I've been a huge Mike Oldfield fan since a young boy, and his music has influenced my musical output in so many ways. I've talked a lot about his music, you either get or not. If you do get it, it is life changing. Fans of the music have a deep emotional connection to the music. I compare it to the people in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind movie, who have been touched by the aliens and have something burning inside them, that not everybody has and can understand. I feel the same when trying to explain how deeply this music connects to people who like it.
Tubular Bells - A Minor Tune (1973)
Everyone is familiar with the first five minutes of this album, and it I think unfairly overshadowed the rest of Mike’s output. There is no denying that Tubular Bells is a groundbreaking album and such an achievement for somebody who was just 19 years old at the time.The opening motif is a gift from the gods and stands up against anything that the great classical composers have come up with. This section half way through side one is just so powerful in its simplicity. The melody is to die for. There is a magical live version on the Exposed album expands the power of the original. It’s hard to register that somebody so young could come up with an album so full of killer melodies.
Ommadawn (Part One) (1975)
This has to be Mike’s finest long form opus.The whole of side one of Ommadawn is just a musical feast. It’s well known that he finished the album, and then had to re record it because of tape issues. It shows here, it’s just faultless in arrangement, playing and feel. There are so many music styles here which introduce many colours in the music. There is not a single second of padding or waste. The Irish singing from Clodagh Simonds and Bridget St John paired with the priceless contributions of Les Penning, alongside the African drumming of Jabula create one of the best instrumentals in the history of rock music. Mike really is at the height of his musical powers on this album. Breathtaking.
First Excursion (1976)
Co-written with avant-garde composer David Bedford, the track features just lead guitar, piano and synthesisers. This appeared on the Collaborations album included with the four album Boxed set released in 1976. This piece for me is the pinnacle of Mike’s work. The guitar solo is just so heart wrenching. It uses a lot of sustained feedback that morphs into different overtones. It builds from a haunting desolate musical landscape to a euphoric explosion of emotional chords and guitar playing. As a child I would lie in my bed in the dark, with a battery tape recorder and listen to this and just be transported to another place. It never fails to move me with every listen and is just the best five minutes of Mike’s music.
Pipe Tune (1977)
This is a little known B-side of the Cuckoo Song single. It sounds like a demo track from the then to be released Incantations album. It showcases Mike’s Celtic and Elizabethan musical influences. The lead instrument is a Roland SH2000 synthesiser, famously used on his version of the Blue Peter TV programme theme. I love the atmosphere and chords, complete with a brilliant trademark Oldfield guitar solo.
Incantations (Part Three)
Incantations for me is my desert island album. It’s Mike's longest album and the last part of the holy collection of his first four albums that fans all hold dear. Incantations was recorded in two parts, Parts Three and Four were recorded after Mike had undergone a huge mental transformation after attending therapy. This is really shown in Part Three of the album, with its very euphoric opening, and introduces drums and a breath taking guitar solo, that seems to just unfold effortlessly. The whole album has so much variety and shows Mike’s amazing ability on guitar and his ability to introduce musical styles and instruments from places outside the usual rock formats, and make them work. Sonically its untouchable.
This track is a little controversial. It was originally released on the brilliant Platinum album, but Virgin Records didn't like the track and requested a re-write and recording of a new track, initially with the same title, for future pressings. It features Mike singing through a telephone effect with child like lyrics. I love the simplicity of it. The production from Tom Newman is immaculate. The song also features one of Mike’s best short guitar solos.
This was the B-side of the hit single Portsmouth, though in the UK the single featured Speak as the flipside. The track features an underrated guest performance from Les Penning, who brought this traditional tune to the table. Les contributes a most haunting recorder performance, accompanied by Mike’s soulful guitar drone chords. Mike and Les used to play this and other tunes in the corner of a local pub for their food, and to an audience who were totally unaware of who they were. The piece was recorded on a cold morning in Mike's barn like studio and captures the two players in a sonic space with lush reverbs that you can just get lost in.
From the album QE2.This showcases Mike’s use of non-sensical words as lyrics. To pull this off, the melody has to be magical, and that is what he achieves here. African drums supply the backing and another spiralling guitar solo breaks through and just melts the heart. The chords are simple, but the melody and vocal harmonies tug on your heart strings. Mike is just so underrated as a guitarist. Every note is played with utter conviction.
Five Miles Out (1981)
Title track from the album Five Miles Out which features Maggie Reilly and Mike on vocals. It's a short track at just over four minutes, but crams so much into that short time. The chorus is well written and provokes emotion where you wouldn't normally find it in a short commercial track. Once again the production from Tom Newman and Mike is amazing. I understand this song went through many versions and arrangements to get it right. You can hear that every second and every space in the arrangement has been thought through. A masterclass in production and mixing.
Earth Moving (1989)
This is the title track from the album of the same name. A complete departure from his long form music, this is a commercial song that Mike became known more for in the 1980’s, such as hits like Moonlight Shadow and Family Man. This track has an almost soul and disco feel that you would expect to cheapen the music, but Mike applies his mastery of melody and chords to create a heart warming chorus. The vocal performance by Nikki "B" Bentley is out of this world and has been produced by Mike to create real soul.