War of the Worlds: Jeff Wayne Musical (1978)

Painting by Michael Trim

For many younger fans, Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds served as the first introduction to H. G. Wells’ classic story. Produced in the United Kingdom and first pressed to vinyl in 1978, it retains a strong cult following. The 1996 digital remastering released on CD remains a popular item in most record stores.

Following the original tale of the novel, this music opera gleefully mixes synthesizers and seventies pop-rock beats with orchestral string arrangements. Narrated by the famed screen legend Richard Burton, it enjoys contributions strong talents such as Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, and British favorite Julie Covington. The package is further strengthened by striking cover art by Michael Trim illustrating a standing Martian Fighting Machine, firing its Heat-Ray into the prow of the Thunder Child. Trim’s artwork is complimented by art from Geoff Taylor and Peter Goodfellow, in an illustrated booklet included with both the original vinyl double-album release and the CD remastering.

Burton’s portrayal of the journalist is superb. The story does take certain liberties with the plot, including turning the Journalist’s wife into a mere love interest in London and putting him in his brother’s shoes, hoping to find her before the Martians do. The changes are well done and contribute to the flow of the story. The music is very well done and quite enjoyable, especially for an opera concerning the massacre of mankind. One track, “Forever Autumn”, became a chart hit for Justin Hayward. Two other key tracks, a duet between the curate – now the parson Nathaniel (Phil Lynott) – and his previously non-existent wife, Beth (Julie Covington) called “The Spirit of Man” and a rousing, patriotic number by David Essex’s artilleryman called “A Brave New World” are inspiring.

The synthesizer effects give the production an appropriately sinister, otherworldly feel. The music itself is well-paced. The opera provides a several good, memorable themes and ultimately provides a good flow of the original story while concurrently providing a chilling nod in the epilogue to the Mercury Theatre production.

In 2000, ULLAdubULLA, a remix double-CD including twenty-six re-workings of the classic tracks, was released as an updated reworking of the Jeff Wayne musical opera. Almost a third of the tracks are remixes of the Jeff Wayne’s main theme, “The Eve of the War”.

– written by Rob Farquhar