Stu Brewer - Studio Brewdio

Home of Stu Brewer and his explorations in guitar playing, teaching, creating and gear

Record Of The Week #3 - "The War Of The Worlds" by Jeff Wayne

"No one would've believed in the last years of the nineteenth century..."

Like many people, this album was a major milestone for me growing up. We used to have it on in the car on long journeys, had the LP at home and along with the Star Wars soundtrack it opened my mind to both the wider scifi world (and therefore geekdom as a whole) and the power of a soundtrack to conjure images in my mind the same way a good book or film would.

First kudos must go to the hiring of Richard Burton as the narrator. His booming opening monologue is etched into my mind and his is the perfect voice to portray Jeff Wayne's vision of HG Wells story.

Then it hits you, that massive opening string riff to "The Eve Of The War", bigger than anything by Beethoven that just send shivers down your spine and that even on repeated listens has the same emotional impact. 

Something that has always amazed me about Jeff Wayne's version is his use of the instruments of the day (bare in mind this was recorded in the late 70's so no computers or sequencers) to portray both the past, victorian era London, and the future possibility of aliens. The whole album just drips musicality from the Black Smoke band employed to play on it. Ok the drum sound and use of wah is straight out of the 70's but somehow it still holds up. Herbie Flowers bass playing is immense, listen to "Horsell Common and the Heat Ray" as proof. From the same track you get the first appearance of that huge fuzz slide guitar riff from Chris Spedding and the main riff played on Tar, a stringed instrument from Iran that first got me into weird and wonderful instruments from other countries.

Also from the same track is a prime example of Jeff Wayne's genius use of sound design. Listen to the opening section when the aliens cylinder lid opens. The sound effect used to accompany Burton's narration is perfect to conjure a picture of a menacing space craft opening up to the outside world. In reality the sound was created by rubbing two saucepan lids together, inspired idea! Go try it next time you're doing the cooking.

I'm sure if you've heard the album one of the most memorable noises is the sound of the alien octave shifts (listen to the start of "Horsell Common..." for an example). Those sounds along with all the other synths were created by Ken Freeman. Nicknamed "Prof" due to his skill in building and modifying electronic instruments to create unheard of sounds that are a staple of the whole album.

One sound that wasn't a "Prof" Freeman creation was the "Ulla" alien scream, created by a guitar, talk box and a ton of fuzz and was again a brilliant mix of sound design and musicality.

At the other end of the musical spectrum is "Forever Autumn", with it's haunting opening guitar arpeggios and Justin Hayward's reminiscent vocals. In fact all the vocal talent on the album do a stellar job, from Phil Lynott's rock stylings on "The Spirit of Man", Chris Thompson on "Thunder Child" and David Essex on "Brave New World".

To end proceedings is the NASA epilogue, giving us the thought that maybe this could happen today! Of course it couldn't but to a young impressionable Stu it was the equivalent of a Marvel movie post credit scene and scared the hell out of me but in a good way!

One final mention must go to the amazing album artwork. I used to spend hours pouring over the images on the inner record sleeve and like an Iron Maiden album cover they expanded on the listening experience to the point they became one in my mind.

If you've never had the experience of listen to "War Of The Worlds" on a good set of headphones in a darkened room go do it now!