"No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us." -- The Eve of the War. (mp3, 16mb)
H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was one of the first science fiction novels ever written, in 1898. Over the years it's been subject to many interpretations. Most famously, Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast (realaudio link courtesy of earthstation1.com) sparked a mass hysteria. Like Welles' version, Steven Spielberg's recent effort transplanted the story from late 18th century England to modern day New Jersey, with Tom Cruise as a working man from Bayonne.
Perhaps less well known outside of the UK is Jeff Wayne's 1978 prog-disco concept album, which remained on album charts there for a staggering 300 weeks. Wayne is a Queens-born composer whose father Jerry (who played Sky Masterson in the original West End production of Guys and Dolls), helped him get his start in the music business by offering him the chance to compose the music for "Two Cities" - a 1966 musical based on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. After his auspicious debut, Wayne turned to producing records and music for commercials and television for a few years. Then, in 1975, he came up with the idea to make a musical version of Wells' classic. After 3 long years of recording and production, he released his masterpiece.
The album features the lyrics of Garry Osbourne (who later wrote with Elton John) and session music from artists like Jo Partridge, Ray Cooper, George Fenton, and Chris Spedding and Herbie Flowers, the bassist who also worked on Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" and Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire". Richard Burton plays the spoken word role of The Journalist, who narrates the story. David Essex (the UK David Cassidy) performs many of the backing vocals and a spoken word part as The Artilleryman. In a seemingly risky bit of casting that ultimately paid off, Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) was chosen to play the part of Nathaniel, the Parson driven mad with fear and despair. The role of the Parson's wife, Beth, is played by Julie Covington, who went on to score an international number one hit with "Don't Cry for Me Argentina". Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's Earth Band) and Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues) supply the vocals for the song "Thunder Child" and the radio hit "Autumn Leaves" (mp3 sample, .8 mb), respectively.
The result of this monumental collaboration is a work of disco-meets-prog-meets-L. Ron Hubbard greatness. Wells' story is worthily told through the music, with recurring motifs like the jangly and evil Martian theme (which hearkens a bit to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", mp3 sample, 1.3 mb) and their creepy victory scream, "Ulla!!!" (mp3 sample, 1 mb). As you listen, you feel the sense of impending doom, and otherworldliness of the Martian invaders. You can "see" the Martian heat rays of destruction as they stalk across the land and massacre the human race. Phil Lynott wildly caterwauls as the mad Parson while Julie Covington pleads with him to come to his senses (Spirit of Man. mp3 sample, 1.9 mb). And the human spirit ultimately triumphs, as depicted in Brave New World (mp3 sample, .9 mb). Or at least it does for the time being... as we learn in the chilling Epilogue.
Like the original book, the musical version went on to inspire other versions and interpretations. The album was released in German, and two versions were released in Spanish, including one version with Anthony Quinn playing The Journalist. In 1998, a strategic computer game was produced, featuring the music of and based on the illustrations for the musical version. In 2000, a collection of re-mixes entitled The War of the Worlds: ULLAdubULLA The Remix Album came out, and a follow-up collection is to be released April 17, 2006. The deluxe 7 disc collector's set became available in 2005, and a CGI animated film version of the musical version is scheduled for release in 2007. Also, The Arsonists sampled "The Eve of the War" for the song "Blaze" (windows media sample) off of their 1999 album As the World Burns.
Coincidentally, and most excitingly, starting tomorrow, April 13th, Jeff Wayne and company (including the 48 piece ULLAdubULLA orchestra) will be touring the UK performing, for the first time ever, an adaptation of the album IN ITS ENTIRITY. See the tour schedule here. Richard Burton will be there "in sight and sound", and reportedly in the form of a giant head.
Again, here is The Eve of the War. (mp3, 16mb), the entire opening track, so you can get a taste and hear for yourself. Lots more information and the history of the making of this album can be found at its official website thewaroftheworlds.com. Enjoy!