A KICK IN THE TUBULAR BALLS
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield may not be a household name, but it’s almost certain you’ve heard music from one of his most famous albums—1973’s Tubular Bells, a classic ambient album that formed much of the soundtrack for “The Exorcist.” Oldfield’s debut was also the key to the success of struggling record label Virgin founder Richard Branson’s feckless dreams of space tourism and amphibious sports cars.
Surprised and pleased with the album’s success, Oldfield settled down for the next fifteen years to fiddle around with various instruments and electronic effects to produce albums that weren’t really leaping off the shelf as well as his first.
Toward the very end of Oldfield’s contract, Virgin executives grew annoyed with his inability to provide them with another megahit arrangement of soft tinkly noises. Even though the company was valued at over a billion dollars at this point, Oldfield’s handlers relentlessly pestered him to create a spiritual sequel to Tubular Bells so that the company could rake in another billion to finance Richard Branson’s submersible robotic dog or whatever.
As a response, Oldfield delivered Amarok, an unbroken hour-long piece of music performed on a plethora of weird instruments and household appliances, specifically designed to be completely impossible to slice into radio edits or soundtrack albums. While many Mike Oldfield fans consider Amarok one of his best and most distinctive works, the album had almost no mass-market appeal except for one unique feature: a listener contest sponsored by Oldfield that promised a thousand pounds to the first to discover the album’s “secret message,” which turned out to be a series of beeps and boops at around the 48-minute mark that when converted to Morse code read “FUCK OFF RB.”
After Oldfield found his new home at Warner Brothers, his first album was titled Tubular Bells II, the most annoying thing to ever happen to Richard Branson since he was marooned at the bottom of the English Channel in a malfunctioning robotic dog.