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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

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The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne

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

The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne

The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne. Proposed big budget movie version of the classic record.

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