1. Tubular Bells Part One [25:34]
  2. Tubular Bells Part Two [21:45]
  3. Sailor's Hornpipe [1:33]
Mike Oldfield - various instruments.
Vivian Stanshall - Master of Ceremonies.
Jon Field - flutes.
Linsay Cooper - string basses.
Mundy Ellis and Sally Oldfield - vocals.
Steve Broughton - drums. 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 suspense fully 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.

1973 © Paul Gambaccini / Rolling Stone After stints in rock bands and playing folk music with his sister Sally, Mike Oldfield set out on his own in 1972 with a tape of a long, ambitious instrumental composition he had been working on for several years in his home studio. Though most labels rejected it, up-and-coming entrepreneur Richard Branson chose Oldfield's work to be the first release on his new label:Virgin Records.
The resulting album was Tubular Bells, an original blend of symphonic-style rock, classical, folk and world music elements, featuring Oldfield playing over 25 instruments. The album's repetitious structure, with instruments entering and exiting in a smoothly shifting flow, shows a kinship with minimalism and sequencer-based music, converging on the same musical niche from an unexpected direction.
Made more famous as the soundtrack to the film The Exorcist, Tubular Bells became one the of greatest commercial success stories in contemporary music, having sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it the greatest selling contemporary instrumental album ever.

2002. New Age Voice. No #19 in top 25 of Ambient albums. This was the release that launched the Virgin label as well as Oldfield's career. As can be expected, the music lives up to the impact it had.
The opening theme will be familiar to those who have seen The Exorcist, as it was used as the soundtrack for said movie. It is a theme both simple and complex, with minimal themes played together on piano and organ to produce a polyrhythmic effect. The track doesn't stay in this creepy mood, though, moving through Oldfield's usual alternations of pastoral simplicity, building tension and energetic disruption of this tension which usually leads into a whole new theme.
Oldfield is the one of the premiere multi-instrumentalists of prog, and it's perhaps more fair to compare others to him than vice versa. Still, for those who are looking for a comparison, both Clearlight and Pekka Pohjola come to mind, although both are similar more in approach than in results, perhaps.
I'm a big fan of Oldfield, and recommend this album without hesitation. Most of his work isn't really for people who require the high energy levels of prog subgenres like fusion or prog-metal, but I think anyone with enough patience can learn to appreciate and value these albums.

Sean McFee