Based on the H.G. Wells classic 1897 Sci-Fi novel, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a classic in and of itself.
I have to admit, despite my love of music, and my being fond of British and progressive rock in particular, I had no idea that this record even existed until 2012 when a modernized revision of it was released on CD. Having first heard both versions in relatively the same time period, I know it is without any sentimentality that I feel the original version is superior. Both are good, but to me, the newer version overuses its reliance on electronic instruments a bit. The original version finds the perfect balance of guitars, electronic keys, and orchestration to dramatically tell the story of an attack on earth by an alien force that we have no ability to defend against and the most unexpected cause of the invaders eventual defeat.
As the title suggests, this is not a rock opera, it is a musical. Much of the record is narrated by The Journalist, played by legendary British actor Richard Burton; his voice accompanied by a dramatic underscore of music. Significant scenes are told instrumentally and lyrically in stand-alone songs performed by Jeff Wayne with the help from members of The Moody Blues, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Thin Lizzy, and David Essex, as well as a few well-reputed session musicians.
When originally released, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds had two versions, this one and a single album version that was distributed exclusively to radio stations. That promotional version eliminated the narration, containing only the stand-alone songs. It also did not include the 16 page booklet that came with the two record commercial release.
The songs from WOTW did not receive the significant radio play in the US that they got in the UK. Consequently, it peaked at number 5 in the UK but never touched the charts here. I guess that partially explains my ignorance to its existence until decades after its release. Still, it became one of the most successful records in th UK, selling over two and a half million copies in its original release. Given my love of British music, and progressive rock in particular, I can’t believe it took me decades to hear of this rock and roll masterpiece. I’m just glad I eventually did.