Increasingly, people are moving away from albums and indeed away from physical recorded music formats. An album, children, was a collection of pieces of music, often with a common theme. This album, issued of course originally as a vinyl LP, was groundbreaking. (Yes, of course you know what a vinyl LP was.)
It consisted of two long pieces of music, one on each side. It was pretty much all instrumental, apart from a section of introductions of instruments by Viv Stanshall, of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band fame. Apart from that, almost all the instruments were played by Mike Oldfield, already known as an accomplished guitarist, having played with Kevin Ayers.
It’s perhaps hard to appreciate how revolutionary this album seemed at the time. The length, which was very novel to rock and pop listeners, inevitably drew comparisons with so-called “classical” music, although ‘Tubular Bells’ is more a collection of linked themes. Overdubbing, the layering of recorded parts, was familiar, perhaps most notably due to the Beatles, but the idea of one musician doing almost all the parts was very new.
I notice that I have written all that in the past tense, but of course this is recorded music, and side 2 is playing as I speak. For me, the album is beautiful. It has lovely tunes, which join seamlessly. The guitar playing is outstanding.
For those who don’t know it, the opening is on piano and (I think) glockenspiel and is in a very peculiar time signature: 15/8, or a bar of 7/8 then a bar of 8/8. Its unexpected nature sets the tone for the rest. There are some straightforward rock parts (the “Piltdown Man” section) and lyrical pastoral passages. It ends with a hornpipe. Why not?
The making of ‘Tubular Bells’ and its subsequent history, along with the history of Mike Oldfield himself, are worthy of a book. There has probably been one written.
I could myself quite happily write a long blog on the connections with my favourite bands, Gong and Soft Machine. But I won’t bore you any further; I urge you to listen to ‘Tubular Bells’ if you don’t know it, or to relisten to it if you do.
How I missed it from The Oblique Top Albums List I do not know.