Tubular Bells

Tubular Bells is the debut studio album by English multi-instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter Mike Oldfield, released on 25 May 1973 as the first album on Virgin Records. Oldfield, who was 19 years old when it was recorded, played almost all the instruments on the mostly instrumental album.

Tubular Bells
Mike oldfield tubular bells album cover.jpg
Studio album by
Released25 May 1973 (1973-05-25)
RecordedNovember 1972 – April 1973
StudioThe Manor, Oxfordshire, England
GenreProgressive rock[1][2]
Mike Oldfield chronology
Tubular Bells
Hergest Ridge
Tubular Bells series chronology
Tubular Bells
The Orchestral Tubular Bells
Singles from Tubular Bells
  1. "Mike Oldfield's Single"
    Released: 28 June 1974

The album initially sold slowly, but gained worldwide attention in December 1973 when its opening theme was used for the soundtrack to the horror film The Exorcist (1973). This led to a surge in sales which increased Oldfield's profile and played an important part in the growth of the Virgin Group. It stayed in the top ten of the UK Albums Chart for one year from March 1974, during which it reached number one for one week. It peaked at number three on the US Billboard 200, and reached the top position in Canada and Australia. The album has sold over 2.7 million copies in the UK and an estimated 15 million worldwide.

An orchestral version produced by David Bedford was released in 1975 as The Orchestral Tubular Bells. Oldfield has recorded three sequels: Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998), and The Millennium Bell (1999). For the album's 30th anniversary Oldfield re-recorded the album as Tubular Bells 2003. A remastered edition was released in 2009. Its contribution to British music was recognised when Oldfield played extracts during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London.


Oldfield learned to play the guitar at an early age, and was playing in folk clubs with schoolfriends by the age of 12 or 13.[3] His teenage years were marred by trouble in the family home, and to escape from his problems Oldfield would spend many hours in his room practising the guitar and composing instrumental pieces, becoming an accomplished player. He formed a short-lived folk duo called the Sallyangie with his sister Sally,[4] and after they broke up he became the bass player for the Whole World, a band put together by former Soft Machine member Kevin Ayers.[5][6] The Whole World recorded their album Shooting at the Moon at Abbey Road Studios over a period of several months in 1970, and the 17-year-old Oldfield was fascinated by the variety of instruments available in the studios, which included pianos, harpischords, a Mellotron and various orchestral percussion instruments. When the group did not have a recording session booked until midday, he would arrive at the studios early and spend hours during the morning experimenting with the different instruments and learning how to play each of them.[7]

The Whole World broke up in mid-1971 and Ayers joined Gong for three months as a touring member of the band. While he was away he lent Oldfield a two-track Bang & Olufsen Beocord ¼" tape recorder.[8] Oldfield modified the recorder by blocking off the erase head of the tape machine – this allowed him to record onto one track, bounce the recording onto the second track, and record a new instrument onto the first track, thus overdubbing his playing one instrument at a time and effectively making multi-track recordings.[6] In his flat in Tottenham in north London, Oldfield recorded demos of four tracks he had been composing in his head for some years, using the tape recorder, his guitar and bass, some toy percussion instruments, and a Farfisa organ borrowed from the Whole World's keyboard player David Bedford. The demos comprised three shorter melodies (early versions of what would become the sections titled "Peace", "Bagpipe Guitars" and "Caveman" on the Tubular Bells 2003 version of the album), and a longer piece he had provisionally titled "Opus One". Oldfield stated that he had been inspired to write a long instrumental piece after hearing the track Septober Energy by Centipede.[7] He was also influenced by classical music, and by experimental composer Terry Riley's 1969 work A Rainbow in Curved Air, on which Riley played all the instruments himself and used tape loops and overdubs to build up a long, repetitive piece of music.[9][a]

The Manor Studio, where the album was recorded

Late in 1971 Oldfield joined the band of Arthur Louis who were recording demos at The Manor Studio.[6] The studio was being constructed in the former squash court of an old manor house in Shipton-on-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, which had recently been bought by the young entrepreneur Richard Branson and which was being turned into a residential recording facility run by his music production team of Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth.[10] Oldfield was shy and socially awkward, but struck up a friendship with the two producers after they heard his guitar playing. Oldfield asked Newman to listen to his demos: however, these were still back in the flat in north London, so one of Louis' roadies offered to drive Oldfield to London and back to retrieve them.[7] Newman and Heyworth made a copy of the demos, and promised Oldfield that they would speak to Branson and his business partner Simon Draper about them.[11]

Oldfield spent much of 1972 working with his old bandmates from the Whole World on their solo projects,[12] while simultaneously trying to find a record label interested in his demos. Oldfield approached EMI, CBS and various other labels, but all the companies rejected him, believing the piece to be unmarketable without vocals.[7] Increasingly frustrated with the record company rejections and short of money, Oldfield heard that the Soviet Union paid musicians to give public performances – according to him, he was at the point of looking through the telephone directory for the phone number of the Soviet embassy when he was called by Simon Draper, who invited Oldfield to have dinner with him and Branson on Branson's houseboat moored in London.[7] Over dinner Branson told Oldfield that he liked the demos and invited Oldfield to come back to the Manor and spend a week there recording "Opus One".[13]


Side oneEdit

Oldfield recorded "Opus One" during his one allotted week at the Manor in November 1972.[7] The album was recorded on an Ampex 2-inch 16-track tape recorder with the Dolby noise-reduction system, which was the Manor's main recording equipment at the time.[7] To create his work Oldfield asked Virgin for various instruments to be hired, which included guitars, various keyboards and percussion instruments.[14] Oldfield has recounted differing stories over the years regarding the inclusion of the tubular bells: in an article about the album's making in Q in 2001 he suggested that they were among the instruments he asked Branson to hire,[6][15] but in interviews in 2013 for Sound on Sound magazine and for a television documentary he stated that he saw them among the instruments being removed from the studios after John Cale had finished recording there, and asked for them to be left behind for his own recording sessions.[16]

Oldfield played the majority of the instruments on the album as a series of overdubs, which was an uncommon recording technique at the time.[17] In total, 274 overdubs were made and an estimated two thousand "punch-ins" added later.[18] Despite various guitars being listed on the album sleeve, such as "speed guitars", "fuzz guitars" and "guitars sounding like bagpipes", the only electric guitar to be used on the album was a 1966 blonde Fender Telecaster which used to belong to Marc Bolan and to which Oldfield had added an extra Bill Lawrence pick-up. All the guitars were recorded via direct injection into the mixing desk.[7] To create the "speed guitar" and "mandolin-like guitar" named in the sleeve notes, the tape was simply run at half speed during recording. An actual mandolin was only used on the final track, the "Sailor's Hornpipe".[7] Oldfield also used a custom effects unit, named the Glorfindel box, to create the "fuzz guitars" and "bagpipe guitars" distortion on some pieces on the album.[b] The guitar was put up for auction a number of times by Bonhams in 2007, 2008 and 2009 with estimates of £25,000–35,000, £10,000–15,000 and £8,000–12,000 respectively[20][21][22] before finally being sold for £6,500 – the money was donated to the SANE charity.[23] According to Phil Newell the bass guitar used on the album was one of his Fender Telecaster Basses.[24]

The short "honky tonk piano" section at 13:48 on side one was included as a tribute to Oldfield's grandmother, who had played the instrument in pubs before World War II. The staff and workers at the Manor made up the "nasal choir" that accompanies it.[7]

Vivian Stanshall, a former member of the comedic rock group Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, was due to use the Manor after Oldfield, and had arrived while he was in the process of recording "Opus One". Oldfield was a fan of the way in which Stanshall had introduced the instruments one at a time on the Bonzos' song "The Intro and the Outro". He suggested to Newman that he would like Stanshall to introduce the instruments in the same manner for "Opus One"'s "finale" section, and Newman agreed to the idea.[25] However, the shy Oldfield then needed some persuading by Newman to go and ask Stanshall if he would carry out the request. Stanshall readily agreed to be the "master of ceremonies" on the record, but Newman recalled that the job proved to be more difficult than anticipated, with Stanshall forgetting the names of the instruments and introducing them at the wrong points in the recording. Eventually Oldfield wrote out the list of instruments in order, indicating where Stanshall should introduce them.[26] It was the way in which Stanshall said "plus... tubular bells" to introduce the last instrument in the finale that gave Oldfield the idea to call the album Tubular Bells.[27]

Producing the sound that Oldfield wanted from the tubular bells proved problematic: he wanted a loud note from them but both the standard leather-covered and bare metal hammers did not produce the volume that he wanted. In the end Newman obtained a heavier claw hammer and Oldfield used it to produce the desired sound intensity, cracking the bells in the process.[28]

Side twoEdit

Once Part One of Tubular Bells had been recorded, Oldfield was allowed to stay on at the Manor to record additional overdubs during studio downtime. He spent Christmas and New Year at his family's home, but returned to the Manor from February to April 1973 to record the second part of his planned album.[7][29] Branson had visited the Midem music conference in Cannes in January 1973 and pitched Part One to various music companies with the same lack of success that Oldfield had had, so by this time Branson and Draper had plans to set up their own record label, and make Tubular Bells its first release. Oldfield was not given the studio time as he had been for Part One, so Part Two was recorded over a period of three months whenever the studio was free. Oldfield has stated that he already had Part Two mapped out and sequenced by the time he came to record it.[30]

The "caveman" section in Part Two was the only part of the album to feature a drumkit (played by the Edgar Broughton Band's drummer Steve Broughton), which Oldfield later said made the section "fairly normal". The section began with a backing track of bass and drums, with Oldfield overdubbing all other instruments. The shouting sequence was developed near the end of the recording when he had practically finished recording the instruments for the section, but felt that it needed something else. Engineer Simon Heyworth recalled that Branson was getting impatient and pressuring Oldfield to deliver the album, and to include vocals on one of the tracks so that he could release it as a single. Angered by Branson's suggestion, Oldfield replied, "You want lyrics!? I'll give you lyrics!". Back at the Manor he drank half a bottle of Jameson's whiskey from the studio's cellar and demanded that the engineer take him to the studio where, intoxicated, he "screamed his brains out for 10 minutes" into a microphone, leaving him so hoarse that he couldn't speak for two weeks afterwards.[6] The engineer ran the tape at a higher speed during the recording, so that upon playback the tape ran at normal speed, thus dropping the pitch of the voice track and producing the "Piltdown Man" vocals listed on the credits.[7]

The coda at the end of Part Two, "The Sailor's Hornpipe", was a track Oldfield had been performing since he was the bass player with the Whole World.[31] It was originally preceded by a longer rendition of the piece, featuring a vocal contribution from Vivian Stanshall over musical backing and marching footsteps. According to the liner notes for the Boxed vinyl compilation, this session occurred at four in the morning after Oldfield, Stanshall and producer Newman had been drinking heavily. Newman placed microphones in various rooms of the Manor and began recording, and the trio set off on an unplanned tour of the house, with Oldfield on mandolin and Newman on acoustic guitar playing the "Sailor's Hornpipe" while Stanshall gave an inebriated, improvised tour of the Manor.[6] In the end a more traditional instrumental version of the "Sailor's Hornpipe" was recorded for Tubular Bells, although Stanshall's version was later included in what the liner notes describe as "all its magnificent foolishness" on the Boxed compilation.[7] It can also be found on the SACD release (multi-channel track only) and on the 2009 Mercury reissue of Tubular Bells. A Spanish release of the box set missed out the "Sailor's Hornpipe" altogether and ended with the ambient section preceding it.[citation needed]

In the liner notes to the 2009 reissue of Magma's Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, an album recorded at the Manor at around the same time as Tubular Bells, Magma's leader Christian Vander claimed that "Mike Oldfield stole my music, more precisely, he stole some extracts from Mekanïk and The Dawotsin."[32]


Tubular Bells picture disc

The cover of Tubular Bells was created by designer and photographer Trevor Key. In her obituary of Key for The Guardian in 1995, Sue Steward, who was Virgin Records' press officer in 1973, recalled suggesting Key as a possible candidate to create the cover.[33] Key was invited to Virgin to present his portfolio – among his images was one of a boiled egg dripping blood which Branson liked and wanted to use for the cover art because he wanted to call the album Breakfast in Bed, but Oldfield hated both the image and the title and rejected them.[6] A modified version of the image with the blood replaced by yolk would later be used as the artwork for Oldfield's 1991 album Heaven's Open, his final album for Virgin Records.[34]

Steward accompanied Key to a beach on the Sussex coast to shoot the backdrop to the album cover. Key had brought with him the bones shown burning on the beach on the album's back cover, but the day was bitterly cold and it took some time to set light to them. The perfectionist Key also spent several hours photographing the seascape until had a shot of the waves that he was happy with.[33] The triangular "bent bell" on the album cover was inspired by the damage Oldfield had caused to the tubular bells while playing them on the record.[35] Key designed the bell and had the model constructed, which he then photographed in his studio and superimposed on the beach backdrop. Oldfield was captivated by the finished artwork, and insisted that on the cover his name and the album title should be in small letters and in a pale orange colour (chosen by Oldfield himself) so as not to distract from the overall image.[36]

According to Steward, Key was paid just £100 for his work on Tubular Bells.[33] However, Key went on to design several other sleeves for Virgin and Factory Records, including New Order's Technique and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "Genetic Engineering".[37]

The "bent bell" on the cover has become the image most associated with Oldfield, appearing on the cover art of all the Tubular Bells sequel albums, and is also used as the logo of his personal music company, Oldfield Music Ltd. The cover of Tubular Bells was among ten images chosen by the UK's Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued on 7 January 2010.[38][39]


Tubular Bells marked the first release for the newly founded Virgin Records and was assigned the catalogue number V2001, although Gong's Flying Teapot (catalogue number V2002) and the compilation Manor Live (catalogue number V2003) were released on the same date.

The back cover of the album includes the humorous statement "In Glorious Stereophonic Sound: Can also be played on mono equipment at a pinch" and the tongue-in-cheek warning "This stereo record cannot be played on old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station."[40]

There are five known variations of the vinyl edition of Tubular Bells:

  1. The standard stereo black vinyl version catalogue number V2001 (white label with twins image or green label with twins image and 25.00 running time on side one). This mix was reissued on vinyl as part of the Back to Black series in 2009.
  2. A stereo black vinyl version catalogue number VR 13–105 (white label with color twins image). This is the original US version of the album, distributed by Atlantic Records.
  3. A quadraphonic version, black vinyl catalogue number QV2001 ("For people with four ears", as the sleeve said). The first 40,000 copies of this are not true quadrophonic but doctored versions of the stereo issue, thereafter the subsequent copies are true quadrophonic. Unfortunately there is no indication on the record label that this substitution was made.[41] The US number is QD13-105 (Quadra-disc CD-4 channel discrete).
  4. A vinyl picture disc, showing the bent bell on a skyscape, catalogue number VP2001. This is a stereo remix of the quadrophonic version, the only difference being in the sound of the "reed and pipe organ" during the ceremony of instruments in the finale. This version appears in the Boxed compilation.
  5. A 1981 release that was re-mastered by Ray Janos at CBS Recording Studios, New York, N.Y. on the CBS DisComputer System. Barcode 07464341161.[42]

Tubular Bells was re-released as a limited edition album and cassette ten years after the date of its original release. This also co-incided with the release of Oldfield's new album Crises. Press advertisements bore the date of May 23 and the years 1973 and 1983, and the album was also advertised as being sold "for the 1973 price". Some copies bore the sticker "10th Anniversary issue".

The album was also released on CD for the first time in 1983, with the serial number CDV2001.[43] The CD release of the Boxed album contains a stereo remix of the quadrophonic version.

Simon Heyworth remastered the album for an HDCD release in 2000, and for a SACD release in 2001 which includes the remastered version and uses the quadrophonic mix from the Boxed compilation for the multi-channel part. The HDCD release contained liner notes by David Laing, and the SACD release notes were by Phil Newell and Simon Heyworth. Some copies were labelled as the "25th Anniversary Edition".

On 22 April 2007 a British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, gave away 2.25 million free copies of the full original Tubular Bells to its readers; this came in a card packet displaying the original artwork.[44] EMI (who had bought out Virgin Records) earned a profit from the promotion, and The Mail on Sunday claimed that its promotion increased sales of the album by 30%.[45] Oldfield was unhappy about the deal, as he had not been consulted about it and felt it devalued the work.[46]

2009 reissueEdit

In 2008, when Oldfield's original 35-year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to the piece were returned to him[47][48] and Oldfield signed to Mercury Records.[49] All of Oldfield's Virgin albums were transferred to his new label and re-released, starting the following year. Tubular Bells was reissued in June 2009 in a number of formats, including vinyl, 2-CD and DVD, accompanied by a series of bell-ringing events at 6pm on 6 June (a reference to the Number of the Beast).[50] One of the events in London was at the British Music Experience at the O2. It featured the 29 piece Handbell Ringers of Great Britain and an Orbular Bells DJ set by the Orb.[51] There were also bell-ringing workshops and competitions.[52]

All formats of the reissue included a new mix of the album created by Oldfield at his home in the Bahamas in March 2009, while the Deluxe Edition contained a 5.1 mix, and the Ultimate Edition contained an accompanying book and memorabilia.[53] The 2-CD version, titled The Mike Oldfield Collection 1974–1983, contained the whole of Tubular Bells on the first disc and a compilation of some of Oldfield's work from Ommadawn to Crises on the second disc. The Mike Oldfield Collection 1974–1983 was advertised on television,[54] voiced by former Doctor Who actor Tom Baker, who had previously featured in an advert for The Best of Tubular Bells in 2000.[55] The album carries a black cover with the Tubular Bells logo, and charted at number 11 in the UK Albums Chart.[56]


Queen Elizabeth Hall performanceEdit

The first live performance of Tubular Bells was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Oldfield admitted that once he had finished recording Tubular Bells and it had been released, he felt he had "got it out of his system" and was reluctant to promote the record at all.[57] Branson eventually persuaded him to play a one-off concert performing the album in its entirety at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 25 June 1973. However, Oldfield was nervous about performing the work live, and on the day of the concert as Branson was driving him to London he insisted that he would not go through with the concert. Desperate to stop Oldfield pulling out, Branson offered him the Bentley car that he was driving if Oldfield would perform the concert.[58] The concert duly went ahead and was well-received, despite Oldfield considering it a disaster, with out-of-tune instruments and Stanshall introducing the instruments during the finale section in the wrong order. The concert featured members of Henry Cow and musicians associated with the Canterbury Scene, as well as Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones. Steve Winwood and Robert Wyatt were also due to take part,[59] but Winwood pulled out as he was unable to find time to take part in the rehearsals, and Wyatt was recovering from the recent accident that had left him paralysed.[60]

Musicians for Queen Elizabeth Hall performance:

  • Girlie Chorus: Sarah Greaves, Kathy Williams, Sally Oldfield, Maureen Rossini, Lynette Asquith, Amanda Parsons, Maggie Thomas, Mundy Ellis, Julie Clive, Liz Gluck, Debbie Scott, Hanna Corker.

BBC TV 2nd House performanceEdit

Oldfield and many of the musicians who had taken part in the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert performed Part One again later in the year for the BBC arts programme 2nd House, but this time as a pre-recorded performance in a studio setting without an audience. The performance was recorded on 30 November 1973 and transmitted on 5 January 1974 on BBC2.[61] The arrangement included a new part for oboe, played by Soft Machine's Karl Jenkins, and the musicians were accompanied by images of tubular steel sculptures and sequences from the film Reflections, both created by artist William Pye.[61] This performance was included on the Elements DVD in 2004 and on the DVD in the Deluxe and Ultimate Editions of the 2009 reissue of Tubular Bells.

Musicians for 2nd House performance:

Use in The ExorcistEdit

The most important promotion for the record came from an unexpected source, when the introduction to Part One was chosen to feature in the film The Exorcist, which was released in the United States in December 1973 and in European cinemas in March 1974. According to British film critic Mark Kermode, the decision to include the music was the result of pure chance – director William Friedkin had decided to scrap the original score by Lalo Schifrin and was looking for music to replace it. Friedkin was visiting the offices of Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records (which distributed Tubular Bells in the US), and picking up a white label of the album from the selection of records in Ertegun's office, he put it on the record player and instantly decided that the music would be perfect for the movie.[62] Although the introduction only features briefly in two scenes in the movie, it has become the track most commonly associated with it. Oldfield has stated that he did not want to see the film because he believed he would find it too frightening.[63]

1974 singlesEdit

The first single released from the album was created by the original US distributor, Atlantic Records. The single was an edit of the first three sections from Part One and was not authorised by Oldfield. The single was released in February 1974 in the United States and Canada only, where it peaked at number seven on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart on 11 May 1974,[64] making Oldfield a one-hit wonder on the US charts. The track also reached number 15 on the Adult Contemporary chart.[65]

In Canada the single was released as "Tubular Bells (Theme from Exorcist)", peaking at number three on the RPM Top Singles chart on 18 May 1974,[66] and was placed at number 103 in the top 200 singles of the year.[67]

"Mike Oldfield's Single (Theme from Tubular Bells)" was the first 7-inch single released by Mike Oldfield in the UK, in June 1974, peaking at number 31.[68] The A-side was a re-recording of Part Two's "bagpipe guitars" section, arranged in a more pastoral version with acoustic guitars and featuring the oboe (played by Lindsay Cooper) as the lead instrument, with "Froggy Went A-Courting" as the B-side. The A-side of this single was included on the 2009 reissue of Tubular Bells.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [69]
Chicago Sun-Times    [70]
Christgau's Record GuideC+[71]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [73]
Q     [74]

Influential British DJ John Peel was an early admirer of the record, and played it on his Top Gear radio show on BBC Radio 1 on 29 May 1973, four days after the album's release, calling it "one of the most impressive LPs I've ever had the chance to play on the radio, really a remarkable record". Branson and Oldfield were listening to the show on Branson's houseboat, and Oldfield stated in his autobiography that Peel played the album in its entirety,[75] although the running order from the BBC archives and existing audio copies of the programme show that Peel played Part One only.[76]

Peel reviewed the album for The Listener magazine the following week, describing it as "a new recording of such strength and beauty that to me it represents the first break-through into history that any musician has made".[59] The UK's major music magazines were also unanimous in their praise of the album. Al Clark of NME said that the "veritable orgy of over-dubbing results in a remarkable piece of sustained music, never content with the purely facile yet equally disinclined towards confusing the listener". He concluded that "Tubular Bells ... is a superlative record which owes nothing to contemporary whims. It is one of the most mature, vital, rich and humerous [sic] pieces of music to have emerged from the pop idiom."[77] Melody Maker's Geoff Brown observed that "Tubular Bells is a vast work, almost classical in its structure and in the way a theme is stated and deftly worked upon" and that it was "an enjoyable, evocative album which bodes well for the future of both the country's newest label and of Mike Oldfield".[78] Reviewing the whole batch of Virgin's first album releases in Sounds, Steve Peacock singled out Tubular Bells as the best of the bunch, saying that after careful listening he "ended up convinced that it really is a remarkable album", noting the "complex, interlocking carefully woven music that works its way through an enormous dynamic and emotional range", and stating, "I can't think of another album that I'd as unhesitatingly recommend to everyone who's likely to read this".[79] A more reserved review came from Simon Frith in Let It Rock who felt that Tubular Bells was "more than an attractive wall-paper, more than a nature-film score, because of Mike Oldfield's ability to make what happens to the music self-sufficient and satisfying", but questioned why Peel and other critics viewed the album as rock music, and concluded that "Oldfield's concern is the sound of rock, but Tubular Bells lacks rock's other essence — energy. This is no way body music — no sex, no violence, no ecstasy; nothing uncontrolled, nothing uncontrollable."[80]

Tubular Bells was released in the US in October 1973,[81] and Paul Gambaccini wrote an enthusiastic review of the album for Rolling Stone, calling it "the most important one-shot project of 1973" and "a debut performance of a kind we have no right to expect from anyone. It took Mike Oldfield half a year to lay down the thousands of overdubs required for his 49 minutes of exhilarating music. I will be playing the result for many times that long." He concluded, "I can say that this is a major work".[82] On the other hand, in an article in the same magazine seven months later which discussed the current top twenty albums on the Billboard chart, Jon Landau dismissed the record as "a clever novelty" and said, "Light, rather showy and cute in places, it probably makes pleasant background music for a dinner or conversation".[83] Writing for Creem, Robert Christgau was also left unmoved, saying, "The best I can come up with here is 'pleasant' and 'catchy'. Oldfield isn't Richard Strauss or even Leonard Cohen — this is a soundtrack because that's the level at which he operates."[71]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic Mike DeGagne called the album "arguably the finest conglomeration of off-centered instruments concerted together to form a single, unique piece" and stated that "the most interesting and overwhelming aspect of this album is the fact that so many sounds are conjured up, yet none go unnoticed, allowing the listener a gradual submergence into each unique portion of the music. Tubular Bells is a divine excursion into the realm of new-age music."[69]


Oldfield won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.[84] The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.[85]

In Q magazine's 1998 list of "The 50 Best Albums of the '70s", Tubular Bells was placed at number six.[86] In the Q & Mojo Classic special issue Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock in 2005, the album was listed at number nine in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums".[87]


Other works by Mike OldfieldEdit

Tubular Bells is the album most identified with Oldfield, and he has frequently returned to it in later works. The opening passage of the title track on the album Crises and the piece "Harbinger" on the album Music of the Spheres are clearly derived from the opening of Tubular Bells, as are "Secrets" and "The Source of Secrets", from Tubular Bells III. The opening is also quoted directly in the song "Five Miles Out" from the album of the same name, and the song also features his "trademark" instrument, "Piltdown Man" (referring to his singing like a caveman, first heard on Tubular Bells).

Tubular Bells can be seen as the first of a series of albums continuing with Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) and The Millennium Bell (1999).

In 2003 Oldfield released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells with updated digital technology and several "corrections" to what he saw as flaws in the album's original production. Since Vivian Stanshall died in 1995, the 2003 re-recording had his vocal contribution in the "Finale" section replaced with a newly recorded narration by John Cleese. There is also a new mix of the original album on the 2009 Mercury reissue.

There are many different live recordings; a complete one can be found on the double live album Exposed from 1979.

Oldfield and York's 2013 remix album Tubular Beats refers to the album name, and contains two remixes of sections of Tubular Bells.

Virgin GroupEdit

"I never thought that the word 'tubular bells' was going to play such an important part in our lives ... Virgin going into space most likely wouldn't have existed if we hadn't hired that particular instrument."

— Richard Branson, 2013[89]

Richard Branson recognised the significance of Tubular Bells to the Virgin Group's success, who named one of his first Virgin America aircraft, an Airbus A319-112, N527VA Tubular Belle.[90] Prior to this Virgin Atlantic had named a Boeing 747-4Q8, G-VHOT Tubular Belle, in 1994.[91]

In the United Kingdom Virgin Money signalled its entry into the banking sector in January 2012 with a television advertisement titled '40 Years of Better'. The advertisement opened with an image of a record orbiting the earth accompanied by the music of the introduction to Tubular Bells, signifying the beginnings of Virgin, and ended with a shot of the same record framed and hanging on the wall of the new bank.[92] Two months later a Virgin Media TV advertisement starring Branson and actor David Tennant also featured the record, where a younger version of Branson is seen holding a copy of Tubular Bells under his arm upon exiting a time machine.[93] However, the advert was withdrawn shortly afterwards following objections from the BBC that it was being used to endorse a rival TV service (in the advert Tennant is shown searching on Virgin's TiVo on-demand service for episodes of Doctor Who, a BBC series in which he formerly played the titular character).[94]

In May 2021, Virgin Orbit, the commercial rocket launch provider subsidiary of the Virgin Group, announced the first operational mission of their LauncherOne air-launched rocket would be named after the first track of the album, Tubular Bells, Part One.[95]

Cultural referencesEdit

The use of the opening theme in the 1973 film The Exorcist gained the record considerable publicity and introduced the work to a broader audience. Along with a number of other Oldfield pieces the theme was used in the 1979 NASA movie The Space Movie. It has gained cultural significance as a 'haunting theme',[96] partly due to the association with The Exorcist, and has been sampled by many other artists, such as Janet Jackson on the title track of her album The Velvet Rope.

In television it was used in several episodes of the Dutch children's series Bassie en Adriaan, an episode ("Ghosts") of the BBC series My Family and an episode ("Poltergeist III – Dipesto Nothing") of Moonlighting. It was used in a television advertisement for the Volkswagen Golf Diesel in 2002[97] and in films such as 1983's Star 80, 1985's Weird Science, 2001's Scary Movie 2 (in a scene directly parodying The Exorcist), 2002's The Master of Disguise, 2004's Saved! and 2017's Abracadabra.

Computer tie-insEdit

Commodore 64

With the aid of the software house CRL and distributor Nu Wave, Mike Oldfield released an interactive Commodore 64 version of the album in 1986, which used the computer's SID sound chip to play back a simplified re-arrangement of the album, accompanied by some simple 2D visual effects.[98][99][100]

The "interactivity" offered by the album/program was limited to controlling the speed and quantity of the visual effects, tuning the sound's volume and filtering, and skipping to any part of the album.


In 2004 Oldfield launched a virtual reality project called Maestro which contains music from the re-recorded Tubular Bells album (Tubular Bells 2003). The original title of the game was The Tube World.[101] This was the second game which was released under the MusicVR banner, the first being Tres Lunas. MusicVR set out to be a real-time virtual reality experience combining imagery and music, as a non-violent and essentially a non-goal driven game.

Indaba Music remix contest

In 2012 Universal and Indaba Music created a Tubular Bells remix contest, where users could download original stem recordings to create their own pieces and the winner of the $1000 prize was judged by Oldfield.[102]

2012 Olympic GamesEdit

On 27 July 2012 at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Mike Oldfield performed during a segment about the NHS and children’s literature. The show's director Danny Boyle stated that he had wanted to make Tubular Bells a "cornerstone" of a 20-minute sequence of the ceremony.[103] A studio version of Oldfield's performance appears on the soundtrack album Isles of Wonder. Although listed as "Tubular Bells"/"In Dulci Jubilo", the track consists of a number of parts, the first being the introduction piece to his Tubular Bells in its normal arrangement, then this is followed by a rearranged version of that same theme that during interviews Oldfield has called "swingular bells". The piece that is used when children's literature villains appear features two arrangements of "Far Above the Clouds" (from Tubular Bells III), and finally as the Mary Poppins characters appear to drive off the villains, there is a rendition of "In Dulci Jubilo" followed by a short coda.

The Olympics version was released as a 500-copy limited edition pink/blue vinyl single on 8 October 2012. This was also released on iTunes as "Tubular Bells/In Dulci Julio (Music from the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games)".[104]

This lists the movements as:

  1. "Tubular Bells (Part One Excerpt)"
  2. "Tubular Bells (Part One Swing)"
  3. "Tubular Bells (Part Two Excerpt)"
  4. "Tubular Bells III (Far Above the Clouds)"
  5. "Mary Poppins Arrival"
  6. "Fanfare for the Isles of Wonder"
  7. "In Dulci Jubilo"
  8. "Olympic Tubular Bells Coda"

Cover versionsEdit

Various sections of Tubular Bells have been covered by many artists, with the most used part being the introductory piano part.

  • Metal band Possessed played the intro in the first song of the record Seven Churches (in 1985), which is titled "The Exorcist".[105]
  • Thrash metal band Death Angel played the main theme in the title track of the album The Ultra-Violence in 1987.[106]
  • American artist Tori Amos has frequently used the opening Tubular Bells theme in her live shows.[107] It began during the 1996 Dew Drop Inn Tour where she let "Father Lucifer" segue into Tubular Bells on the piano while singing words from Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy" as well as playing it on the harpsichord during songs "Love Song" (a Cure cover) and "Bells for Her" (from the album Under the Pink), usually while mixing in lyrics from a third song such as Björk's "Hyperballad" or "Blue Skies". It appeared again in 2005 as part of "Yes, Anastasia", and on the 2007 tour promoting her album American Doll Posse where it was performed with full band as an intro to "Devils and Gods". On the 2011 tour, promoting her album Night of Hunters it is being performed as the intro to and backing melody for "God."
  • Rapper Tech N9ne used a version of the intro in the song "Be Warned" in 2002, only he moved it to 4/4 time.[108]
  • Finnish a cappella performer Paska recorded an abridged version for his 2005 album Women Are From Venus, Men From Anus.[109] Paska has also performed the song at his live performances. In a concert on 1 October 2007, before performing it, Ari Peltonen gave a speech about his hatred of the song and progressive rock.
  • California Guitar Trio covers most of the first side of the original album on their album Echoes released in late March 2008.[110]
  • Tubular Bells for Two is a music-theatre production created by two Australian multi-instrumentalists, Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth, in 2009. The two musicians perform over twenty instruments to recreate the original album 'as faithfully as physically possible'. The show won a Sydney Fringe Award for Best Musical Moment in the 2010 Festival, and has been performed at festivals around Australia and the Pacific. The show made its European debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2012, where it won two awards.[111] A DVD has been released of the show, filmed during the Sydney Festival 2012.[112][113]

Track listingEdit

All tracks composed by Mike Oldfield, except where noted.

1973 original releaseEdit

Side one

  1. "Tubular Bells, Part One" – 25:30

Side two

  1. "Tubular Bells, Part Two" – 23:50

2009 Standard EditionEdit

The Standard Edition uses the original artwork, and features the new stereo mix plus two bonus tracks.

  1. "Tubular Bells (Part One)" (2009 stereo mix) – 25:58
  2. "Tubular Bells (Part Two)" (2009 stereo mix) – 23:20
  3. "Mike Oldfield's Single" – 3:53
  4. "Sailor's Hornpipe" (Vivian Stanshall version) (traditional, arranged Oldfield) – 2:48

2009 Deluxe Edition (2CD & DVD)Edit

The Deluxe Edition uses the original artwork with a "Deluxe Edition" white banner at the bottom. The DVD is labelled as "Disc 4", even though there are only three discs in this version. This is because the same DVD is used as the fourth disc in the Ultimate Edition.

Disc one

As Standard Edition

Disc two

  1. "Tubular Bells (Part One)" (1973 stereo mix)
  2. "Tubular Bells (Part Two)" (1973 stereo mix)



  1. "Tubular Bells (Part One)" (2009 5.1 surround mix)
  2. "Tubular Bells (Part Two)" (2009 5.1 surround mix)
  3. "Mike Oldfield's Single" (2009 5.1 surround mix)
  4. "Sailor's Hornpipe" (Vivian Stanshall version) (traditional, arranged Oldfield)


  1. "BBC TV 2nd House Performance"

2009 Ultimate Edition (3CD, DVD & LP)Edit

The Ultimate Edition included a 60-page hardback book with a foreword by Mike Oldfield, plectrums, a poster, a copy of the Manor Studio's recording brochure, a concert ticket, a postcard and recording information. The Ultimate Edition has a plain white cover with the bell logo.

Disc one

As Standard Edition

Disc two

As Deluxe Edition

Disc three

  1. "Tubular Bells (long)" (demo) – 22:55 (Oldfield's original "Opus One" demo)
  2. "Caveman Lead-in" (demo) – 2:44
  3. "Caveman" (demo) – 5:06
  4. "Peace Demo A" (1971 demo) – 7:01
  5. "Peace Demo B" (1971 demo) – 4:22
  6. "Tubular Bells, Part One" (scrapped first mix, Spring 1973) – 25:13


As Deluxe Edition


As vinyl edition


Credits adapted from album sleeve notes.[40]

  • Mike Oldfield – grand piano, glockenspiel, Farfisa organ, bass guitar, electric guitar (including "speed guitar", "fuzz guitar", "mandolin-like guitar" and "guitars sounding like bagpipes"), taped motor drive amplifier organ chord, assorted percussion, acoustic guitar, flageolet, honky tonk piano, Lowrey organ, tubular bells, concert tympani, Hammond organ, Spanish guitar, vocals ("Piltdown Man" and "Moribund chorus")

2009 productionEdit


As of 2019, Tubular Bells has spent a total of 286 weeks on the UK Albums Chart. Initially sales were slow, with the album not entering the charts until the week ending 14 July 1973, and spending only two weeks inside the top ten by the end of the year. However, from February 1974 until May 1975 Tubular Bells spent only four weeks outside the top ten. From 24 July 1974 onwards the album spent ten consecutive weeks at number two, firstly as runner-up to Paul McCartney and Wings's album Band on the Run for seven weeks, and then a further three weeks behind Oldfield's own follow-up album, Hergest Ridge. Tubular Bells finally topped the UK album chart in the week ending 5 October 1974, sixteen months after its release.[114] In replacing Hergest Ridge at number one Oldfield became only the second artist in history to replace himself at the top of the UK album charts (the Beatles had managed it twice, once in 1963 and again in 1964 – the feat was also achieved later by Michael Jackson in July 2009 and by David Bowie in February 2016, both times following the performer's death).[115] In the UK the album has re-entered the charts in every decade since its release, its most recent appearance being in the week ending 26 October 2013.[116]

Tubular Bells has sold more than 2,630,000 copies in the UK alone, and as of July 2016 it is the 42nd best-selling album of all time in the UK.[117] It is estimated to have sold in excess of 15 million copies worldwide.[7]

Certifications and salesEdit

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[134] 3× Platinum 730,000[135]
Canada (Music Canada)[136] 2× Platinum 200,000^
France (SNEP)[137] Gold 100,000*
Netherlands (NVPI)[138] Gold 50,000^
Sweden (GLF)[139] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[141] 9× Platinum 2,760,000[140]
United States (RIAA)[142] Gold 500,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.



  1. ^ The demos titled "Tubular Bells Long", "Caveman Lead-In", "Caveman", "Peace Demo A" and "Peace Demo B" appeared on the DVD-Audio version of the rerecording of Tubular Bells, Tubular Bells 2003, while portions of these demos appear on the 2009 Ultimate Edition reissue of the album; also included on this release is a scrapped mix from spring 1973.[citation needed]
  2. ^ The Glorfindel box (named after a character in Tolkien's legendarium[19]) was given to David Bedford at a party, who then subsequently gave it to Oldfield. Tom Newman criticised the wooden cased unit in a 2001 interview with Q magazine, noting that it rarely gave the same result twice.[6]


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Further reading

  • Tubular Bells – Mike Oldfield (Music score for piano or guitar, analysis by David Bedford, text by Karl Dallas, photos by David Bailey and others). New York, London, Sydney: Wise Publications. ISBN 0-86001-249-2.

External linksEdit