War of the Worlds: The Rock Opera


 
This is a post from our guest-blogger, Peter Choyce of KXLU radio in Los Angeles

I’m surprised how few people nowadays (well, Americans anyway) have heard the ROCK OPERA version of War of the Worlds. The timeless classic, penned by HG Wells over a century ago and adapted by Orson Welles into a radio play in the late 1930s that drove people on the east coast bonkers, also enjoyed a life on vinyl, double vinyl, even, before becoming a musical play.

Orchestrated by Jeff Wayne (Not ELO’s Jeff LYNNE as I once thought) the piece has its base in prog rock stylings but with a classical string section, too. Recorded in 1977 and released in ‘78, the album boasts such talents of the day as Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues, David Essex, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, and even featured a deep-throated narration by Richard Burton.

The lyrics are by Gary Osborne (who wrote a lot for Sir Elton) and lets not forget to mention contributions from Chris Spedding, Manfred Mann’s Chris Thompson and Evita’s Julie Covington as the damsel in distress.

AOR radio stations in the US played the single from the LP, “Forever Autumn,” back in the day and rotated it respectably like it was a new single from the Moody Blues. Hayward’s number was pleasant enough but it was really the anomaly, having little to do with the album’s narrative and deep, haunting theme. “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one…but still, THEY COME!” was heard all over the LP but was not part of the “pretty” song—the only song anyone here really remembers.

However, the LP sold hundreds of thousands of copies in other countries and spend a mighty 290 weeks in the UK top 100, a feat surpassed only by Dark Side of the Moon. It had a snazzy booklet with artworks by Peter Goodfellow and others that propelled the story along. I ripped the book apart so I could hang the pictures of the aliens on my wall in my teenage room.

David Essex, best—and perhaps only—known stateside for his “Rock On” hit, does a good job acting in the dramatic scenes and also sings lead on many of the tracks. Essex has always been popular in his homeland, a one-time member of the Royal Opera who recorded a number of pretty cool records that never really made it out of the UK. Most of the songs clock in at more than eight mins. All good prog rock need to take their time ‘specially when there is so much going on with the whole world to burn up and conquer before ultimately succumbing to Earth’s atmosphere and dying oh-so-ignominiously.

Perhaps the best part of the record is how the Martians are embedded into the score. Using a decidedly Wagnerian technique, they appear as leitmotifs, which in this case are synthesized repetitions of key sounds. Their musical voice is anguished and misunderstood. The arrangement is real spooky and way scarier than that old radio broadcast that allegedly drove a few gullible New Jersyites to suicide.

Like Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar before it, in 2006, War of the Worlds was turned into a live musical spectacular that has toured the world, and also a video game. An updated release will surface later this month under the title War of the Worlds “The New Generation” with a couple of new songs, more attention paid to the script and Liam Neeson taking over for Richard Burton as the narrator/journalist.

For now I encourage you to clicky the linky below. You’ll be glad you did.  It’s the original LP from 1978 in its entirety.  The whole thing.  Quite scrumptious.
 

 
This is a post from our guest-blogger, Peter Choyce of KXLU radio in Los Angeles

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

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