Tubular Bells is a record album, written and mostly performed by Mike Oldfield, released in 1973. The late Vivian Stanshall provided the voice of the "Master of Ceremonies" who reads off the list of instruments at the end of the first movement. The piece was later orchestrated by David Bedford for The Orchestral Tubular Bells version and it had two sequels in the 1990s, Tubular Bells II and III.
Oldfield approached (and was rejected by) many other established record labels. Some of the rejections were because they believed the piece to be unmarketable. Oldfield then played his demos to some of the Engineers at The Manor; they along with their boss, Richard Branson decided to give Oldfield a chance. Virgin Records released Oldfield's debut album Tubular Bells as its first album; hence the catalogue number V2001 (although V2002 and V2003 were released on the same date).
Mike Oldfield played most of the instruments on the album (see below), recording them one at a time and layering the recordings to create the finished work. Many of his subsequent albums feature this technique. Though fairly common in the music industry now, at the time of the production of Tubular Bells not many musicians made use of it, preferring multi-musician "session" recordings.
Tubular Bells is the album most identified with Oldfield and the reverse may be true as well as he has frequently returned to it in later works. The opening passage of the title track on the album Crises and the piece "Harbinger" on the album Music of the Spheres are clearly derived from the opening of Tubular Bells. The opening is also quoted directly in the song "Five Miles Out" from the album of the same name and the song also features his "trademark" instrument, "Piltdown Man" (referring to his singing like a caveman, first heard on Tubular Bells).
Tubular Bells stayed in the British charts for over five years, reaching the number 1 spot after more than a year and taking there for one week the place of his second album, Hergest Ridge, thereby becoming one of only three artists in the UK to knock himself off the first spot. It sold more than two million copies in the UK alone 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 coda at the end of Part Two, the "Sailor's Hornpipe", was originally created as a much longer production, with Vivian Stanshall providing comic narration as an obviously-inebriated tour guide showing the listener around the Manor House where the album was recorded. It was cut from the final version for being too strange to be put on an unknown artist's first album, though it can be heard "in all its magnificent foolishness" (from the liner notes) on the Boxed set, which features completely remixed versions of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and several shorter tracks. It can also be heard on the SACD (multi-channel track only).
In 2008 when Oldfield's original 35 year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to the piece were returned to him, and will be transferred to Mercury Records; according to a report in the Music Week magazine in 2005.
The opening theme, which was eventually chosen for the 1973 film The Exorcist, gained the record considerable publicity and is how many people have probably first heard the work. Along with a number of other Oldfield pieces it was used in the 1979 NASA movie, The Space Movie. The opening theme has been sampled by many other artists such as Janet Jackson on her song "The Velvet Rope". The opening theme has also gained cultural significance as a 'haunting theme'; partly due to the association with The Exorcist.
In television it was also used in the in several episodes of the Dutch children's series Bassie en Adriaan, an episode ("Ghosts") of the BBC series My Family and an episode (Poltergeist III - Dipesto Nothing) of Moonlighting. It was also used in a television advertisement for Volkswagen in 2003. It has also been used in other films such as 1974's Black Christmas, 1985's Weird Science, 2001's Scary Movie 2, 2002's The Master of Disguise and 2004's Saved!.
Tubular Bells can be seen as the first of a "series" of albums continuing with Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) and The Millennium Bell (1999). Finally in 2003 Oldfield released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells with updated digital technology and several "corrections" to what he saw as flaws in the first album's production. This version is notable for replacing the late Vivian Stanshall's narration with a newly recorded narration by John Cleese.
Other versions include a quadrophonic version in 1975 ("For people with four ears", as the sleeve said; the quad mix was later used for the multi-channel part of the SACD release), an orchestral version in the same year (the Orchestral Tubular Bells with David Bedford), and different live recordings; a complete one can be found on the double live album Exposed from 1979.
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.
Part one opens with a soft minor key piano line in 15/8 eventually played verbatim by organ and glockenspiel. This riff is made up of two bars; the first bar is in 7/8, the second bar is in 8/8. These are later joined by a different line in bass guitar. An occasional punchy organ chord, first heard at about 1:02 in, accents this piece, harmonised by variations of the anchor line and a later incorporated 3/4 chord sequence, both in piano. At around 3:38, a gentle flute line appears, which segues into a section of 4/4-7/8-7/8-4/4, and at 3:40 an electric guitar line, the latter entirely in 4/4.
After the electric guitar line ends, a softer, fast guitar line ("speed guitar," as listed in the liner notes) takes over, only to be interrupted by an acoustic guitar line overlaying the original piano phrase in major key. A gentle glockenspiel/piano piece takes over, but is later replaced with a fast piano section, occasionally accented with organ chords.
The mood of the first 6 minutes is soon replaced by edgy electric guitar and, afterward, a sinister organ chord, with various changes in pitch and duration. But, once again, a more refined, carefree section ensues, dominated by acoustic guitar and piano, eventually returning to the soft riff first heard just past four minutes into the piece.
A 3/4 variation of the original theme comes next, followed by eerie bass and organ playing, segueing into a bluesy shuffle on electric guitar. Once again, when it looks like the piece will be serene (when the nasal choir intervenes), another edgy guitar line ensues, with Oldfield incorporating both 4/4 and 7/8.
After that, a more folky acoustic line plays (with background tambourine), but is suddenly cut off by the tolling of bells. A weary acoustic guitar line follows, breaking into the eight-and-a-half minute "Finale" section, commencing with a double bass line in 5/4, polyrhythmically played with a 4/4 acoustic line. After the bass and guitar unite into the 4/4 line, the acoustic guitar tacets and is eventually replaced by soft pipe organ notes (usually lasting four or eight full beats) while the bass line plays.
After the 10-bar bass phrase is repeated several times, Stanshall introduces many of the instruments appearing in part one up to then, beginning with the keyboards, followed by glockenspiel and all guitars before the tubular bells are announced, the ensemble becoming more dynamic and full as more instruments are said. Finally, after the tubular bells enter, a wordless feminine chorus starts to sing. Farther down, the Finale ensemble fades out to an acoustic guitar solo, which takes up the remainder of part one.
Part two begins where part one left off; a soft, simple piece, this time, beginning with bass guitar and working up with other guitars and keyboards. The opening time signature is 6/8, but a later line plays a similar melody in 3/4 on various instruments, beginning with guitar. The opening section builds for five minutes before the second section starts, another 3/4 section at half tempo on acoustic guitar, with accompaniment on organ, mandolin and female chorus.
At around 8:48, the piece becomes edgy and surreal again, as the "bagpipe guitars" enter the piece (electric guitars with added effects to give it the bagpipe-esque sound), playing a 12/8 piece of sorts. About 11 minutes in, the intensity of the section builds as the guitar pitches increase and a heavy piano "roll" plays, climaxed by a sudden ascending glissando on the piano.
What comes next is one of the more unusual parts of the entire album. Tympani rolls and drum kit commence this part, highlighted by unintelligible "lyrical" screams by Oldfield (who, according to rumours, was then intoxicated), in rebellion to how Richard Branson wanted him to include at least one part with lyrics to release as a single (at the time, Oldfield was not interested in adding lyrics to his music). This is listed in the liner notes as the "Piltdown Man". Oldfield's yelling is countered by various phrases on piano, guitars, and the "Moribund chorus," with this piece abruptly ending on one loud shout exactly 16:29 in.
As expected, another quiet section ensues, a 12/8 piece mostly dominated by guitars and organ. This section gives an excellent insight into the psychedelic, spacey side of Oldfield (a similar sound to that of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour), which would also be present in his third album, Ommadawn. After about five minutes, an optimistic organ line plays, segueing into a climactic arrangement of "Sailor's Hornpipe".
"Sailor's Hornpipe" begins with just one guitar playing at a moderately slow tempo, but quickly mutates into a gradually accented piece with multiple instruments (including an unlisted violin), ending with two loud, accented notes. In live performances, Oldfield would reach incredible tempos and "Sailor's Hornpipe" alone became a staple of his concerts.
There are three known variations of the vinyl edition of Tubular Bells.
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Acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, Farfisa, Hammond, and Lowrey organs; flageolet, fuzz guitars, glockenspiel, "honky tonk" piano (piano with detuned strings), mandolin, piano, "Piltdown Man", percussion, Spanish guitar, "double speed guitar", "taped motor drive amplifier organ chord", timpani, violin, vocals and tubular bells.
Normally, records have a small statement printed along the bottom to the effect that it is in stereo but may be played on mono record players (a holdover from the days before stereo). It normally reads:
However, Tubular Bells pokes fun at this by having the following text printed on the bottom of the reverse of the LP.
When recorded in 1973, the ending rendition of "Sailor's Hornpipe" was originally preceded by a slightly bizarre rendition of the piece. Loud marching footsteps trot around the sound channels as the "Sailor's Hornpipe" is played on acoustic instruments, whilst announcer Vivian Stanshall gives a drunken, improvised tour of the Manor. According to the liner notes for the Boxed vinyl set, this session occurred at four in the morning after Oldfield, engineer Tom Newman and Stanshall had been drinking heavily. They placed microphones in the rooms of the Manor, hit record and set off on an unplanned tour of the house.
The section was deemed "too bizarre" to include on the initial release of Tubular Bells, and was left off. The Boxed set reinstates the section at the end of side two of Tubular Bells.
The "lyrics" to Stanshall's improvised tour of the Manor follows:
In addition, a version of Tubular Bells was originally released on the Spanish Boxed compilation such that Part Two ended with the "Ambient Guitars" movement without the Sailor's Hornpipe finale.
"Mike Oldfield's Single" was the first 7-inch single released by Mike Oldfield, in June 1974. In the UK it featured a re-recorded extract from part two of Tubular Bells as the A-side, while "Froggy Went A-Courting" was the B-side. The single was produced in response to an American single containing an excerpt from Tubular Bells which Oldfield did not authorise.
Oldfield recorded the demo pieces of Tubular Bells in his flat in Tottenham, London in 1971. Oldfield recorded the demos on a Bang & Olufsen Beocord 1/4" tape machine which he had borrowed from Kevin Ayers. Oldfield was able to overdub his playing by blocking off the erase head of the tape machine. The demos titled, "Tubular Bells Long", "Caveman Lead-In", "Caveman", "Peace Demo A" and "Peace Demo B" appeared on the DVD-Audio version of the rerecording of Tubular Bells, Tubular Bells 2003.
With the aid of the software house CRL and distributor Nu Wave, Mike Oldfield released an interactive Commodore 64 version of the album in 1986, which utilised the computer's SID sound chip to play back a simplified re-arrangement of the album, accompanied by some simple 2D visual effects
The "interactivity" offered by the album/program was limited to controlling the speed and quantity of the visual effects, tuning the sound's volume and filtering, and skipping to any part of the album.
The software was not very successful, partly due to its unusual nature. It can be considered the first, if not only, example of commercial, albeit relatively simple, interactive computer demo or "musicdisk", while other sources consider it a "union between music and videogames".
This, combined with the low quality of the final sound output compared to the original album, despite the C64 arguably having one of the best sound chips of its era, decreed the attempt's failure. It's also one of the earliest attempts by part of a musician to release an interactive/multimedia software based on his works, before the CD-ROM era and before the first video games and multimedia discs licensed by a music artist appeared.
In 2004 Oldfield launched a virtual reality project called Maestro which contains music from the re-recorded Tubular Bells album (Tubular Bells 2003). The original title of the game was The Tube World. This was the second game which was released under the MusicVR banner, the first being Tres Lunas.
Furthermore, many dance acts and other artists have used the intro to Tubular Bells as the basis for their songs. A long list can be found at Rainer Muenz' discography