Nightman Listens To – Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells (Top 1000 Series)!

Greeting’s Glancers! We all know this, right? Tubular Bells – one of the most famous pieces of music of the 20th Century, possibly one of the most recognisable instrumental works ever written. Iconic. And yet, most people, myself included, only know the pieces from The Exorcist. I think I’ve heard this album before – being a horror fan, I listen to the soundtracks of my favourite movies, but beyond the bits used in Friedkin’s classic I don’t really remember much about the music. It’s only two tracks though, so this should be a shorter post – huzzah!

What Do I Know About Mike Oldfield – An obscenely talented multi-instrumentalist and composer. Beyond Tubular Bells, he did that Christmas song everyone loves.

What Do I Know About Tubular Bells – Famous for appearing in The Exorcist, and famous for being one of the few pieces of 20th Century instrumental music to have a wider cultural impact and success. I believe Mike wrote, played, and recorded the whole thing himself.

Tubular Bells Part 1: This is the piece that everyone knows. While the central motif (love it starts on the off note) runs throughout the whole piece in some form, it’s really the opening 2-3 minutes which people recognise as The Exorcist music. Afterwards, the accompaniment shifts to guitar and woodwind, often drifting into beautiful and poignant fantasy/folk sections which sound like they would fit more in an Animated fairy tale than the most famous Horror movie ever made. Each transition feels natural and gives a sense of endless progress – the bass charged, scratchy guitar led section is almost Metal, this is followed by a spacey, throbbing manic phase, and on to more introspective clanging, organ-based sections. The layering is extraordinary, with new instruments fading in to take up barely a supporting role before expanding to being the lead, motifs revolving around, fading, and returning; the patience and thought and focus it must have taken for one person to build this is impressive to say the least. There’s even a touch of the Morricone in places – you can hear snippets of influence in many moments, but above all this is a maddeningly confident solo extraordinaire. You can slice this up a hundred ways, and each piece will be captivating. I could do without the spoken pieces telling us what the upcoming instrument is.

Tubular Bells Part 2: The second half of the album is tonally very similar to the first – multi-instrumental, loose yet tight, with seamless transitions and a wealth of information. While the first half ended with some slight vocalisations, this half begins with the same. It’s a guitar heavy opening, reminiscent of the folk meanderings of something like The Wicker Man. It’s another piece to be swept away be or get lost in. There’s a section in the middle which feels like a precursor to some of the music from Ocarina Of Time – Lon Lon Ranch, Zelda’s Theme and all that, before moving into a more stirring, rousing piece around the 34 minute mark led by booming drums and scorched guitars like a demented Medieval march. Both pieces are beautiful and a joy to hear. Then it goes all funky and weird, with growling and Zeppelin riffs and musical theatre pianos. It would be difficult to find another instrumental with so much invention and nonsense and having it all work. Then it closes with a random rendition of Popeye, because why the hell not.

What Did I Learn: I can’t say I actually learned anything, but it re-iterated just how much of a genius Oldfield is and how shameful it is that other popular musicians will never approach anything as jaw-dropping as this. I always knew it was good, I just didn’t remember it being this good.

Does It Deserve Its Place In The Top 1000 Albums Ever: Absolutely. If ever there were an instrumental album to hold a single spot in such a list, this is it. Every metrci you could have for being a ‘Best Ever Album’ is met – sales, influence, critical acclaim, skill, impact – it’s all there, plus it still sounds great decades later.