Rock stars have a sworn duty to be preposterous and, by the gods, caped crusader and national treasure Rick Wakeman never lets us down.
The Yes keyboardist spent the 1970s being particularly preposterous in a way only prog rockers can, and two key documents of this period have just been reissued as double-disc editions. Fans shouldn’t get over excited, however, as the bonus discs are merely quadrophonic versions of the albums in question, and not everyone’s set up to take advantage of such a luxurious tapestry of sound.
Released in 1973, _The Six Wives Of Henry VIII _was Rick Wakeman’s first solo album, cooked up while he was touring with Yes the previous year. Almost entirely instrumental, the album features a veritable phalanx of guests including fellow Yes men Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Bill Bruford.
From jaunty opener Catherine Of Aragon to the sizzling synthesiser splurge of Catherine Howard and the thunderous fugue of Jane Seymour, Wakeman is on blistering form and gives his organ a thorough workout throughout. Melodrama is too small a word for it. Oh, and look out for Richard Nixon on the cover too…
Fast forward to 1975 and we have Wakeman’s third solo outing, the snappily-titled The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table, another concept piece, this time chronicling the exploits of the once and future king. If you thought Henry’s wives were far out, Arthur is off the charts – Wakeman going berserk in a riot of orchestral bombast, portentous spoken word sections, and kamikaze keyboards.
All of which reaches peak epicness on the near nine-minute marathon Merlin The Magician. The album is also notable for adding lead vocals which are shared by various contributors, some better than others. The subsequent Wembley Arena live shows dubbed King Arthur On Ice were the only conceivable way to up the ante on an album such as this.
Despite a few moments of unintentional mirth, it’s worth remembering that both these records have been immensely successful, entering the UK Top Ten and shifting a sobering 15m and 12m million copies respectively. It’s no surprise that you’ll often find vinyl copies at your local car boot sale, amid the dusty boxes of teenage memories. Whether you’ve kept or sold your LPs or never owned these albums in the first place, these deluxe editions offer two classic works that now sound crisper, clearer, and crazier than ever.