The beginning of this story goes way back before anybody had even heard of the term 'progressive rock', let alone names like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis.
Back in 1898 science fiction writer H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Invisible Man) published his new novel The War of the Worlds. The book dealt with an invasion of England by Martians and their attempt to take over our planet.
Wells was somewhat of a prophet; in his novels he wrote about various things which would de invented in the new century to work havoc among humankind. Examples are air bombings, tanks, gas warfare and nuclear weapons.
The book can be read on-line at one of the following sites: Online Literature Library, Study Guide for H.G. Wells or The War of the Worlds Home Page.
Wells was still alive when 23-year old Orson Welles created his radio broadcast show based on the novel in 1938. At 8:00 PM, on the evening of October 30, 1938, six million Americans listened to the broadcast describing the extraterrestrial invasion. The whole performance was so real that one million people actually believed that it was really happening. Most people sustained their fears but thousands reacted in sheer panic.
One of the newspapers wrote: In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than twenty families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York families left their homes, some to flee to near-by parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada seeking advice on protective measures against the raids.
Afterwards, the one-hour broadcast turned out to be more than just a radio play; it had been a psychological warfare experiment.
Radio listeners had kept their radios tuned for weeks, listening for news about the possible war starting in Europe. Since the show was presented as newsflashes between the performance of an orchestra, it sounded very realistic. The newsflashes told the people that a huge flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Later on a New York reporter took over and told the people about the evacuation of New York. The code name which was used at the end of the show, 2X2L, could be interpreted as 'double cross (2x) to hell (2L)'.
In 1953 George Pal's movie version of The War of the Worlds hit the cinemas. The film was a typical fifties piece of science fiction. The special effects were outstanding for that time and still stand up quite well today, which cannot be said about the acting talents of the players. The makers of the movie also took a lot of freedom with Wells' original story, turning it into a thinly disguised love story.
In April 1999 the movie was released on DVD.
With such a dramatic concept, which had already made it into a book, a radio play and a movie, it was only a matter of time before somebody would set the whole thing to music. That somebody was Jeff Wayne.
Jeff, a son of singer/actor/musical producer Jerry Wayne, started his muscial career by composing the score form his farther's West End musical Two Cities. Lots of composing, arranging and producing of commercials, radio & TV themes, films and records followed, among which many hit records for David Essex.
The music of The War of the Worlds was composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced by Jeff. Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass helped out with writing the lyrics, while Doreen Wayne wrote the script, based upon Wells' novel. The person who ended up doing the narrative section in the role of 'The Journalist' was movie star Richard Burton. Other people who played roles in the story were Julie 'Don't Cry for me Argentina' Covington (Beth), David Essex (The Artilleryman) and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott (Parson Nathaniel). All three of these also lent their vocals to the songs on the album, while Manfred Man's Chris Thompson and Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues both also sang on the album.
As in the book, the story on the album is divided up in two pieces. The first album/CD covers 'The Coming of the Martians' in 5 songs, while the second album/CD covers 'The Earth Under the Martians' in 7 more tracks.
The whole composition is build around several recurring musical themes and consists of long instrumental sections, songs with lyrics and spoken narratives. Add a powerful (string) orchestra, spooky sound effects and lots of keyboard and guitar noises. The whole forms a perfect combination, which is only intensified by the marvellous artwork and 6 coloured pictures depicting scenes from the story.
Jeff Wayne's version of the story is much more true to the original than Orson Welles' version or the 1953 movie ever was. It tells the listener how the first cylinder lands on Earth in the uptempo Eve of the War (9.06), on which Justin Hayward does the vocals ('The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one' he said). In Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11.36) a menacing bass line accompanies the unscrewing of the cylinder, after which Jo Partridge's guitar sweeps the land as the Martian's terrible Heat Ray.
Side 2 of the original double LP opened with The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10.36) in which the journalist meets the young soldier (David Essex) for the first time and sees the Martian's fighting machines while he travels to London. The other two tracks on this side are the beautiful ballad Forever Autumn (7.43), sung by Justin Hayward, in which the journalist finds the home of his love (Carrie) in London deserted. In Thunderchild, sung by Chris Thompson, he sees how Carrie manages to escape from the harbour of London on a streamer that is defended against the Martian fighting machines by war ship Thunderchild. At the end of side 2 Thunderchild is destroyed and the Earth falls under the reign to the Martians.
Musically this second LP side contains some recurring themes from the first two songs, as well as some new themes which would be revisited later.
The third side (or second CD) opens with the first part of an exceptionally spooky piece, The Red Weed (5.55). The journalist wanders through the landscape which is now covered by the red weed which gives Mars its red colour. The eerie orchestrated music perfectly captures the atmosphere of this scene. In The Spirit of Man (11.41) he meets the insane Parson Nathaniel (Lynott), who thinks the Martians are actually devils, and his wife Beth (Covington). A powerful ballad emerges between these two. When a cylinder lands on the house where the three are hiding, Beth dies. When Nathaniel goes into a frenzy the journalist has to knock him down, after which the Parson gets dragged away by an alien.
The journalist travels back towards London in The Red Weed (part 2) (6.51) which closes side 3 of the double album.
On side 4 the journalist meets the artilleryman (David Essex) again in Brave New World (12.13). The soldier, now quite mad, sings about his plan to build an new underground society in this powerful, bombastic piece. The journalist decides to leave this dreamer and in Dead London (8.37), which starts as a very sad piece but later turns into a reprise of the theme of The Eve of the War, he comes to a final confrontation with the invaders. Just when he thinks that he is about to die, he notices that all of the Martians have succumbed to the only earthly threat they hadn't counted on; bacteria.
The album closes with two epilogues, in the optimistic Epilogue (part 1) (2.42) the journalist tells how the remaining people picked up their daily live again. Feeling relieved? Well, just when you thought it was save to go back in the water a 1999 landing-craft expedition to Mars goes missing while strange flares start to emerge from the planet in Epilogue (part 2) (NASA) (2.02).
On June 9, 1978 Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds was released with a spectacular multi-media launch at the London Planetarium. It stayed in the UK charts for 6 years, reaching multi-platinum status. Worldwide sales are currently estimated at 6 million copies. There have even been versions in other languages for Latin America, Germany and Spain !
The album also won several awards.
Two singles taken from the album had international succes; edited versions of the delicate Forever Autumn and The Eve of the War, with its spinet-like keyboards and string orchestra. The latter was rereleased in 1989 and topped the UK pop, dance and 12" charts. In the same year the double album and single were relaunched in Holland and both ended up in the top 5.
In 1995 the album was re-released on CD, using new standard technology. This new version includes four new tracks; the so-called New Files 95. Of these four tracks only the reggea/dub version of The Spirit of Man is worth while. The other tracks, Dark Autumn Dub (a techno tune using samples from the original album but otherwise completely unrelated to the original music), Forever Autumn (remix 95) (with a new rhythm track) and The Eve of the War (remix 95) (another remix with no added value) are completely forgetable and a waste of disc space. I certainly don't see them as a tribute to the originals, rather as parodies.
Jeff Wayne's project is often mistaken for a movie soundtrack and can therefore often be found in the soundtrack sections at record stores.
And this isn't all. The War of the Worlds has also been released in various comic book versions, various sequels to the book, a television series sequel to the movie. audio sequels to the radio broadcast and most recently even a strategic computer game based on Jeff Wayne's musical version !
Can't get enough of this Martian stuff? Visit the The Complete War of the Worlds Web Site for loads of additional information.
In 1992, fourteen years after the release of War of the Worlds, Jeff Wayne released his follow-up album Spartacus. This album features Anthony Hopkins, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Paul Simon), Jimmy Helms (Londonbeat), Fish, Chris Thompson, Bill Fredericks (Drifters), Jo Partridge on guitar again and many others. Although the album features some wonderful music and the feel and style comes very close to that of War of the Worlds the album never really reaches the hights of its predecessor and never became a big success. Maybe it's because the albums tries to sound 'too modern' at times and therefore rather unnatural, or maybe Jeff just tried to hard to recreate War of the Worlds...
Written by Ed Sander