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.

Best Original Score – 1973

Official Nominations: The Way We Were. Cinderella Liberty. The Day Of The Dolphin. Papillon. A Touch Of Class. The Sting. Jesus Christ Superstar. Tom Sawyer.

The Way We Were and The Sting were the respective winners this year, and it’s hard to argue against the choices. Marvin Halmlisch’s score was a huge success, mainly thanks to the title song which we all know – misty water coloured memories and all that. The rest of the soundtrack is fine, easy jazz and romantic string led compositions. John Williams is back again with Cinderella Liberty – a film no-one knows but which is perfectly fine. It’s not one of the great man’s greatest in that it lacks a major theme instead rambling through loose jazz albeit in an energetic style. The Day Of The Dolphin is one even fewer people know (about dolphin assassins) – it does have a lovely main theme and some extravagant horn pieces but much of the soundtrack is your standard mixture of watery harps and creepy strings. Jerry Goldsmith is back with Papillon, a French inspired score of evocative strings and accordions which convey yearning and fear. A Touch Of Class is another case of ‘it has a popular song so we’d better nominate the soundtrack’. It’s average and it doesn’t need to be here.

The Sting is The Sting. It’s one of the only film scores one of my music teachers in school would ever allow discussion of. Hamlisch got his second win of the night (in the same category no less) for it, adapting a bunch of Scott Joplin standards while adding his own bonuses. Not really my style, but it’s so damn catchy and fun you can’t really complain. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Andre Previn adapt Jesus Christ Superstar – a mammoth score fusing many styles – it’s pretty chaotic too but good stuff.

My Winner: Papillon.

My Nominations: Papillon. Jesus Christ Superstar. The Sting. The Exorcist. American Graffiti. Badlands. Don’t Look Now. Enter The Dragon. Live And Let Die. Robin Hood. Serpico. The Wicker Man.

If we’re good with having soundtracks that are purely adaptation or mostly filled with songs, then we have to have American Graffiti here. I mean I don’t really agree with simply selecting songs, especially here when it’s so easy to pick songs from an era to evoke a feeling for that era. Then again, the songs do fit and the songs are good, so I’m caught. I’m not going to pick it as a winner anyway, but it does feel right including it. If there’s one film from 1972 whose soundtrack is instantly recognizable, and impossible to separate from the film, it’s The Exorcist. The moment you hear those opening sinister notes of Tubular Bells, you know what it is and where it’s from, even if you haven’t seen the movie – it’s probably the second most famous horror movie them ever, after Jaws. I sometimes terrorize my kids by playing horror movie themes on car journeys, and even though they are decades away from watching the movie, they know there’s something terrifying about this one. One interesting thing about the soundtrack is much of it doesn’t even appear in the movie, but is still creepy as hell.

Sticking with iconic horror movie scores, another one I blast in my car is The Wicker Man – one which is a world away from the futuristic Eastern influences of The Exorcist. Celtic and other folk music is the star here, many loves songs and pieces which are just ‘off’ enough to be unsettling. Pino Donaggio was a singer and musician when Roeg approached him to score Don’t Look Now, even though he had no experience with movie soundtracks. It is peppered with tender piano pieces, string notes stretched and held to torturous lengths, and unnerving funeral rites organ sections. Moving away from Horror but keeping away from the US we find Enter The Dragon, probably the most famous martial arts soundtrack ever – ground zero for almost everything which has come since.

Over to the US and Badlands would influence a host of later soundtracks, most notably True Romance, while highlighting a mixture of carefree innocence and unknown threat. Serpico is a strange one, with the tracks ranging from cheesy US soap type themes to more classic 70s dramatic pieces. Disney wasn’t firing on all cylinders in the 70s, but Robin Hood stands out for being particularly anarchic and having plenty of whistle-along tunes while Live And Let Die has one of the best Bond songs and a great all round score – the first one not to feature John Barry. It’s a tough call and I would happy with at lest three or four of these to win.

My Winner: The Exorcist