The Six Wives of Henry VIII (album)
The Six Wives of Henry VIII is the second studio album by English keyboardist Rick Wakeman, released in January 1973 on A&M Records. It is an instrumental progressive rock album with its concept based on his interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. After signing with A&M as a solo artist, Wakeman decided on the album's concept during a tour of the United States as a member of the rock band Yes. As he read a book about the subject on his travels, melodies he had written the previous year came to him and were noted down. Musicians from Yes and from Strawbs, the group Wakeman was in prior to Yes, also play on the album.
|The Six Wives of Henry VIII|
|Studio album by|
|Released||23 January 1973|
|Studio||Morgan and Trident Studios|
|Rick Wakeman chronology|
|Singles from The Six Wives of Henry VIII|
The Six Wives of Henry VIII received mostly positive reviews from critics. It reached number 7 on the UK Albums Chart and number 30 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1975 for over 500,000 copies sold in the United States. In 2009, Wakeman performed the album in its entirety for the first time at Hampton Court Palace as part of the 500th anniversary celebration of Henry's accession to the throne, released as The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace. The tracks were rearranged with sections, including a track dedicated to Henry himself, that were left off the original album due to the limited time available on a single record. The Six Wives of Henry VIII was reissued in 2015 with a quadraphonic sound mix and bonus tracks.
Background and writingEdit
In August 1971, Rick Wakeman joined the progressive rock band Yes as a replacement for their original keyboardist Tony Kaye. Towards the end of the year, he signed a five-album deal with A&M Records as a solo artist. While touring the United States with Yes on their Fragile Tour promote Fragile (1971), Wakeman was informed by his manager Brian Lane that A&M co-founder and executive Jerry Moss wished to meet him at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Moss wished for Wakeman to record a solo album and offered an advance of $12,500, around £4,000, to produce it which Wakeman accepted. As part of his signing on fee, Wakeman received a 1957 Cadillac limousine from A&M which he claimed was once owned by Clark Gable and had it shipped to England. Wakeman chose it after the label asked him what he would want as a present and remembered he had seen the car in the building's parking lot.
Wakeman was disappointed with his playing early on in the Fragile Tour, so he used his solo album as a way of cheering himself up. He assembled some rough ideas onto a tape but upon playback, he thought they had lacked any strong direction. Upon resuming the Fragile Tour, Wakeman bought four books at an airport bookstall in Richmond, Virginia, including one about Henry VIII and his six wives titled The Private Life of Henry VIII (1964) by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison. As he read about Anne Boleyn on the subsequent flight to Chicago, a theme he recorded in November 1971 ran through his mind which he wrote on some hand drawn ledger lines and played during the sound check and the subsequent concert. Said Wakeman: "I had been searching for a style to write in and suddenly I found it in writing music about these six ladies...I would concentrate on one of the wives and then music just came into my head and I would write it down. Sometimes I was flying, other times I was on stage, or just in front of the piano at home ... The six wives theme gave me the thread, the link, I needed to give me a reason for putting these pieces of music together." He explains the album's concept further in its liner notes: "The album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments." Wakeman elaborated and wrote the music as if he was doing a surreal painting, "sketches of how I felt about them at the time".
Recording and productionEdit
Recording took place in London at Morgan and Trident Studios between February and October 1972 during gaps in recording and touring with Yes. Having produced an early demo of ideas for the album, Wakeman used it to pick out which musicians would suit each track. Seven musicians from Yes and Strawbs, the folk rock group Wakeman had performed with prior to Yes, play on the record. It was to be named Henry VIII and His Six Wives with a track dedicated for Henry himself, but Wakeman had recorded the tracks on the wives first and used up the available space on a vinyl record. He decided to leave the Henry track and rename the album accordingly.
When the album was finished, its final production cost had reached around £25,000. Wakeman described working on it as "difficult and cumbersome", but said the project was eventually a rewarding one. He was excited when it came to presenting the album to A&M management at their London office, which included a lawyer who represented the label's US division. After the album was played in the office, Wakeman "sensed that something was not right in the room. There was pretty much silence as it finished". The lawyer thought it was a good work in progress and looked forward to hearing vocals added to the music, yet Wakeman explained that he wished to produce an instrumental keyboard album. To make matters worse, Wakeman recalled the head of the label's UK division felt the album would be too difficult to sell, and another attendee estimated that around 50,000 copies had to be sold to become profitable. With little faith in the album, A&M pressed an initial 12,500 copies in the hope of earning back their money. Wakeman summarised: "I was absolutely deflated".
The basis of "Catherine of Aragon" was originally a piece that Wakeman wrote for Fragile with a working title of "Handle with Care". Its title came about as staff at Trident Studios recommended the tape's storage box be labelled something misleading to lower the risk of theft and the tapes being sold as bootlegs. The box that had the song's tape in had a label that read "Handle with care for the Joe Loss Orchestra", which Wakeman took and adapted for the track's title. "I thought, 'No one is going to nick that!', and they didn't". Recorded at Trident Studios in London, the track features Yes's guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire with percussionist Ray Cooper.
By the time production began on "Catherine Howard", engineer Ken Scott was replaced by Paul Tregurtha. Strawbs member Chas Cronk, who plays the bass guitar on the track, recalled the "total confusion" during the recording and "couldn't make head or tail of what [we] were doing. We were going through it part by part and I couldn't see how all the parts were going to match up." He noted that Rick "knew exactly what he was going to do although he had nothing written down. It was all stored in his head."
Wakeman describes "Anne of Cleves" as a "rather free-form" track, "almost having no form at all, there was a contradiction in what everyone was playing. The guys in the band thought I was completely barking, but it had to be like that."
The organ on "Jane Seymour" was recorded at St Giles-without-Cripplegate church in London. "I couldn't reproduce the sound I needed on an electronic organ, so we got permission to move the recording equipment into St Giles" said Wakeman. "It was quite an experience playing a lovely instrument like that." He wished for the track not to come across overly religious, so Wakeman recorded some overdubs of drums, harpsichord, and Moog synthesiser.
While recording "Anne Boleyn", a dream Wakeman had about attending her execution caused him to include a version of "St. Clement", the tune to the hymn "The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended" written by John Ellerton. Though E. J. Hopkins is credited on the album, the piece is generally attributed to Reverend Clement Scholefield. Wakeman also plays a rare portative organ made in the 1700s with reeds and wooden pipes, giving it a sound that he compared to someone's breath.
Release and commercial performanceEdit
To promote the album, Wakeman played excerpts from it on the BBC 2 television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test on 16 January 1973. Show producer Colin Strong and director Mike Appleton contacted A&M who got staffer Tony Burdfield to send them a copy, and liked the album which led to Wakeman being invited on the show. Wakeman brought along Cronk and Cousins to play the additional parts. Prior to recording they got drunk in the studio bar. An audience of around 10 million planned to watch a controversial film about American pop figure Andy Warhol on ITV, but was temporarily banned for screening. Wakeman recalled: "It seems most of them, rather than watch repeats, switched over to Whistle Test and saw my preview of 'Henry'...and suddenly it seemed as if the whole country had discovered my music...it was a tremendous break".
Following the album's release on 23 January 1973, it topped the album charts in four countries. It entered the UK Albums Chart at number 12 before it climbed to its peak position of number 7 the following week on 3 March 1973, and stayed on the chart for 13 weeks during its initial run. The album reappeared on the chart for seven non-consecutive weeks in 1973 alone, and twice more in 1975. In February 2015, the album re-entered the UK chart for one week at number 86. In the United States, the album reached a peak of number 30 on Billboard 200 chart for the week of 30 March 1973, during a 45-week stay on the chart.
By July 1973, the album had sold 300,000 copies. In the following year, Wakeman was presented a platinum disc at the Midem Festival for sales exceeding two million. On 20 October 1975, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America for 500,000 copies sold in the United States. Wakeman claimed the sales figure grew to six million five years after its release. Modern reports indicate the album has sold an estimated 15 million copies worldwide.
The album received a mixed reaction from music critics upon release. Though the album was seen by some as one of the worst examples of the progressive rock genre, the record was well received by others. Time magazine named it one of the best pop albums of 1973, describing the album as "an astonishing classic-rock hybrid". Steve Apple wrote a review for Rolling Stone in 1973, noting Wakeman had "made his bid for Keith Emerson's place as the master of keyboard electronics" but thought his playing suffered a little in technique. Apple noticed "a brilliant feel for tasteful impressionistic composition", having made "an exceptionally interesting instrumental album with superb production". He also praised the production and mixing, and picked "Catherine Howard" as the album's best track. Henry Mendoza reviewed the album for The San Bernardino County Sun and noted that despite the album's "interesting format" and its "excellent showcase" for Wakeman's keyboard skills, Mendoza thought the music sounded too much the same and was "monotonous and boring". The San Mateo County Times printed a very positive review from Peter J. Barsocchini, who thought the album is "something just short of amazing" and "a supremely textured work which transcends most of the finest keyboard work being done in pop music today". He loosely compared the music to that of progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and mentioned Wakeman's "lyrical" and "deep, vast sound". In a retrospective review, Mike DeGange of AllMusic described Wakeman's use of his synthesizers as "masterful" and "instrumentally stunning", and rated the album 4.5 out of 5.
Excerpts from the album were first performed during Wakeman's solo spots on Yes's Fragile Tour from 1971–1972. A recording of his solo was included on the band's first live album Yessongs (1973) titled "Excerpts from 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII'", as well as their same-titled concert film (1975) and the box set Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015).
In 1973, Wakeman wrote a letter asking to perform the album live at Hampton Court Palace. He was denied permission, and "got the impression that what [he] had asked was tantamount to treason". A full performance of the album was never held until he was asked to perform it in its entirety for the 500th anniversary to Henry's accession to the throne, 36 years after the album's release. A stage was constructed outside the main palace entrance to seat 5,000 people. Wakeman performed with his band The English Rock Ensemble, the English Chamber Choir and the Orchestra Europa, on 1 and 2 May 2009. Featured in the setlist was "Defender of the Faith", the track Wakeman wrote about Henry before it was omitted from the album due to time constraints. The shows were released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray titled The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace on 5 October that year.
All tracks written by Wakeman. "Anne Boleyn" incorporates "The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended" written by Rev. Clement Cotteril Scholefield arr. Wakeman.
|1.||"Catherine of Aragon"||3:44|
|2.||"Anne of Cleves"||7:53|
|2.||"Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'"||6:32|
|2015 Deluxe Edition bonus tracks|
|7.||"Catherine of Aragon (First Mix 14/02/1973)"||3:48|
|8.||"Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended' (Single Edit)"||3:13|
|9.||"Catherine Parr (Single Edit)"||3:41|
Credits are adapted from the album's sleeve notes.
- Rick Wakeman – 2 Minimoog synthesisers, 2 400-D Mellotrons (one for vocals, sound effects and vibes; the other for brass, strings and flutes), frequency counter, custom mixer, Steinway 9' grand piano, custom-built Hammond C-3 organ, RMI electric piano and harpsichord, ARP synthesiser, Thomas Goff harpsichord, church organ at St Giles-without-Cripplegate, portative organ
Production and design
- Ken Scott – engineer on "Catherine of Aragon" and "Catherine Parr"
- Paul Tregurtha – engineer, mixer on "Anne of Cleves", "Catherine Howard", "Jane Seymour", and "Anne Boleyn"
- Pete Flanagan – assistant engineer
- David Hentschel (credited as "Dave Henshall") – mixer on "Catherine Parr"
- Michael Doud – art director
- Ken Carroll – design
- Bruce Rae – cover photograph
- Ruan O'Lochlainn – inside photograph
- Published by Rondor Music
- Kirkman 2016, p. 198.
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