over 13 million copies to date. It just goes to show that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of radio magic to make a hit!

The beauty of Tubular Bells lies not only in the titular instrument, but in the masterful arrangement of diverse sounds, broken down into rhythms and harmonies that uniquely stand out and blend together. Mike Oldfield’s ingeniously crafted use of tempo and rhythm, combined with harmonious musical arrangements, further enhance the beauty of the album. Listening to the mandolin sound and flamenco guitar, mixed with magical organ sound, one can appreciate how each instrument supports and complements the others, resulting in a perfect harmony.

The song’s unique blend of progressive rock, classical music, and electronic elements created a distinctive sound that was ahead of its time. Its innovative style and composition made it stand out among other movie soundtracks, which helped cement its iconic status.

The introduction of each instrument near the end of Part 1 by Vivian Stanshall is a highlight of the album. It showcases Mike Oldfield’s taste in music, which is essential for any artist to possess when making music.

However, the overwhelming success of Tubular Bells posed a challenge for Mike Oldfield. It became larger than the man who created it, leaving his other albums such as Ommadown and Incantation largely forgotten. It is unfortunate that Mike Oldfield’s other works are often overshadowed by the popularity of Tubular Bells.

And Then

During Mike Oldfield’s tenure with Virgin Records, he chose not to produce another Tubular Bell album despite the high demand for it, especially from Richard Branson himself. One reason for this decision is Mike Oldfield’s perception that Virgin was no longer interested in music, as Branson was more focused on expanding the Virgin brand into other industries, from soft drinks to airlines. 

Their strained relationship came to a head during the production of Amarok in 1990 when Mike returned to hour-long recordings to avoid having to cut his songs into singles for radio promotion. In the 48th minute of the album, there is a synth sound that emulates a Morse code message that reads F-U-C-K-O-F-F-R-B, which was interpreted as a clear and uncompromising tirade against Richard Branson. Mike also made several harsh references to Branson during interviews promoting the album.

After his contract with Virgin ended, Mike Oldfield found continued success with Tubular Bells, releasing Tubular Bells II with Warner in 1992. While this album was designed to appeal to older fans, it was heavily focused on synthesizers. This trend continued with Tubular Bells III in 1998, where Mike showcased his love for using synthesizers, even to synthesize the tubular bells themselves. 

When it comes to Tubular Bells II and III, it’s almost like they should have been named something else entirely. Sure, they were based on the original Tubular Bells theme, but Mike Oldfield expanded and modified the arrangements so much that they almost became new works altogether. In fact, III even includes parts from older works like Ommadawn.

But when it came time for Tubular Bells 2003, Mike Oldfield decided to return to the familiar and rework the original songs. He used new technology to create sounds from his imagination and made some repairs to parts that didn’t quite work the first time around. Still, when it comes to classics, nothing beats the original Tubular Bells.

And speaking of compilations, I wouldn’t recommend buying The Best of Tubular Bells if you’re really looking to appreciate Mike Oldfield’s unique abilities. The value of Tubular Bells lies in its fluidity and complexity, and you’ll miss out on that if you just listen to a few selected tracks. 

An iconic piece of music, renowned for its innovative and experimental sound. The album’s ground-breaking use of layered instrumentation and its blending of various musical genres, such as folk, rock, and classical, set a new standard in music production. Despite its initial lukewarm reception, the album went on to become a commercial and critical success, thanks in part to its association with the classic horror film, “The Exorcist”. Even today, over four decades after its release, Tubular Bells continues to captivate audiences and inspire musicians around the world.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top
%d bloggers like this: