Journey to the Centre of the Earth (album)

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Rick Wakeman Journey to the Centre of the Earth.jpg
Live album by Rick Wakeman
Released 3 May 1974
Recorded 18 January 1974 at the Royal Festival Hall, London
Genre Progressive rock, symphonic rock
Length 40:07
Label A&M
Producer Rick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman chronology
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
(1973)The Six Wives of Henry VIII1973
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
(1975)The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table1975

Journey to the Centre of the Earth is the second solo album from the English keyboardist Rick Wakeman, released on 3 May 1974 by A&M Records. The album is a live recording of his second of two concerts on 18 January 1974 at the Royal Festival Hall in London. With its concept based on Jules Verne's science fiction novel of the same name, the album tells the story of Professor Lidenbrok, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans, who follow a passage to the Earth's centre originally discovered by Arne Saknussemm, an Icelandic alchemist. Wakeman performs with the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, and a group of hand-picked musicians for his rock band, which later became the English Rock Ensemble. Actor David Hemmings narrates the story.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth was overall well received by music critics. It reached number one on the UK Albums Chart, the first album from A&M to do so, and peaked at number 3 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in October 1974 for 500,000 copies sold in the United States. The album earned Wakeman a nomination for an Ivor Novello Award and a Grammy Award. In 1999, Wakeman released a sequel, Return to the Centre of the Earth. He re-recorded the album with additional parts previously removed from the original score due to time constraints, in 2012.


Keyboardist Rick Wakeman had wanted to make an album that told a story with its music after his father took him to see Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev.[1] In November 1971, he started work on a record based on the 1864 science fiction novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. He put the project on hold until recording for his debut studio release, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, had finished in October 1972.[2] He performed at the rock opera concerts of The Who's Tommy that December which featured the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, conductor David Measham and arranger Will Malone. Producing the shows was Lou Reizner, who learned about Wakeman's idea for Journey and put him in contact with Measham.[3][4] Wakeman made a demo tape for Measham that contained a rough outline of the structure of the music using a Minimoog synthesiser, Mellotron, Rhodes piano and Clavinet while indicating where the orchestral parts would come in.[4] After Measham agreed to take part, Wakeman met with his manager Brian Lane to pitch the idea of performing Journey in concert with an orchestra, choir, and a rock band.[4] As the cost of producing the album in a studio was too high, A&M Records agreed to record the album live. To help finance the project, Wakeman sold a few of his cars and "mortgaged himself up to the hilt to help finance the whole thing", which had cost around £40,000.[5]

Wakeman received help with the score from Malone and arranger Danny Beckerman.[6] The original version had a running time of 55 minutes but it had to be reduced because of the time constraints of long-playing phonograph records.[1] In selecting the musicians for his band, Wakeman chose people he used to play with at a country pub in Buckinghamshire called the Valiant Trooper.[6] Said Wakeman, "I'd played with them for fun quite a bit on Sunday evenings...I was playing keyboards with the lads when I thought, they could play Journey for me. I'm sure they could do the concert and do it well".[6] He picked vocalists Ashley Holt from the british band Warhorse and Gary Pickford-Hopkins from Wild Turkey, drummer Barney James, and bassist Roger Newell. Guitarist Mike Egan, who had played on Six Wives, rounded out the band.[6][7] A&M Records had wanted Wakeman to pick more well-known musicians, but he intended to make the album known for its music rather than its performers.[8] Richard Harris was the first choice to narrate the story, but he was unavailable. Actor David Hemmings was then chosen, and agreed to take part.[7]


The Royal Festival Hall where Journey was recorded.

Two sold-out concerts were held at 6 and 8 pm on 18 January 1974 at the Royal Festival Hall in London to 3,000 people each.[9][10] Performing with Wakeman and his band was the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir conducted by Measham. The music was recorded with Ronnie Lane's Mobile Studio which featured a 16-track studio fitted inside an Airstream trailer.[11] Wakeman had hoped to have both performances recorded, with the better of the two being used for the album release. However, as the London Symphony Orchestra requested double pay if both shows were to be recorded, Wakeman took "the frightening decision of only recording the second performance and hoping there weren't too many mistakes".[12] The shows opened with "Catherine Parr", "Catherine Howard" and "Anne Boleyn" from The Six Wives of Henry VIII, followed by a comical rendition of "Twelfth Street Rag".[13] Journey was performed in the second half.[2][9] After permission was granted from 20th Century Fox, screens were installed to display excerpts from the 1959 adventure film of the same name to accompany some of the music, including footage of mountains and underground caves.[10][14]

The recordings were taken to Morgan Studios in London, where they were mixed by Wakeman and engineer Paul Tregurtha between 21–29 January.[15] The two encountered a number of problems. Wakeman explained, "Someone in the street had accidentally kicked out the vocal mike cable just before we started recording. So we boosted up the vocals that were picked up on the other mikes". A snare drum and its microphone also broke during the performance, and Hemmings recorded more narration in the studio after it was found that a tape change occurred in the middle of one of his passages.[11]


Upon its arrival at A&M Records, the finished album was poorly received among management; they refused to sell it.[16] However, as Wakeman was under contract with A&M in the United States, a cassette was sent to co-founder Jerry Moss in California, who subsequently agreed to release the record.[17]

Released on 3 May 1974, Journey to the Centre of the Earth topped the UK Albums Chart for one week, the first album from A&M to do so. It peaked at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200 chart for two weeks in July during a stay of 27 weeks.[18] The album became a multimillion-dollar seller in six weeks.[19] Wakeman received an Ivor Novello Award for the album,[20] and it earned him a Grammy Award nomination.[18] The record was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in September 1974,[21] and a year later in Brazil. It was subsequently released in the four-channel Quadradisc CD-4 format. The album has sold 14 million copies worldwide.[22]

In 1999, marking the album's 25th anniversary, Wakeman released a sequel titled Return to the Centre of the Earth. The story follows a group of adventurers who attempt to follow the previous expedition to the Earth's centre as discovered by Saknussemm.


The album received some negative reaction upon its release, with music critics having described the record as a "classical pastiche...genuinely appalling" and "brutal synthesiser overkill".[23] Journey however, was well received by others. A journalist for The Sunday Times missed the Royal Festival Hall concert, but thought on record the music "comes over magnificently ... a striking work which only occasionally lapses into pretentiousness".[24] Music journalist Chris Welch of Melody Maker thought the album was "entertaining, fresh and disalarmingly unpretentious ... This could be a score for a Hollywood musical – tuneful, but with epic overtones". Welch noted Wakeman's "familiarity of the story" and his "close observance to detail engenders a warmth to the work, which made it a resounding success as a concert performance".[24] In a retrospective review, Mike DeGange of Allmusic called the album "one of progressive rock's crowning achievements" and noted "interesting conglomerations of orchestral and synthesized music".[25]

2012 re-recording[edit]

Wakeman presumed that the original conductor's score was lost when his management company MAM Records collapsed in the early 1980s. However, a "huge cardboard packing case" arrived at his house in 2008 which stayed in his garage for "about five months" before he found the score at the bottom which was damaged by water. A year was spent digitising and forming the complete score with conductor Guy Protheroe. Wakeman re-recorded the album with an orchestra, choir, and members of his English Rock Ensemble band as a studio album, incorporating 20 minutes that was previously cut. As Hemmings died in 2003, the narration is voiced by actor Peter Egan.[1] Released on 20 November 2012, the new album is packaged with a one-off magazine published by Classic Rock and a copy of the 1974 Royal Festival Hall concert program.

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Wakeman. "The Forest" includes an excerpt of In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg, who is credited in the album's liner notes with 'I would like to give thanks to Grieg for "HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING". Because I stole a few bars.'

Side one
  1. "The Journey"/"Recollection" – 21:20
Side two
  1. "The Battle"/"The Forest" – 18:57
2012 re-recording

Chart performance[edit]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Prog UK The 100 Greatest Prog Albums of All Time [33] 2014 55



  1. ^ a b c Collett-White, Mike (14 November 2012). "Wakeman reworks rock epic Journey to Centre of Earth". Reuters. Retrieved 2 December 2012. [permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b Concert programme for Rick Wakeman: Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 18 January 1974.
  3. ^ Wooding, p. 11
  4. ^ a b c Wooding, p. 12
  5. ^ Wooding, p. 15
  6. ^ a b c d Wooding, p. 13
  7. ^ a b Wooding, p. 14
  8. ^ Wakeman 1995, p. 120.
  9. ^ a b c Wooding, p. 17.
  10. ^ a b Wooding, p. 18.
  11. ^ a b Welch, Chris (13 April 1974). "Wakeman: British groups have gone over the top". Melody Maker. p. 34. 
  12. ^ Wooding, pp. 16–17.
  13. ^ Track listing from Treasure Chest Volume 3 – The Missing Half, released by Voiceprint in 2002. Catalogue number VPTCCD3.
  14. ^ Welch, Chris (19 January 1974). "Sentimental Journey". Melody Maker. pp. 9–10. 
  15. ^ Journey to the Centre of the Earth album sleeve. A&M Records. 1974. Catalogue number AMLH 63621.
  16. ^ Wakeman 1995, p. 123.
  17. ^ Wakeman 1995, p. 124.
  18. ^ a b c Snider, p. 172.
  19. ^ "Music: Rock Goes to College". Time Magazine. 23 September 1974. Retrieved 21 June 2010. 
  20. ^ Wooding, p. 22
  21. ^ a b "RIAA – Gold and Platinum Search". RIAA. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 
  22. ^ "Rick Wakeman, six wives and one hell of a party". The Times. 1 May 2009. Retrieved 28 October 2010. 
  23. ^ Shuker, p. 210.
  24. ^ a b Wooding, p. 21.
  25. ^ DeGange, Mike. "Journey to the Centre of the Earth". Allmusic. Retrieved 10 April 2011. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Wooding, picture inserts.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Kilroy, Hannah May; Ewing, Jerry (6 August 2014). "The 100 Greatest Prog Albums Of All Time: 60-41". Retrieved 9 April 2016. 
Preceded by
The Singles: 1969-1973 by The Carpenters
UK number-one album
19–25 May 1974
Succeeded by
The Singles: 1969–1973 by The Carpenters