06 July 2016

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds

The chances of anything coming from Mars
Are a million to one, he said.
Are a million to one, but still - they come...

A Brief History

On the 9th of June, 1978, accompanied by a glittering multimedia launch at the London Planetarium, Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War Of The Worlds was unleashed. Taken from a slightly modified version of H.G. Wells' 1898 science fiction book, the album could in no way hope to equal the success of Wells' seminal novel, considered by many to have begun the modern sci-fi genre. Nevertheless, the musical version immediately entered the UK Album Charts and stayed there for over six years, going multi-platinum in the process.

Its success is not limited merely to the UK, either. The standard release was available around the world, and in Australia it performed particularly well, achieving 12 times platinum status and managing a seven week stretch at number one. The American Billboard Charts featured War Of The Worlds for seven months, and produced sales in excess of 475,000 albums.

Add to this a variety of other versions, including a Latin American version featuring Anthony Quinn, a Spanish version and a German edition with Curt Jurgens, all of which were released three years after the original work, and all of which went on to promote the original album's success. In Spain, with the original language version of number seven and the new Spanish version at number one, the related single release of The Eve Of The War shot into the singles chart at number one.

The Eve Of The War was not the only single release: Forever Autumn also made an independent outing, and even enjoyed a slight revival as Ben Liebrand offered a remixed and revamped version for the 1989 dance scene. Indeed, since 1978, the album has offered considerable material for artists wishing to cover not only The Eve Of The War, but many other aspects of the album. Indeed, a recent release, ULLAdubULLA, offered a remix of the entire album, featuring contemporary DJs such as Hybrid and Todd Terry, presided over and compiled by none other than Jeff Wayne himself.

Between these two extremes, however, lies a success story that can be measured by the plethora of awards received by Wayne and the album itself, including Best Recording In Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy (awarded in 1979) and number 30 of the Best Selling 100 Albums Of The Past 25 Years from BBC Radio 1. Recent re-releases on the CD format have done unexpectedly well, and the album seems to have an enduring appeal despite its occasionally dated prog-rock sound.

The Performance And The Performers

The actual music of the War Of The Worlds was composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced entirely by Jeff Wayne. Assistance with the libretto was provided by Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass, and the actual script was based, by Doreen Wayne upon H.G. Wells' original novel.

The album consists of long instrumental pieces, linked with short vignettes of spoken narrative and the occasional song. Richard Burton plays the part of the journalist, the witness to the events of the martian invasion of earth. Other roles in the story include an Artilleryman, played by David Essex and the parson, Nathaniel, who is played by Phil Lynott, familiar to many from his involvement with Thin Lizzy. Julie Covington played the brief but important role of Beth, and further vocals were provided by Chris Thompson and Justin Hayward, the latter of whom released a single version of Forever Autumn.

The story itself is remarkably faithful to Wells' original, though there is an unusual inclusion of Carrie, the journalist's sweetheart and reason for travelling to London. Similarly, there are minor differences with the scene involving the parson, though none of these differences are as great as those made in, for example, the 1953movie. As a whole, the album hangs together coherently, and Wells' vision remains intact.

Originally a two-LP set, the War Of The Worlds is split into two discs: The Coming Of The Martians and Earth Under The Martians. The first side tells of the cylinder arriving on Earth, unscrewing to reveal a terrible creature, glistening like wet leather, rising up to sweep the surrounding countryside with its terrible, deadly heat ray. The cylinder unscrews, slowly and ominously, pumped straight into our ears, and Wayne wastes no opportunity to link the music and events together perfectly.

Side two opens with The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine, in which we learn of the terrible power of the Martian fighting machines, and the journalist meets the young artilleryman. It is here, too, that the danger to Carrie becomes apparent, and the journalist makes his way down to London where he witnesses her escape on a steamer, and the subsequent defeat of the war ship Thunderchild by Martian fighting machines. Thus at the end of this second side the earth is enslaved to the Martians.

Side three, the second LP, introduces the red weed with slow, New World Symphony-like themes, before spilling into the frenzied, desperate encounter with the parson and Beth. A reprise of the red weed theme ends the third side with a despondent, futile feel. On the final side we meet the artilleryman once more, who this time has grand plans for a underground society. Alas, his plans do not match his work ethic, and the piece Dead London leaves us with a chilled vision of the Earth under the rule of the Martians.

The ending of the book must be familiar to all. If the reader is unfamiliar with the final outcome of the tale then it would be unwise to read further. It is at this point that bacteria come to mankind's rescue, and the first epilogue rounds the album off with a triumphant return to everyday life.

At this point, the story itself is finished. And yet with a touch of genius, Wayne moves us on to 1999, and the second part of the epilogue takes place: an incredibly chilling radio broadcast from NASA as their mission to Mars goes terribly, terribly wrong, and green flares once more erupt from the surface of the planet. It's an ending with the potential for disaster - a classic bad sci-fi film ending, but in this case it works, and it works well.


1. The Eve of the War (9:06)
2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11:36)

3. The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10:28)
4. Forever Autumn (7:55)
5. Thunder Child (6:02)

6. The Red Weed (Part 1) (5:51)
7. The Spirit of Man (11:36)
8. The Red Weed (Part 2) (7:00)

9. Brave New World (12:08)
10. Dead London (8:37)
11. Epilogue (Parts 1 and 2) (4:35)

The tracklist as above, split into four sections, indicates the four original LPs. For the later CD releases, tracks 1 to 5 appeared on CD one, and the remaining tracks on CD two. Later, a further CD version with three extra remixes also appeared, further complicating the track arrangement. For good measure, a highlights CD is also available, edited down to a single compact disc. The recent remix album, ULLAdubULLA is also available as a double CD set, though original promo CDs featured an entirely different single compact disc.

The torment was ended. The people scattered over the country, desperate, leaderless, starved,
the thousands who had fled by sea including the one most dear to me;
all could return, the pulse of life growing stronger and stronger would beat again.

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