Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds (1978) part 2
The main body of recording was done in the UK at London's state of the art
Advision Studios beginning on the morning of May 18th 1976. Jeff Wayne is without
doubt a perfectionist as those who worked with him can attest. The track "Spirit Of Man"
took 16 takes and 8 hours to complete to his satisfaction, but when his cast and crew speak
of him, they do so in glowing and appreciative terms. Clearly one of his greatest talents is
to inspire those who work with him. But there were many hurdles to overcome along the way,
with the project stretching and stretching until fully a year had passed since the first
track was recorded. In these testing circumstances, money was never far from Jeff's mind,
and so he was forced to work on the album while at the same time continuing his radio jingles,
such that he would often nod odd at his console while the band played on.
The production was certainly swallowing money at a fantastic rate, and while
CBS would dip into the corporate coffers one more time to cover the cost of
Richard Burton's involvement, Wayne had to find the rest of the money himself.
The album finally came in at a staggering £240,000, a huge sum, given that
Queen's A Night At The Opera was thought at the time to be the most expensive
album ever, at a comparatively modest £45,000. Jeff was fairly convinced that if
the album failed to recoup its cost, then he would certainly have to give up his
home to pay off his creditors.
As his principle lyrist, Jeff chose Gary Osborne, a long time collaborator who
had worked with him on many advertising projects. Together with Paul Vigrass
(another alumni of the Wayne jingle factory) Osborne had released in 1972 an
album which featured an early version of Forever Autumn, one of the most beloved
songs on The War of the Worlds. Forever Autumn had started life bizarrely as a
tune Wayne had composed for a Lego commercial, before metamorphosing into a
track on Osborne and Vigrass' debut album Queues (which Wayne composed and produced).
Even more strangely, the song was a number 3 hit in Japan!
One of the greatest problems encountered was a difficult search for musicians
who could fulfil Jeff's exacting standards and vision. John Lodge of the Moody
Blues endured a 36 hour marathon session on the song Thunder Child, but was just
not able to make the cut because Jeff has recorded it too far above his range.
Carlos Santanna, the renowned Mexican guitarist was drafted in to create the sound
of the Heatray, but after one evenings work, (and unbeknownst) to either Jeff or
Carlos) negotiations with his manager and Jerry broke down so completely and
acrimoniously that the manager removed him from the studio. In the end, the task
fell to one of Jeff's regulars, Jo Partidge, who created the sound with a bottleneck
slide and all six strings tuned to one note. With a slide guitar or bottleneck guitar,
rather than altering the pitch of the strings in the normal manner (by pressing the
string against frets), a slide is placed upon the string to vary its vibrating length,
and pitch. It worked amazingly well.
Other sound effects were achieved in far more prosaic ways, notably the
unscrewing of the cylinder lid. In what can only be described as a true example
of synchronicity across the years, the sound was achieved in almost exactly the
same way as was allegedly used in the 1938 broadcast. In 1938, the sound person
opened a jam jar in a toilet bowl, in the this case Jeff's wife ground a saucepan
against the side of the bowl.
As the project progressed, musicians came and went, some more so than others.
Justin Hayward (also of the Moody Blues) sang Forever Autumn" and "The Eve of the
War" which were to be released as singles. Meanwhile singer songwriter Paul Rogers
spent two days in the studio in the role of the Parson, but never showed for a third
and final day of recording opposite a tape of Richard Burton. Was it Jeff's
perfectionism or nerves at playing against Burton that prevented his return,
even if he was just a tape? I imagine we'll never know, but Phil Lynott (front
man of Thin Lizzy) stepped in. Step by torturous step, the album was coming together.
And with every step forward, came another potential disaster, one of the worst
coming when the master tape literally began to decay with age. A delicate operation
ensued to make a workable copy. On another occasion, the tape operator at the studio
accidentally slashed up the entire recording of side four of the album, thinking it was
the outtakes. This was common practice, in that material identified as outtakes were
routinely destroyed so as avoid any confusing mix-ups. Not only had the tape being slashed
but also disposed of in a bin. Roger Cameron, the manager of the Advision studio had
stumbled on this disaster and had even gone to the rubbish dump to search for the tape,
but without luck. Jeff had no choice but to hastily remix it.
One final trial was to face Jeff. Having finally completed the album, CBS in
the USA unexpectedly turned it down, unable to bring themselves to believe it could
work with an American audience. Luckily CBS in the UK were far more understanding
and enthusiastic in their endorsement and committed to a launch in July 1978. The
repentant Americans duly followed when the album proved an enormous smash, going
on to spend an unprecedented 235 weeks in the UK charts and selling over 13 million
copies. Two Spanish versions were released in 1978, one starring Anthony Quinn as
the narrator, and Curd Jurgens took the role in Germany. Various singles from the
album also did extremely well, and in later years, the album found itself sampled by
DJ's such as Orbital and Todd Terry. Most recently, it has enjoyed a new lease of
life both in a sumptuous 5.1 surround re-release and as a sell out stage play. With
the planned release in 2007 of a movie version, there just seems no stopping the
onward march of this cultural landmark
< Part 1
Single disc DVD
Double disc DVD
Regular version CD
Collectors edition CD
See also in:
The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne. Big stage version of the classic record that has toured the UK to great acclaim.
Film and TV