Tubular Bells

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This article is about the Mike Oldfield album. For the instrument, see Tubular bells.
Tubular Bells
Mike oldfield tubular bells album cover.jpg
Studio album by Mike Oldfield
Released 25 May 1973 (1973-05-25) (V2001)
Recorded The Manor, Oxfordshire, England
Autumn 1972 – Spring 1973
Genre Progressive rock
Length 49:16
Label Virgin
Mercury (2009 re-issue)
Producer Tom Newman
Simon Heyworth
Mike Oldfield
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
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[1]
Robert Christgau C+[2]

Tubular Bells is the debut record album of English musician Mike Oldfield, recorded when he was 19 and released in 1973 when he was 20.

It was the first album released by Virgin Records and an early cornerstone of the company's success. Vivian Stanshall provided the voice of the "Master of Ceremonies" who reads off the list of instruments at the end of the first movement. The opening piano solo was used briefly in the soundtrack to the William Friedkin film The Exorcist (released the same year), and the album gained considerable airplay because of the film's success.

The following year the piece was orchestrated by David Bedford for The Orchestral Tubular Bells version. It had three sequels in the 1990s, Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) and The Millennium Bell (1999). Finally, the album was re-recorded as Tubular Bells 2003 at its 30th anniversary in 2003. A newly mixed and mastered re-issue of the original album appeared in 2009 on Mercury Records, with bonus material.

For the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, Oldfield rearranged segments from Tubular Bells for a segment about the National Health Service. This rendition appears on the soundtrack album, Isles of Wonder, and is included on the official BBC DVD release.


Mike Oldfield played most of the instruments on the album (see below), recording them one at a time and layering the recordings to create the finished work. Many of his subsequent albums feature this technique. Though fairly common in the music industry now, at the time of the production of Tubular Bells not many musicians did it, preferring multi-musician session recordings.[3]

Oldfield approached (and was rejected by) many established record labels, who believed the piece to be unmarketable.[4] Oldfield then played his demos to some of the engineers at The Manor; they, along with their boss, Richard Branson, decided to give Oldfield a chance.[4] The newly founded Virgin Records released Oldfield's debut album Tubular Bells as its first album; hence the catalogue number V2001. (In fact V2002, Gong's The Flying Teapot, and V2003, the compilation Manor Live, were released on the same date.)

The significance of this album to the Virgin empire is not lost on Richard Branson, who named one of his first Virgin America aircraft, an Airbus A319-112, N527VA Tubular Belle.[5] Prior to this Virgin Atlantic had named a Boeing 747-4Q8, G-VHOT Tubular Belle, in 1994.[6]

Virgin reissued the album a number of times, including in 2000 for an HDCD release and in 2001 for a SACD release. The HDCD release contained liner notes by David Laing, and the SACD release notes were by Phil Newell and Simon Heyworth.

The 50th Anniversary edition of the music magazine Music Week featured the album in the official Top-Selling UK albums 1959–2009, listing it at no. 35, noting that it was the only entry that did not yield a hit single. In the Q & Mojo Classic Special Edition Pink Floyd & The Story of Prog Rock, the album came No. 9 in its list of "40 Cosmic Rock Albums".[7]

In the United Kingdom, Virgin Money's January 2012 advert, '40 Years of Better', which the bank used to signal its entry into the banking sector, used the introduction to Tubular Bells accompanied by an image of a record orbiting the earth to signify the beginnings of Virgin. Around the same time, a Virgin Media advertisement featuring David Tennant and Richard Branson also incorporated the record, where a younger version of Branson has a copy of the record under his arm upon exiting a time machine.

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.[8]

EMI (owners of the Virgin Records label) earned between £200,000 and £500,000 from the promotion. The Mail on Sunday claimed that its promotion increased sales of the album by 30%; however industry sources noted that this was not a significant rise for the title at the time.[9] This cover-mount deal preceded the album's transfer from Virgin/EMI back to Oldfield.

Oldfield attacked EMI in the press for agreeing to this deal with The Mail on Sunday, not having been consulted about it. He also stated that he felt that it devalued the work.[10] In a poll conducted by Music Week, to which Oldfield wrote a letter about the situation, 89.9% of people supported Oldfield's view that EMI and The Mail on Sunday should have consulted him about the cover-mount promotion.[11]

In 2008 when Oldfield's original 35-year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to the piece were returned to him[12] and were transferred to Mercury Records.[13] On 15 April 2009, Mercury announced the transfer of Oldfield's Virgin albums to the label, and the first album Tubular Bells was re-released in June 2009. Tubular Bells was released on various formats, which include an original vinyl, a new remix, a 2CD edition and DVD. There were also bell-ringing events on 6 June 2009 at 6pm, a reference to 666.[14] Coincidentally, in 2013, the UK divisions of Mercury Records and Virgin Records were merged to create Virgin EMI, after Universal's purchase of EMI, effectively devolving Oldfield to his old record label.

Reference in other Oldfield works[edit]

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).

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

In popular culture[edit]

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',[15] partly due to the association with The Exorcist, and has been sampled by many other artists, such as Janet Jackson on her song "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[16] and in films such as 1985's Weird Science, 2001's Scary Movie 2 (in a scene directly parodying The Exorcist), 2002's The Master of Disguise and 2004's Saved!. The album is mentioned in the Only Fools and Horses episode "Fatal Extraction",[17] although the cover of Tubular Bells II is shown on screen.

Album artwork[edit]

Tubular Bells picture disc

The cover design was by Trevor Key of Cooke Key Associates (with Brian Cooke), who went on to create the covers of many Oldfield albums. The triangular bell on the album cover was inspired by a tubular bell he had dented while playing.[18]

The "bent bell" image on the cover is also associated with Oldfield, even being used for the logo of his personal music company, Oldfield Music Ltd. The image was also the main focus for the cover art of the successive Tubular Bells albums. Tubular Bells has also been issued as a vinyl picture disc, showing the bent bell on a skyscape.

The sleeve notes include a couple of tongue-in-cheek warnings: "In Glorious Stereophonic Sound – Can also be played on mono-equipment at a pinch" and "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".

The album cover for Tubular Bells was among the ten chosen by the UK's Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued on 7 January 2010.[19][20][21]

Composition and analysis[edit]

For the Tubular Bells 2003 rerecording the two parts were sub-divided into 17 tracks.

Part One[edit]

Part One opens with a soft minor key piano line in 15/8. This riff is later played by organ and glockenspiel and is made up of two bars; the first bar is in 7/8, the second bar is in 8/8.[22] These are later joined by a different line in bass guitar. An occasional punchy organ chord, first heard at about 1:02 in, accents this piece, harmonised by variations of the anchor line and a later incorporated 3/4 chord sequence, both in piano. At around 2:55, a clean, high-register electric guitar line appears, which segues into a section of 4/4-7/8-7/8-4/4, and at about 3:37 another electric guitar line in the middle register, entirely in 4/4.

After the electric guitar line ends, a softer, fast guitar line ("speed guitar," as listed in the liner notes) takes over, only to be interrupted by an acoustic guitar line overlaying the original piano phrase in major key. A gentle glockenspiel/piano piece takes over, but is later replaced with a fast piano section, occasionally accented with organ chords.

The mood of the first 6 minutes is soon replaced by edgy electric guitar and, afterwards, a sinister organ chord, with various changes in pitch and duration. But, once again, a more refined, carefree section ensues, dominated by acoustic guitar and piano, eventually returning to the soft riff first heard just past four minutes into the piece.

A 3/4 variation of the original theme comes next, followed by eerie bass and organ playing, segueing into a bluesy shuffle on electric guitar. Once again, when it looks like the piece will be serene (when the nasal choir intervenes), another edgy guitar line ensues, with Oldfield incorporating both 4/4 and 7/8.

After that, a more folky acoustic line plays (with background tambourine), but is suddenly cut off by the tolling of bells ("Ghost Bells"). A weary acoustic guitar line ("Russian") follows, breaking into the eight-and-a-half-minute "Finale" section, commencing with a double bass line in 5/4, polyrhythmically played with a 4/4 acoustic line. After the bass and guitar unite into the 4/4 line, the acoustic guitar tacets and is eventually replaced by soft pipe organ notes (usually lasting four or eight full beats) while the bass line plays.

After the 10-bar bass phrase is repeated several times, Stanshall introduces many of the instruments appearing in Part One up to then, beginning with the keyboards, followed by glockenspiel and all guitars before the tubular bells are announced, the ensemble becoming more dynamic and full as more instruments are announced. Finally, after the tubular bells enter, a wordless female chorus starts to sing. Farther down, the Finale ensemble fades out to an acoustic guitar solo, which takes up the remainder of Part One.

Part Two[edit]

Part Two begins where Part One left off; with a soft, simple piece ("Harmonics"), this time beginning with bass guitar and working up with other guitars and keyboards. The opening time signature is 6/8, but a later line plays a similar melody in 3/4 on various instruments, beginning with guitar. The opening section builds for five minutes before the second section, "Peace," starts, another 3/4 section at half tempo on acoustic guitar, with accompaniment on organ, mandolin and female chorus.

At around 8:48, the piece becomes edgy and surreal again, as the "Bagpipe Guitars" enter the piece (electric guitars with added effects to give a bagpipe-like sound), playing a 12/8 piece of sorts. About 11 minutes in, the intensity of the section builds as the guitar pitches increase and a heavy piano "roll" plays, climaxed by a sudden ascending glissando on the piano.

Next is one of the more unusual parts of the album, the "Caveman" section, referred to in the album's original liner notes as "Piltdown Man." Timpani rolls and drum kit commence this part, highlighted by unintelligible "lyrical" utterances, grunts, growls, howls, and screams by Oldfield. This was alleged to be a rumour, however. Simon Heyworth, audio engineer, recalled that Branson was getting impatient pressuring Oldfield to deliver the cut, and flustered they drove down to London and dumped a copy of entire uncut album, and he recalled that Branson wanted vocals on one of the albums, whereas Oldfield had no intentions of doing so. Oldfield said himself in an interview that he angrily stormed out of Branson's office yelling "You want lyrics!? I'll give you lyrics!".[23] He then drank half a bottle of Jameson's whiskey and demanded the engineer to take him to the studio where, intoxicated, he "screamed his brains out for 10 minutes". This was later used in the album in rebellion against Branson's desire to include at least one part with lyrics to release as a single. Oldfield's yelling is countered by various phrases on piano, guitars, and the "Moribund chorus," with this piece abruptly ending on one long loud shouting scream exactly 16:19.

Another quiet section, "Ambient Guitars", ensues, a 12/8 piece mostly dominated by guitars and organ. This section gives an example of the psychedelic, spacey side of Oldfield, a similar sound to that Gong's Steve Hillage, who participated in a few live performances, with and without Oldfield, of both this album and his next Hergest Ridge. The style of guitar is also heard on Oldfield's third album Ommadawn. After about five minutes, an optimistic organ line plays, segueing into a climactic arrangement of "Sailor's Hornpipe".

"Sailor's Hornpipe" begins with a mandolin playing at a moderately slow tempo, but quickly mutates into a gradually accented piece with multiple instruments (including an unlisted violin), ending with two loud, accented notes. In live performances, Oldfield reached incredible tempos and "Sailor's Hornpipe" alone became a staple of his concerts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Recording sessions[edit]

The two parts of Tubular Bells were recorded between autumn 1972 and spring 1973 when Oldfield was 19 years of age.

  • Part One was recorded in just one week at The Manor Studio, owned by the founder of Virgin Records, Richard Branson. Oldfield used this studio immediately after John Cale's sessions and just before the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band began recording.[24]
  • Oldfield's working title for Tubular Bells was Opus One; Richard Branson thought to call it Breakfast in Bed. One of the possible album covers for Breakfast in Bed included a boiled egg with blood pouring out of it. This cover was edited and used as the artwork for Oldfield's final album with Virgin, Heaven's Open.[25]
  • The only electric guitar to be used on the album was a 1966 blonde Fender Telecaster (serial no. 180728) which used to belong to Marc Bolan. Oldfield had added an extra Bill Lawrence pick-up and has since sold the guitar for £6500 and donated the money to the SANE charity.[26] This guitar had been 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.[27][28][29]
  • According to Oldfield the "Piltdown Man" shouting sequence came about when he had practically finished recording the instruments for the section, but felt that it needed something else. The whiskey-fuelled idea to create the "Piltdown Man" effect was to shout and scream into a microphone while running the tape at a higher speed. Upon playback the tape ran at normal speed, thus dropping the pitch of the voice track.
  • The album was recorded on an Ampex 2" 16 track tape recorder, which was The Manor's main recording equipment at the time.
  • To create the double speed guitar, the tape was simply run at half speed during recording. Oldfield also used a custom effects unit, named the Glorfindel box, to create the 'fuzz' or 'bagpipe' distortion on some guitar pieces on the album. The Glorfindel box 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.[30]
  • The set of tubular bells that were used on the album had been left by an instrument hire company after John Cale's sessions at the Manor, at the request of Oldfield.[31] Having tried to produce a particularly loud note from the bells, using both the standard leather-covered and bare metal hammers, engineer Tom Newman resorted to a use of a normal heavier claw hammer to produce the desired sound intensity.[32]
  • According to Phil Newell the bass guitar used on the album was one of his Fender Telecaster Basses.[33]
  • Vivian Stanshall, who was staying at the Manor at the time, was asked to introduce the instruments for the finale of Part One. It was the way in which Stanshall had said "plus...tubular bells" that gave Oldfield the idea to call the album Tubular Bells.[34]

In the liner notes to Magma's Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh, an album recorded at the Manor at around the same time as Tubular Bells, Christian Vander claims "Mike Oldfield stole my music, more precisely, he stole some extracts from Mekanïk and The Dawotsin."[35]

"Sailor's Hornpipe" and the original ending[edit]

When recorded in 1973, the coda at the end of Part Two, the "Sailor's Hornpipe", was originally preceded by a longer rendition of the piece. Loud marching footsteps trot around the sound channels as the "Sailor's Hornpipe" is played on acoustic instruments, whilst announcer Vivian Stanshall gives an inebriated, improvised tour of the Manor. According to the liner notes for the Boxed vinyl set, this session occurred at four in the morning after Oldfield, engineer Tom Newman and Stanshall had been drinking heavily. They placed microphones in the rooms of the Manor, hit record and set off on an unplanned tour of the house.

It was cut from the final version, though it can be heard in what the liner notes describe as "all its magnificent foolishness" on Boxed. The Boxed set reinstates the section at the end of side two of Tubular Bells. It can also be heard on the SACD (multi-channel track only). This rendition of "Sailor's Hornpipe" was included in the 2009 Mercury reissue of Tubular Bells.

In addition, a version of Tubular Bells was originally released on the Spanish Boxed compilation such that Part Two ended with the "Ambient Guitars" movement without the "Sailor's Hornpipe" finale.

Sound mixes[edit]


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 side A). 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 North American version of the album, distributed by Atlantic Records.
  3. A quadraphonic version, black vinyl catalogue number QV2001. 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.[36] The North American number is QD13-105 (Quadra-disc CD-4 channel discrete).
  4. The Picture Disc, 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. 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.[37]

There are a number of different mixes and masters of the album available on CD. Some of the known ones are:

  • Some CDs contain the original stereo mix.
  • The Boxed CD release contains a stereo remix of the quadrophonic version.
  • The 2000 reissue (HDCD) contains a remaster of the album.
  • The SACD edition contains the remaster and the Boxed quad mix.
  • In 2009 two new mixes were released, one a CD stereo mix and one a DVD (Dolby Digital) 5.1 surround sound mix.


Mike Oldfield plays: Acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, Farfisa, Hammond B3,[38] and Lowrey organs, flageolet, fuzz guitars, glockenspiel, "honky tonk" piano, mandolin, piano, percussion, "taped motor drive amplifier organ chord", timpani, vocals, plus tubular bells.

Other musicians[edit]

Other personnel[edit]

  • Trevor Key – artwork
  • Produced by Mike Oldfield, Simon Heyworth, and Tom Newman
  • Recorded and engineered by Simon Heyworth, and Tom Newman
  • Mastered by Simon Heyworth

Charts and awards[edit]

Tubular Bells stayed in the British charts for 279 weeks. It climbed the charts slowly but steadily, and did not reach number one for over a year. In doing so it displaced Oldfield's second album, Hergest Ridge, which had been at number one for three weeks.[39] This made Oldfield one of only three artists in the UK to beat himself to the top of the album charts. In the UK the album has re-entered the charts in each decade since its release; the most recent being at number 66 in 2012. In Canada the album entered the top 100 on November 17, 1973, peaked at number 1 for 2 weeks after 15 weeks (April 1974), and was gone after 31 weeks (Aug. 3, 1974). It was then placed at #36 in the top 100 albums of the year.

The album 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.[40] According to some reports it has sold 15 to 17 million copies worldwide. The album went gold in the USA and Mike Oldfield received a Grammy Award for the best Instrumental Composition in 1975.


The first single released from the album was created by the original US distributor, Atlantic Records. This version was an edit of bits from Part One which was not authorised by Oldfield. The single was released only in North America, where it peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on 11 May 1974, making Oldfield a One Hit Wonder on the US charts. In Canada the single was released as 'Tubular Bells (Theme from Exorcist)' (Virgin 55 100-P) and entered the RPM Top 100 Singles charts on March 9, 1974. It peaked at #3 on May 18 [1], and was #103 in the top 200 singles of the year.

"Mike Oldfield's Single" was the first UK 7-inch single released by Mike Oldfield, in June 1974. It featured a re-recording (with oboe as the lead instrument) of Tubular Bells Part Two's "bagpipe guitars" section as the A-side, with "Froggy Went A-Courting" as the B-side. This was included in the 2009 Mercury reissue of Tubular Bells.

Demo version[edit]

Oldfield recorded the demo pieces of Tubular Bells in his flat in Tottenham, London, in 1971. Oldfield recorded the demos on a Bang & Olufsen Beocord 1/4" tape machine which he had borrowed from Kevin Ayers. Oldfield was able to overdub his playing by blocking off the erase head of the tape machine. 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.

Pieces from Oldfield's 1971 demos appear on the 2009 Ultimate Edition reissue of the album; also included on this release is a scrapped mix from spring 1973.

Tubular Bells series[edit]

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). Finally 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 first album's production. This version is notable for replacing the late Vivian Stanshall's narration with a newly recorded narration by John Cleese. There is also a new mix of the original album on the 2009 Mercury reissue.

Other versions include a quadrophonic version in 1975 ("For people with four ears", as the sleeve said; the quad mix was later used for the multi-channel part of the SACD release), an orchestral version in the same year (The Orchestral Tubular Bells with David Bedford), and different live recordings; a complete one can be found on the double live album Exposed from 1979.

Track listing – original 1973 release[edit]

All songs written and composed by Mike Oldfield, except "The Sailor's Hornpipe" (traditional, arranged by Mike Oldfield), copyright 1973 Virgin Music Publishers Ltd.

Side one
  1. "Tubular Bells, Part One" – 25:30
Side two
  1. "Tubular Bells, Part Two" – 23:20


1983 re-issue[edit]

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

2000/2001 re-issues[edit]

In 2000 the album was remastered and released as a HDCD and an SACD. Some copies were labelled as the "25th Anniversary Edition".

  • Simon Heyworth – remastered at Chop Em' Out Mastering, London March/April 2000
  • David Glasser, Airshow Mastering, Boulder, Colorado, USA March 2000 – master
  • Gus Skinas – DSD SACD
  • Ed Meitner – A2D and D2A Converters
  • Arbernaut/Rina Cheung @ Public Art Creative Consultants Limited – artwork
  • Jason Day – remastered series co-ordinator

2009 re-issue[edit]

In 2008, when Oldfield's original 35-year deal with Virgin Records ended, the rights to the piece were returned to him, and were transferred to Mercury Records. Oldfield's Virgin albums were transferred to the label, and re-released, starting 8 June 2009. Tubular Bells was released in four physical variations, and two digital variations in the UK and Ireland, and as five physical editions elsewhere.[55]

The new releases contain a new 2009 stereo mix of the album, which Oldfield created at his home in the Bahamas in March 2009. The "Deluxe Edition" contains a 5.1 mix, and the "Ultimate Edition" box set contains a 60-page hardback book, a poster, plectrums and other pieces such as rough mixes and demo versions of the album. The Digital Edition contains the same audio content as the Ultimate Edition. The Vinyl Edition is part of the Back to Black series, and contains the original 1973 mix of the album and carries the original seascape artwork.

The liner notes include photos from the time and text written by Mark Powell about Oldfield and the album. The DVD also states on its label that it features the "Tubular Bells film" from The Old Grey Whistle Test as visual content; however, this appears not to be on the DVD and is also not listed on the outer cover of the album.

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.[56]

Where the original artwork has been used, the photographs have been digitally enhanced, and the bell logo has been replaced with a computer-generated version. The shapes of some of the clouds have changed: the image is a richer blue; the detail on the bell, including reflections, has been simplified; and what appear to be birds have been removed from the front cover image. New artwork has also been used, such as the bell on a white background, which was used for the Ultimate Edition, and the bell on a black background, which was used for The Collection.

The Mike Oldfield Collection 1974–1983 carries a black cover with the Tubular Bells logo. It contains the same first disc as the Standard Edition as well as a compilation of some of Oldfield's work from Ommadawn to Crises.

Track listings[edit]

Standard Edition (1CD)[edit]

The Standard Edition carries the original artwork, and features the new mix, and two bonus tracks. UK release code number 060252735055.

  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) – 2:48
Deluxe Edition (2CD & 1DVD)[edit]

The Deluxe Edition carries the original seascape artwork with a "Deluxe Edition" white banner at the bottom. The DVD is incorrectly labelled as "Disc 4", even though there are only three discs in this version. This is due to the same DVD being the fourth disc in the Ultimate Edition. UK release code number 270,354–1.

CD one
As standard edition
CD 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)


  1. "BBC TV 2nd House Performance"
The Ultimate Edition (3CD, DVD & LP)[edit]

The Ultimate Edition comes complete with 60-page hardback book with a foreword by Mike Oldfield, plectrums, poster, copy of Manor Studios recording brochure, concert ticket, postcard and recording information. The Ultimate Edition carries the white artwork, with the bell logo. UK release code number 270,353–9 (04).

  • CD one(As Standard edition)
  • CD two(As Deluxe edition)
  • Bonus CD
    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
  • DVD(As Deluxe edition)
  • Vinyl(As Vinyl edition)


The 2009 promo single cover.

The 2-CD version, The Mike Oldfield Collection 1974–1983, containing the album and a disc of Oldfield's tracks from 1974 to 1983 was advertised on television during the run up to Father's Day.[58] The actor Tom Baker, known for his role as the Doctor in Doctor Who, provides his voice-over for the advertisement. Baker also did the voice-over for the advertisement for The Best of Tubular Bells in 2000.[59] The Collection charted at number 11 in the UK Albums Chart.

Some stores, such as audio/video retailer Richer Sounds, ran promotions for the album. The Richer Sounds promotion was a prize draw, where first prize was a Cambridge Audio Hi-Fi system and a signed copy of the Ultimate edition of Tubular Bells.[60] Oldfield has also endorsed Cambridge Audio products.[61]

A short old mix of the introduction piece was released as a promotional single, and was first played on BBC Radio 2's Radcliffe & Maconie show on 26 May 2009.[62] The single begins with the "Introduction" piece, then moves into the "Fast Guitars" and "Basses" pieces, before returning to the "Introduction" piano part.

Oldfield was interviewed on the Radcliffe & Maconie show on 23 June 2009, and he was also interviewed on Johnnie Walker's Sounds of the 70s on BBC Radio 2 on 14 June 2009.[63] The Crown Records cover of the finale of Part One was played at the end of the Sounds of the 70s interview; Oldfield's version was played on Walker's show the following week.

For a short period after the release, when the album was inserted into a computer, and the user visited the URL mikeoldfield.com/bonus, additional material was available, such as an interview with Mike Oldfield which was filmed on a rainy day in the Bahamas in May 2009.[64] Since the creation of the releases more material has been unearthed, such as another alternative version (second take) of "Caveman"; these may be released on the website at a later date.[64]

The online store was opened to those who registered in advance on 15 May, and was publicly opened on 18 May. All editions of the album, an art canvas, and T-shirts displaying the Tubular Bells logo are available.[65]

There was also a special limited edition of 500 signed and numbered copies of the "Ultimate Edition", available from Oldfield's website, which sold out in under 24 hours. The signed element is a numbered certificate.

On 6 June at 6pm (a reference to 666)[14] there was a worldwide bell-ringing event; bells were rung in Milan (on MTV), Berlin (Siegessäule), Brussels (Atomium), Paris (the Georges Pompidou centre), Sydney (Opera House), Japan/Narita (at a Japanese Temple) and London.[66][67][68][69]

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.[70] There were also bell-ringing workshops and competitions.[71] The Orb had previously remixed "Sentinel" from Tubular Bells II.

Live performances[edit]

There have been a number of live performances of the work. It is one of the pieces that Oldfield plays at the majority of his concerts, due to its popularity.

The premiere live performance of Tubular Bells was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 7:45pm 25 June 1973 and was broadcast live on UK radio. To coax a nerve-ridden Oldfield into playing the premiere live performance of Tubular Bells Virgin boss Richard Branson gave Oldfield his Bentley.[72] The concert programme for the premiere listed the 25-person ensemble as follows: Mike Oldfield (Lowrey organ, bass, acoustic and electric guitar); David Bedford (grand piano choir master); John Greaves (Farfisa organ, Davoli electric piano, tin whistle); Jeff Leig (flute); Fred Frith (electric and bass guitar); Tim Hodgkinson (Vox organ, electric piano, Farfisa organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano); Mick Taylor (electric guitar); Steve Hillage (electric guitar); Pierre Moerlen (glockenspiel, concert tympani, tubular bells, gongs, cymbals, tam tam); Steve Broughton (drums); Jon Field (flute); Terry Oldfield (flute); Viv Stanshall (master of ceremonies); Tom Newman (nasal chorus); 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.

Mike Oldfield had been performing "The Sailor's Hornpipe" for years before including it on Tubular Bells, when he was the bass player with Kevin Ayers and The Whole World.[73]

Footage exists of a live-in-the-studio performance for the BBC, filmed on 30 November 1973, originally broadcast on BBC2 on 1 December, with a cast including Oldfield, his brother Terry (flute), Fred Frith (and other members of Henry Cow), Steve Hillage, Pierre Moerlen, Tom Newman, Mike Ratledge, Mick Taylor, Karl Jenkins and others. It includes a new part for oboe. This has been released on the Elements DVD and is on the 2009 reissue of Tubular Bells.

On 27 July 2012 at the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Mike Oldfield performed during a segment about the NHS. A studio version of this performance appears on the soundtrack album Isles of Wonder. Although listed as "Tubular Bells"/"In Dulci Jubilo", Mike Oldfield's 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.

Olympics version[edit]

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)"[75]

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 versions[edit]

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

  • Lol Coxhill recorded a very short track of "doubled and echoed flexatones" (a flexatone is a hand percussion instrument consisting of two balls striking a piece of metal, which makes a "spooky" sound effect), titled "Tubercular Balls" on his 1974 Caroline Records half-album, ...Oh Really? (the other side being The Story So Far... by Stephen Miller, a.k.a. Steve Miller, ex Caravan; the album is often referred to by a combination of its two titles: The Story So Far ... Oh Really?).[76]
  • The Champs Boys Orchestra released a short rendition of Tubular Bells in 1976.[76]
  • Metal band Possessed played the intro in the first song of the record Seven Churches (in 1985), which is titled "The Exorcist".[77]
  • Paul Hardcastle based his 1985 single "19" around the piano theme of Tubular Bells.[76]
  • Thrash metal band Death Angel played the main theme in the title track of the album The Ultra-Violence in 1987.[78]
  • Book of Love opened their 1988 album Lullaby with a cover version, stretched to 4/4 time by adding stretching a note to make it danceable.[76]
  • Ed Starink made an abridged cover for an album Synthesizer Greatest (the first album in a multi-volume series) that was released in 1989. Tubular Bells appears only on the CD version as a "bonus track". Other tracks on the album are cover versions of famous synthesizer songs but the original Tubular Bells features no synthesizer.[76]
  • Symphonic/horror metal band Van Helsing's Curse adapted the introduction of Tubular Bells (in its original meter and a modified version in straight 4/4), along with fragments of In the Hall of the Mountain King and Dies Irae, in their piece, "Tubular Hell."
  • Italian Keyboarder Claudio Simonetti covered the song on his Days of Confusion album in 1992.[79]
  • American artist Tori Amos has frequently used the opening Tubular Bells theme in her live shows.[80] 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."
  • Forma Tadre use the intro guitars from the second part of Tubular Bells in their song "Automate" on the 1998 album of the same name. Their version is done with synth and only repeats the first two bars.
  • Therapy? jokingly covered the opening theme live in 1998 as part of a medley, which opened with "Tubular Bells", segued into Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law", and ended with their own "Nowhere".[81]
  • Duo Sonare, a German classical guitar duo, made a complete re-recording of Tubular Bells for two guitars in 2000.[76]
  • Rapper Tech N9ne used a version of the intro in the song "Be Warned" in 2002, only he moved it to 4/4 time.[82]
  • Spaniards Héctor Campos and Álvaro Martín produced the "Tubular Project" concerts between 2003 and 2006 (5 concerts in total), which were the first and only adaptation of Tubular Bells for a plucked string orchestra (Vicente Aleixandre of Aranjuez).[83] David Bedford played pianos and was MC in the first two concert held en Aranjuez (Madrid).
  • Interactivo, led by bandleader Roberto Carcassés, based their 2005 Cuban jazz-funk arrangement entitled Escriba y Lea Con las Tubular Bells on themes from late in the second half of Tubular Bells, Part One.
  • Finnish a cappella performer Paska recorded an abridged version for his 2005 album Women Are From Venus, Men From Anus.[84] 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.
  • Crown Records – iTunes download – A cover of Tubular Bells by the Crown Star Records studio musicians.[85]
  • Marcel Bergmann made two arrangements of Tubular Bells "Part One", in 2005 (for two pianos and two synthesizers as well as four pianos); a CD with both versions was released by Brilliant Classics in 2008.[86]
  • California Guitar Trio covers most of the first side of the original album on their album Echoes released in late March 2008.[87]
  • 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.[88] A DVD has been released of the show, filmed during the Sydney Festival 2012.[89][90]
  • Happy Hardcore DJ and producer Trixxy also used the intro melody for the song "Sunrise", released in 1999.
  • Charles Hazlewood's All Star Collective have performed Tubular Bells in full while on tour.[91]
  • Sarah Brightman used an arrangement of Tubular Bells with lyrics in the song "Closer" on her 2013 album Dreamchaser.

Many dance acts and other artists have used the intro to Tubular Bells as the basis for their songs. A long list can be found at Rainer Muenz' discography.

Computer games[edit]

Commodore 64[edit]

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.[92][93][94]

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.[95] 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.


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Further reading[edit]

  • 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 links[edit]

Preceded by
Hergest Ridge by Mike Oldfield
UK number one album
5 October 1974 – 11 October 1974
Succeeded by
Rollin' by Bay City Rollers
Preceded by
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney & Wings
Australian Kent Music Report number-one album
20 May – 16 June 1974
Succeeded by
The Sting (soundtrack) by Various artists