Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Friday Song: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield


It seemed the natural thing to do. Culminate my Exorcist week with the iconic tune so thoroughly associated with the film. A non-vocal number that would equally impact the Top 40 pop chart like only a handful from the surrounding decades. No one seems to produce this type of melody in this day and age. Sure, I’ve highlight one from way back, and the 80s were more loaded than usual (Top Gun, St. Elmo’s Fire, Chariot’s of Fire). Still, none of those instrumentals came from a horror film, or carried the weight of a movie like Mike Oldfield’s did.

To this very day, in point of fact.

As Screen Archives Entertainment so eloquently stated on their recent re-issue of the film’s soundtrack:

“Back in 1973, not only was this film released during the Christmas holiday season, it freaked out audiences like nothing that came before (well, maybe Night of the Living Dead!). For many audiences seeing Linda Blair make obscene gestures to Father Karras and puking green stuff, it was a shock and something not seen that often in movies around that time. One thing everybody remembers about the film is Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells.”

It’s important to note that Oldfield’s album was released months before the film arrived. In May 1973, and was the artist’s début. It’s entirely a separate, needle-dropped track, and not part of Lalo Schifrin’s original score. And only a portion of it was deployed (the album cut runs 25+ minutes) — its intro is what was used as the theme to this one-of-kind cinematic experience. Without question, it’s the most remember number from The Exorcist. That applies to those who saw the film first-run or later audiences who screened it at their homes.

Mike Oldfield himself played more than half of the instruments used in Tubular Bells. Initially, all the major record companies turned down his album. In the first LP it ever issued, the new and little-known label named Virgin Records gave it the green light. Is it too much to say the Devil may have helped with the chart-topping album, or mark the road to a Knight Bachelor honour on one, Richard Branson, for his “services to entrepreneurship”. No? Oh, well…

The album hit #2 in the UK and #3 in the US. The abridged version was released as the single and reached #7 on the US pop chart in 1974. As Wikipedia noted,

“The album went gold in the USA and Mike Oldfield received a Grammy Award for the best Instrumental Composition in 1975.”

Like most catchy tunes, instrumentals included, it had a distinct ‘musical hook’ sunk in its DNA. That “musical or lyrical phrase that stands out and is easily remembered“. Oldfield came up with a doozy. The keyboard refrain at the start easily lingered in people’s ears.

Just the same, Oldfield would regularly interrupt its flow with sudden, almost stark, organ chords jabbed in. The track built on both the lyrical and the striking courses as the artist only added in other instruments as the tune progressed. The song would meld into that perfect music/movie moment, as my friend John Kenneth Muir has noted, where the, “… momentary conjunction of subject matter, theme, song and film technique” simply pulled you, the listener/viewer, in.

Honestly, it’d be a haunting little tune, but likely not as memorable, if it wasn’t embedded in a film like this one. The instrumental has been re-tasked many times since it inclusion in this movie event (thankfully William Friedkin and the producers dropped it in). Besides its use and promotion of the film’s sequels, you’ll find it in Black Christmas, Weird Science, and parodied any number of times in other movies.

Yet, every one of those paled when compared to those scenes Tubular Bells originally accompanied in The Exorcist way back in 1973. They’re strangely seared in by now. Really. I don’t think seeing Mrs. MacNeil walking along that autumn-leafed street as the kids in their Halloween costumes run by, or when Father Dyer keeps wake by the stairs as the film comes to a close, has ever left me. This song seemed to guarantee that.

9 Responses to “Friday Song: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield”

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