Mike Oldfield’s Seminal Tubular Bells Album Celebrates 50th Anniversary With New Abbey Road Half-Speed-Mastered 180g 2LP Expanded Edition Directly Overseen by Its Visionary Creator

These days, it must be hard for some people to fully comprehend what was going on in the early 1970s with popular music. It was a crossroads time where almost anything was fair game for open-minded listeners — post-psychedelia, back-to-the-roots Americana, glam, bubble-gum pop, horn-based jazz fusion, acoustic-leaning singer/songwriter odes, proto-metal, and wildly progressive rock epics were all on the table.

Just as FM became a powerful influencing radio format, longer-form and higher-fidelity music productions from expansive artists like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Led Zeppelin started to infiltrate and stimulate new and open-minded listening audiences. These more progressive sounds even began to hit the Top 40. That a song like “Roundabout,” the broadstroke opening track of Yes’s November 1971 LP Fragile, could become a Top 20 international smash hit single in the following years says quite a lot.

Amidst all this free-form activity, in May 1973, the then-twentysomething entrepreneur Richard Branson took a chance by making the very first release on his then-new Virgin Records label a truly longform epic by 19-year-old Mike Oldfield — then a new, young, unknown musician — and his first composition, Tubular Bells.

This album sounded like nothing else before or, really, since.


Let’s run down some of the key stats you’ll want to know when considering whether to obtain a copy of the subject of our review here today, Tubular Bells – 50th Anniversary Edition, for yourself. The new 180g 2LP edition was half-speed-mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios from hi-res digital transfers of Oldfield’s original studio recordings. And, as we’ve learned over the years, Showell’s mastering efforts typically sound wonderful, so listeners should not be automatically be deterred by the fact that a digital stage has been employed here. For one thing, I’ve been particularly impressed comparing this edition to my 1970s UK pressing, hearing lots of details and fine separation that is not present on even that edition. The SRP for the new 2LP set is $39.98, and you can order your copy here.

The pressing quality on this new Tubular Bells reissue is generally excellent, having been manufactured in Germany (probably at Optimal), and its discs arrived packed in audiophile-grade plastic-lined inner-sleeves. My copy was well-centered and virtually perfect with only one small, strange glitch on an otherwise pristine pressing, resulting in an audible tick on the last five-or-so super-hushed seconds of Side 1 of Record One. (Hopefully, my copy is just a one-off anomaly.)

The only thing sadly missing from the new edition is the original Virgin Records label that was designed by the great Roger Dean, a label that some of us — well, at least I did, at age 13! — initially thought was a custom label for Oldfield’s album back in the day.


It was initially a slow-building process for the album’s take off until the opening strains of “Tubular Bells – Part 1” were used in the seminal December 1973 hit horror film, The Exorcist. A single edit of the song itself was released featuring those mesmerizing opening-movement melodies, and then the album started building steam, eventually winning a Grammy Award, topping the UK charts, reaching No. 3 in the U.S., and eventually selling more than 16 million copies worldwide.


Reflecting back on his remarkable ascent, Oldfield is quoted in the official press release for this 50th Anniversary Tubular Bells reissue by saying, “Listening again to the musical outpourings of an angst-ridden teenager, it is hard to believe that was actually me, 50 years ago. The music doesn’t sound that angst-ridden, but only I know the years of work and stress that produced Tubular Bells. This was all live, first-take performances with no second chances or studio trickery as we have become so used to today. Little did I think when I was making Tubular Bells that anyone would ever hear it, let alone be celebrating it five decades later! Thank you to everyone who has listened over the years.”

While growing up in the early ’70s, Tubular Bells seemed to be almost everywhere you turned. The recording also became an audiophile-favorite demo disc, often heard in then-emerging hi-fi equipment stores to showcase new amps, turntables, and speakers; you name it. Of course, many people who owned the album subsequently used it to show off their own new home hi-fi systems for family and friends alike. Mix-and-match component systems were becoming increasingly popular at that time in mainstream culture, coinciding with the popularity of progressive music like Tubular Bells.

I remember some radio stations playing Tubular Bells start to finish during late-night shifts. It was a great album for deep listening sessions with friends, and it is also one of the absolute classic LPs to enjoy on headphones. At the time, Tubular Bells was practically as ubiquitous as Pink Floyd’s March 1973 benchmark The Dark Side Of The Moon and Yes’ September 1972 masterpiece, Close to the Edge.


On this new 50th anniversary half-speed master of Tubular Bells, we get a very clear snapshot of what Oldfield’s original recording sounded like back in the day. As popular as this album was, it is surprising how difficult it is to find a really good-sounding clean copy original on vinyl. It’s not a particularly heavy collector’s item per se, so price isn’t quite the issue here. But most used 1973 pressings I’ve come across have been enjoyed, shall we say, a lot by their original owners — not beat up, necessarily, but just played a whole bunch! Hence, hearing a high-quality remaster is appealing for fans of this timeless music.

Tubular Bells, with all its layers of organic and electronic instrumentation — mostly played by Oldfield himself, using overdubbing techniques – was always a great listen at high volume. It is especially gratifying to hear those super-low organ notes at the end of Side 1 rattling the rafters, and this Abbey Road edition is quite good for recapturing that room-shaking essence!

Over the years, Oldfield built an esteemed career upon the success of Tubular Bells, initially with more album-side-length progressive epics such as September 1974’s Hergest Ridge and November 1975’s Ommadawn. I particularly liked October 1980’s shorter-song-oriented QE2 — and Oldfield even had a UK Top 10 hit with March 1982’s Five Miles Out, an album featuring the original version of “Family Man,” a song that later became a Top 10 U.S. smash for Hall & Oates a year later when it was released as a single from their double-platinum October 1982 release, H2O.


While there are many other fine Oldfield recordings to explore, over the years, he has revisited Tubular Bells in new variations on the concept, including an orchestral version (see the above album cover) and several sequels, as well as quadrophonic and surround-sound remixes.

The bonus disc on the 50th Anniversary edition of Tubular Bells, a.k.a. Record Two, is a fun listen for deeper fans. I got a particular kick out of hearing “Tubular X” (Track 1, Side 2), which is Oldfield’s twist on the theme to The X-Files infused with the essence of Tubular Bells, making its first-time debut on vinyl. (It was originally issued on 1998’s still-CD-only release, The X-Files: The Album.) I also enjoyed Oldfield’s 2017 demo for the unfortunately aborted and thus previously unreleased Tubular Bells 4 (Track 1, Side 1).


There is much progressive musical joy here to immerse listeners old and new, If you love Tubular Bells, this new 50th Anniversary edition is probably a logical one for you to pick up.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)



180g 2LP (EMI/Mercury/Universal Music Recordings)

Record One
Side 1

1. Tubular Bells – Part One

Side 2
1. Tubular Bells – Part Two

Record Two
Side 1

1. Tubular Bells 4 Intro – 2017 Demo
2. Tubular Bells / In Dulci Jubilo – Music For The Opening Ceremony Of The London 2012 Olympic Games

Side 2
1. Tubular X
2. Tubular Bells – Mike Oldfield & YORK Remix
3. Mike Oldfield’s Single – Theme From Tubular Bells


Anton D's picture

The day this LP came out, I grabbed it and planned to rush home and play it, but being a wayward youth (12), didn't get around to it until about 2 a.m.

My mom worked nights, so I had no time constraints about staying up to listen, and popped on my Koss headphones and let 'er rip.

Side one was awesome, and I flipped to side two and sat back in my bean bag chair to keep listening.

Well, if you know the recording, you know what hit me part way through, and I got the startle of the year. I thought something was in the house, and I ripped off the headphones and tried to figure out what the heck had happened. Everything checked out clear, windows closed, doors locked, etc and I cued the record back down and just as I started to get back into it, boom, it happened again!

Off flew the phones, on went every light in the house, and I was sitting there thinking I was having an actual Exorcist moment.

The record was still paying, and I heard the same sound again, only teeny, from the headphones that were now sitting on the floor.

Man, I busted my gut laughing at my stupid self: it had been the record!

So, I could then proceed to continue enjoying the record, but I can still induce a tiny shiver thinking about how that album scared the crap out of me.

I'll give this reissue a try!

rich d's picture

A close friend on mine cannot listen to T.B. to this day as it reminds him of The Exorcist. He's of a similar age to Anton (as am I) so when the record and the movie were new, they had the same bowel-stirring effects as described above.

I should add that while I may be nearly as old as Anton, I can just about guarantee that I am better looking.

And finally, one must ask: does anyone really need this? Original UK pressings are neither rare nor expensive and the ones I've bought sound great. Virgin kept it in print for a long time with the occasional repress, and I haven't heard a bad sounding one yet.

RadioTowerRecords's picture

I would say yes if you can get a glitch free copy. Owning several copies including a day of realease first pressing I can say that the half-speed Master is a worthy addition. And of course you are also getting much more music than the standard version. I’ll be waiting for a while though before I attempt a third copy.

vinyl listener's picture

But it's tricky to find a really great sounding copy or copies.
For many years I had 2 original UK Two White Virgins copies - a great side 1 and a great side 2, it was only recently found a copy with 2 great sides. Going by Showell's past form it's unlikely this new one will sound great.

Analogue+Fan's picture

Progressive rock albums from 1973 had scare names because it was an era of terror in the postwar world.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
The Dark Side of the Moon
Larks' Tongues in Aspic
Selling England by the Pound
Spectrum Ashes Are Burning
On The Third Day
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath Solar Fire
Houses of the Holy
Tales from Topographic Oceans
Brain Salad Surgery
Tubular Bells was a fearlessly innovative title on a classical instrument creatively incorporated by a young, visionary, and promising composer.

RadioTowerRecords's picture

No it is not an anomoly and you are not alone. I sent my first copy back and the second copy arrived on the weekend also with unacceptable glitch at the end of side one - will also be sent back today for refund this time instead of replacement. I’ve got several other error free versions anyway. I also wrote to Miles Showell at Abbey Road so let’s see if I get a reply because I don’t believe my listening experience is the one that Mike Oldfield personally oversaw. Keep up the good work and greetings from RTR Berlin.

Mark Smotroff's picture

Sorry to hear that you had the same glitch. Hoping it wasn't in the entire run. That said, the official press materials and promo sites for the album specify that the entire project was overseen by M.O. The press release touts it in a sub-headline actually.

WesHeadley's picture

By and large, as an avid collector and curator of vinyl records, I've lost count of the number of marred pressings that I've got in my collection (about 4000 and counting, https://www.discogs.com/user/WesHeadley/collection) that have been pressed by (sub)Optimal in Germany. Dirty stampers with baked in surface noise in the form of loud clicks and pops is not the exception, it is the rule!

I will usually return a marred pressing at least once when this happens, sometimes 3 or 4 times (if I really like the album), and I can say from experience, that most of the time, this does not resolve the issue.

Everything I play is precleaned on a Hannl RCM and resleeved in a MoFi sleeve. What I notice about Optimal is that replacement copies are very rarely any better than the first. I don't know where their stellar reputation comes from, but it's really NOT deserved. Perhaps people confuse them with Pallas-- another German based presser that routinely releases superior pressings which I rarely have to return, and that always come in an archival paper sleeve. Optimal needs to get its sh!t together! Optimal is popular with labels because they can do high volumes of units, but doing it well is another story.

Another sacred cow that often sucks is GZ Media. MF would always gush about how perfect his GZ stuff always sounded-- but was he getting these pressings "off the rack" as it were. I seriously doubt it.

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Marinette Farley's picture

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Marinette Farley's picture

"Mike Oldfield's iconic Tubular Bells album turns 50! Celebrate this milestone with the newly released Abbey Road half-speed-mastered 180g 2LP expanded edition, meticulously overseen by Oldfield himself. This remastered classic is a must-have for music enthusiasts and audiophiles alike. For those looking to dive into a world of creativity beyond music, check out the Toca Boca Mod Apk. website. Unleash your imagination and explore endless creative possibilities!"

Marinette Farley's picture

"Mike Oldfield's iconic Tubular Bells album turns 50! Celebrate this milestone with the newly released Abbey Road half-speed-mastered 180g 2LP expanded edition, meticulously overseen by Oldfield himself. This remastered classic is a must-have for music enthusiasts and audiophiles alike. For those looking to dive into a world of creativity beyond music, check out the Toca Boca Mod Apk. website. Unleash your imagination and explore endless creative possibilities!"