"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 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"...
Thus begins yet another interpretation of H.G. Wells' classic 1898 tome The War of the Worlds, often considered to be the first ever work of fiction to detail humanity's battle with an alien race. But this is not the foul claptrap helmed by Tom "Xenu" Cruise in 2005, or even the other film version from 1953. This isn't the wildly unpopular CRL computer game version from '84, nor is it the infamous 1938 radio version created by Orson "Unicron" Welles. This is 1978's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, created by the one and only Jeff Wayne.
Wayne, who built his legacy writing television jingles in his native England, penned his version of The War of The Worlds at the request of his theater-producer dad, bringing in Hollywood heavyweight Richard Burton (right) to narrate and rockers such as Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues, David "Rock On" Essex, and Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann's Earth Band to fill out the cast.
The result was a sprawling, hour-and-a-half long prog-disco-space-funk double album extravaganza, sort of like a cultural mashup between ROCKETS (click if you have a soul) and Roger Glover's Butterfly Ball. Or maybe Tommy cross-bred with Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Centre of The Earth and fed to a bloodthirsty robot ABBA. Or how 'bout Parliament, devoid of the funk, making sweet love to the theme song from Magnum P.I. while Roger Waters-era Floyd jerks off in the corner? Am I getting close yet?
Shit, I can make these silly analogies all day. But your best bet is to just check it out yourself...
It isn't just my hunger for coherent narratives in music that drew me to Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. There's some weird shit going on in here, from alien-sounding sitar (?) riffs to rubbery, undulating Moogisms and beyond. It can be rambling and repetitive, sure (see video), but that's the part where you just zone out and enjoy the lazer light show in your head (or onstage, if you're attending the theatrical version -- more on that later).
Wayne's creation is truly a musical JOURNEY, and his additions and embellishments on Welles' original story are never intrusive. Of all the WOTW adaptations I've seen, heard, and read in my day, Wayne's is just about tied with Orson Welles for the title of Least Bogus.
Oh yeah, and one more thing: PHIL FUCKING LYNOTT AS PARSON NATHANIEL.
That's right, the Lizzard himself makes an appearance on the first side of the second disc, gibbering about Satanic Martians and global cataclysm. Although he soon lapses into a love-song duet with his (fictional) wife, Lynott's spooky turn as the album's Religious Man alone is worth the cover price, especially if the cover price is zero dollars.
Speaking of Phil Lynott, you guys know about that Christmas single he put out with Steve Jones and Paul Cook (AKA the non-famous half of the Sex Pistols) in 1979, right? The Greedies? No?
Well HERE. But I digress. Check out a clip from WOTW featuring our boy Phil as The Pastor (his character is introduced about six minutes in):
You guys didn't think I was gonna do this whole writeup without supplying you with your OWN copy, did you? Of course not.
How did I miss out on this album for so long? According to Wikipedia, "The album itself spent 290 weeks in the UK album charts. It was in the top 10 in 22 countries and reached #1 in 11 countries." Is it because I'm a Yank?
Anyways, the double album was just the beginning, as Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds adaptation was itself adapted into at least two video games (the previously mentioned 1984 disaster and another in 1998) and also an animated version that never saw the light of day. But the most successful adaptation of the adaptation was the stage version, which hit the road in 2007 and has covered England, Ireland, and Australia since.
Featuring several members of the original 1978 cast, the big-budget musical finally gave the album the bombast and special effects it deserved, up to and including a holographic projection of the head of since-deceased Richard Burton speaking his lines courtesy of a CGI mouth and lower jaw. No, I'm not kidding.
Chris Thompson rocks "Thunderchild":
YouTube user comments for this video:
rolfzeeman: I couldn't stop crying, when I heard this striking song...
t0mme1981: I would walk over broken glass and have my finger nails pulled out just to see this show again.
Absolutely... words cannot describe the emotions of the experience........
zarakjovi96: I WAS THERE TO M8 TRULEY UNBELIVABLE GREAT SHOW
So there you have it, friends: A tale of intergalactic peril and global enslavement written 112 years ago, re-interpreted as a psychedelic pop/disco/prog/electronica ensemble piece 30 years ago, re-interpreted as a touring stage performance in modern times. Death, destruction, dancing, and deus ex machina!
Want to see more of the stage version? Lucky you! It's on DVD and you can buy it here!
ULLA! ULLA! ULLA!
BONUS: Download super hi-res versions of all the epic original album art (front, back, gatefold, inserts, lyrics, etc.) HERE.
(My thanks go out to the folks who suggested I check out Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds in the comments following that "Narration Metal" post the other day. You guys were right, this is some crazy shit.)