Songs of 74: Tubular Bells / Mike Oldfield

This year Radioinfo will take you back 50 years to the songs that were released in 1974. It was a mighty fine year for music.

I received an email this week inviting me to see Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in Concert, to mark its Gold Anniversary. There was a little disclaimer at the bottom:

Mike Oldfield will not appear at these performances.”

Sadly Mike Oldfield announced through his record label that he was retiring last year, aged just 70. He’d left school at 15 to follow a musical career and was able to pick up and play many musical instruments even being employed as a bassist at one stage despite never having played one.

Around Oldfield’s 18th birthday he’d put together a long multi-instrumental demo tape. It just so happened that he was involved in some recordings at a studio owned by Richard Branson, who was about to launch Virgin Records. Despite his demo having no real pop or charting sensibilities Branson liked what he heard enough to give Oldfield the chance to finish his creation. Once it was recorded the album, called Tubular Bells, was released as Virgin’s very first record a week after Oldfield turned 20, in 1973.

Around the same time director William Friedkin was seeking music for a film he was making of the best-selling book The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. The Exorcist’s filming was famously plagued with creepy incidents making it run way over budget. Friedkin was seeking something childlike and somehow stumbled upon Tubular Bells in the Warner Bros music library, deeming it perfect for use in the movie.

The virtually unknown cast, low expectations by Warner Bros, an initial X rating and mixed reviews, including some people fleeing the cinema midway through watching, gave no sign that The Exorcist would go on to become in the top grossing American films of all time and regarded as one of the greatest horror films.

The knock-on effect for Mike Oldfield meant that the Tubular Bells album sold near 3 million copies and remains in the top 50 albums in terms of sales in the UK of all time. To capitalise various Tubular Bells singles were mixed and released, some without Oldfield’s permission. The four-minute version released in Australia in 1974 by Festival Records was a unique to to us and I’d love to know who was responsible for making this edit happen.

The B side is a very strange spoken word rendition of a tradition poem called Froggy Went A-Courting. Oldfield ‘performs’ it with Richard Branson’s sister Vanessa.

You would think that all of the above might pigeonhole Oldfield into a category all of his own, but he would actually become deliberately more commercial in the 80s with his biggest hit in Australia Moonlight Shadow with the lovely Maggie Reilly on lead vocals. I have attached it below as it is as far removed from Tubular Bells as you can possibly imagine.

ABC Television also had an affinity for Mr Oldfield. My earliest memory is seeing women dressed in flowing white, dancing to a man playing many instruments, on the channel after watching Play School or something similar. One day I stumbled upon the song, Portsmouth,  on the Australian compilation album Rockbusters ’77. I have since found the film clip that was so embedded in my memory, which is below. It is one of my favourite songs.

Rage shared last week that Oldfield’s Wonderful Land was also used, alongside stunning Australian images, to shut down the station for the night. And on that note….

By Jen Seyderhelm – Radioinfo Writer, Editor and Podcaster

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