It is easy to pinpoint what in Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973) that labels it as a progressive rock album. The obvious jazz, folk and classical influences, and the instrumental approach, is all prog. But what aspects of this legendary album makes it into one of the first New Age music releases? Join me in hunt for Tubular Bells’ New Age-y soul. Or, in other words, Tubular Bells’ “problem”.
Things would have been very different for young Mike Oldfield if his debut album could have been called rock or, for that matter, pop or jazz. Then he would have been part of the rebellious youth movement, who was knocking down walls and changing the society forever in the late 1960s and early 70s. It would have been so much easier. But Tubular Bells is an entirely different story.
When looking at the titles of the different parts of Tubular Bells we get a hint of which genre Mike is inspired by; Latin, Blues, Jazz. In time the music that’s heard in the tracks called Harmonics and Peace would become a genre known as New Age music.
A Place to Hide
The best place to start is asking: what motives had Mike Oldfield for making Tubular Bells? Mike has been answering this question in almost every interview he has given over the last 40 years. He was suffering from social anxiety and side effects of LSD, and this piece of music was something he could focus on and it made him feel safe. It is of course ironic that music made to feel safe and secure later became known as some of the most scary movie music ever made. The Tubular Bells intro and The Exorcist soundtrack will forever be two sides of the same story.
Each time I listen to Tubular Bells I’m amazed by its strange beauty and emotional depth. Its sound is much wider than any genre label. Yet what I think is some of the first New Age music ever made is the beginning of part 2, called Harmonics and Peace. These parts are together 8 minutes and 40 seconds long, and are a surprisingly laid back opening of part 2. When the whole part is 23 minutes long, a 8m 40s “intro” is a lot. I remember being very excited to hear how this part would sound in the 2003 version; to hear how Mike really intended it to be. Here it is more obvious than in the original; this is ment to be a peaceful and meditative opening, which is a radical opposite to the following caveman part. In the 2003 version is actually even brighter and New Age-y.
When looking at the titles of the different parts of Tubular Bells we also get a hint of which genre Mike is inspired by; Latin, Blues, Jazz – all from part 1. In time Harmonics and Peace would become a genre known as New Age music.
Tubular Bells is in many ways the third New Age music album released, after Tony Scott’s two albums Music for Zen Meditation and Other Joys (1964) and Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys (1968). It has had, needless to say, a massive impact on almost all artists in the genre. It sets an impossible high standard for creativity and musicality. It is one of the boldest pieces of music in human history.
Score: 100/100 – see how I rate music here.
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