Back to the mid to late eighties my dad would put this record on, and about halfway through Richard Burton’s introduction I would react in pretty much the same way every time - “Turn it off! Turn it off!” I was utterly terrified of Burton’s baritone, serious delivery but at the same time I had a morbid curiosity about it. The cover art, the paintings in the inlay sleeve, and when I got past Burton’s introduction, the music. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate this album more and more for its little nuances, as well as its ambition.
If you’ve never heard of it, the album (released in 1978) is a retelling of HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds” except it's set to a late seventies inspired prog-rock score that uses a full orchestra to back it up. It’s like an audio book with an original soundtrack. It features the voices of Richard Burton, who narrates, as well as the speaking and singing voices of Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Julie Covington, David Essex, and Phil Lynott. It tells the story of a Martian invasion of Earth in late nineteenth century England. The first disc, titled “The Coming of the Martians” covers the initial arrival of the Martians and their eventual domination of the planet. The second disc titled “The Earth Under the Martians” which covers how the Martians terraform the planet, as well as their eventual downfall.
If I’m honest, I much prefer the first disc to the second, as it has a driving sense of urgency underpinned by driving drums, heavy bass, and some spectacular orchestration. When the first bars of music hit after Burton’s intro, you’re almost expecting an entirely orchestral affair before the drums and bass kick in. “The Eve of the War” “Horsell Common and the Heat Ray”, “Forever Autumn” and “Thunderchild” are all absolute belters. The second disc has its moments, but isn’t quite as consistent.
I would definitely recommend this album to anyone with a passing interest in music as nothing like it has really been attempted since. Yes, we’ve had concept albums by bands like Pink Floyd, My Chemical Romance, and Mastodon, but never to this level. Its influence is obvious in its artwork and a number of bands have covered songs from the album. The single “Forever Autumn” has somewhat transcended the album and still gets regular airplay on oldie shows on a local and national level.
It’s an album that I have on vinyl that belonged to my dad, as well as having a copy on cassette as well as the deluxe CD that came out some years ago. It’s the crackle and hum of the vinyl version that I love the most though, as it hits me right in the nostalgia feels every time I start it up.
These are the talented and choice words of our man Kevin Dillon.
Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds is available on Vinyl at goldendiscs.com!
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