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Music / Tubular Bells

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"Plus... Tubular... Bells!" [DONNNNNNNGGG!]

The hugely successful debut album by Mike Oldfield. The album is known for its one and only track, which was soon used as the recognizable music to the film The Exorcist, and also for its financial success, providing the foundation for what became Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Empire. Previously, Branson had been the owner of a single, though quite successful, record shop.

Although Oldfield was to later become known as a New Age artist, he has stated that Tubular Bells is too dynamic to fall into such a category, though some elements are similar. It has, by contrast, been featured on rock album lists, and is usually classified as a Progressive Rock album, along with most of the rest of his output (Earth Moving aside).

Tubular Bells was released in 1973, and its success spawned the recording of The Orchestral Tubular Bells in 1974, but it was not until much later that Oldfield returned to his first album in force, releasing Tubular Bells II in 1992, Tubular Bells III in 1998, The Millennium Bell in 1999, Tubular Bells 2003 in, well, 2003, and Tubular Beats in 2013. Oldfield has recently announced Tubular Bells IV to be released at an unknown date. Until individual pages for the sequels are created, they will be documented alongside the original here.


Oldfield plays nearly all the instruments featured on the first album himself through overdubbing – the only exceptions were flute (Jon Field), string bass (Lindsay Cooper) and drums (Simon Broughton). At the time, overdubbing wasn't so widespread as it is now, and was a notable feature of the album in 1973. The sequels continue this practice, although some instruments are played by others. According to engineer Simon Heyworth, the "Piltdown Man" section resulted from Virgin Records owner Richard Branson pressuring Oldfield to add vocals to at least one section to make it more marketable as a single. Oldfield stormed out of the meeting saying "You want lyrics? I'll give you lyrics!", proceeded to get smashed on half a bottle of whiskey and "screamed his brains out" for ten minutes in the studio.



Side One

  1. "Tubular Bells, Part One" (25:30)

Side Two

  1. "Tubular Bells, Part Two" (23:20)

Tubular Tropes:

  • Boléro Effect: Every album but Tubular Bells III has a finale at the end of the first side of vinyl which, like the original Boléro, adds a different instrument each loop until everything is playing beneath the majestic entry of the titular instrument.
    • Later works like Ommadawn and Music of the Spheres use this as well.
  • The Cameo: Snape himself pulls Narrator duties in Tubular Bells II, as does John Cleese in Tubular Bells 2003.
  • Credits Gag: Tubular Bells has a caption reading "This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station." This is a parody of labels advising listeners that stereo LPs may be played on mono equipment given suitable cartridges are used. The gag is preserved on Tubular Bells 2003, where it reads "This stereo record still cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Simon Heyworth commented that the cover of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" was added to the end of Part Two because it otherwise ended on a gloomy note.
  • Epic Rocking: Probably one of the most extreme examples of the LP era; the original 1972 album consists of just two tracks, each one taking up the entirety of one side of the record. Oldfield would continue this practice up until Incantations, before eventually reviving it with the release of Return to Ommadawn in 2017. The 2003 version, meanwhile, separates Part 1 and Part 2 into multiple tracks, each based on a specific movement in the piece.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: "Tattoo" off of Tubular Bells II.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The "Bootleg Chorus" (Mike Oldfield and producers Simon Heyworth and Tom Newman) credited on Part Two is so named because their chant sounds like "Boot! Leg! Boot! Leg!". They are also credited as the "Manor Choir", named after The Manor studio where the album was recorded.
    • The "Girlie Chorus" (Mundy Ellis and Sally Oldfield) needs no explanation.
    • Tubular Bells 2003 as well.
  • Fake Loud: In Tubular Bells, the peak volume is intentionally held down until the titular bells are heard, leaving the impression that their sound is louder. Oldfield also mentioned that he wasn't able to use actual tubular bells due to the budget, so he ended up hammering smaller bells (hard enough to crack them, inspiring the cover) and recording them with excessive microphone gain, resulting in a distorted sound.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Tubular Bells cools down near the end with the sound of a distant tolling bell, setting the piece up for its climax.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Tubular Bells 2003 is rerecorded with all the recording, mastering, and editing equipment that didn't exist in 1973. Most bits are more or less the same, but there are some significant differences.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: Every sequel and re-release (as well as Tubular Beats) features the iconic bent tubular bell logo on a different background, and sometimes in a different color.
  • Improv: That epic acoustic bit right before "The Sailor's Hornpipe" on the original? Mike wrote the bassline and the basic direction he wanted it to go in, and bam. "Piltdown Man" was a drunken Mike babbling nonsense into a mic.
  • Instrumentals: With the exception of "Man in the Rain" from Tubular Bells III.
  • Lighter and Softer: Oldfeld wrote the original Tubular Bells from a very dark, depressed, alcohol-fueled place. Tubular Bells II comes from a bright, optimistic place and it shows. Even "Altered State" (the "Piltdown Man" variant) is fairly goofy.
  • Long List: The liner notes' list of instruments Oldfield played on the album.
    Part One: Mike Oldfield plays: Grand Piano, Glockenspiel, Farfisa Organ, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Speed Guitar, Taped motor drive amplifier organ chord, Mandolin-like Guitar, Fuzz Guitars, Assorted Percussion, Acoustic Guitar, Flageolet, Honky Tonk Piano, Lowrey Organ, Tubular Bells
    Part Two: Mike Oldfield plays: Electric Guitars, Farfisa Organ, Bass Guitar, Acoustic Guitars, Piano, Speed Elec. Guitars, Lowrey Organ, Concert Tympani, Guitars sounding like Bagpipes, Piltdown Man, Hammond Organ, Spanish Guitar, Moribund Chorus, Mandolinnote 
  • Metal Scream: The "Piltdown Man" section, starting at 11:55 of Part Two.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Today most people will associate this music with the soundtrack of the film The Exorcist.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The first album ended with "The Sailor's Hornpipe", a traditional hornpipe melody that's been around for centuries.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: According to Mike himself, he made several mistakes while recording, but had to leave them in. Then again, considering part one was recorded in just a week, he didn't have a choice.
  • Title Drop:
    • In Tubular Bells and Tubular Bells II, the Narrator shouts "and... TUBULAR BELLS!"
    • In Tubular Bells III, in "Far Above the Clouds":
    Child: And the Man in the Rain picked up his Bag of Secrets, and journeyed up the mountainside far above the clouds, and nothing was ever heard from him again - except for the sound of Tubular Bells.
  • Uncommon Time: From the first:
    • The opening riff is in 15/8 (7/8, then 8/8).
    • The "Thrash" section just before the nasal choir switches between 7/4 and 4/4.
    • The album in general seems to come across as this due to its heavy use of polyrhythms, which each instrument playing in a considerably different time signature than the rest. Combined with the specific choice of instrumentation, this makes the whole album sound both jarring and mesmerizing at the same time.


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