Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Musical

Jeff Wayne’s mini-masterpiece, a musical adaptation of War of the Worlds by author H.G. Wells is a concept album oddity that has persisted until today. It was released in 1978 and has been rereleased in various forms including extended versions with behind the scenes demos and new mixes. I prefer to stick with the original though as I first discovered it on Rhapsody’s music service before I had so many problems with song interruptions and canceled my subscription. It is definitely Seventies inspired combining an orchestra with Seventies disco beats, woeful singing and alien psychedelic noises–at least that’s my best description. Really it comes down to a concept album that you’re not sure you like at first but after the second listen I was hooked.

Between the tracks there is narration by Richard Burton as the the Martians invade and thankfully the story doesn’t gloss over one particular part of Wells’ story that I often look forward to (I’m so twisted). What I’m referring to is the holy man who goes mad, Parson Nathaniel. While Wells, according to Wiki, was not an atheist, he rejected traditional religion in favor of his own personalized view of god. His characterization of the good parson was less than complimentary. The musical has Parson Nathaniel shouting, “Devil” at the alien invaders which of course does no good. God does not rescue us, nature does and in a form that we had to evolve and conquer ourselves. The irony of Wells story is what has made War of the Worlds such a classic.

I’ve never been satisfied with the film adaptations of War of the Worlds as it is one of my favorite books, either they feel incomplete, hokey or like the Spielberg version they discard the time period and feature a guy who actually believes in even weirder aliens. Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation does a better job of capturing the mood of the book, the passing of certain key events and the longing of the main character to find his wife and for the invasion to be done. It does what a concept album should do–provides a journey of emotions.

I should confess that while I perceive the album in this manner, others may certainly find the music hokey due to the Seventies influence. But many of the tracks were sought after to listen to individually at the time of its release and the track “Forever Autumn” made the UK Top 5 Single. The album itself was on the UK charts for 290 weeks and there were translations of the musical into Spanish (with narrator Anthony Quinn) and German(with narrator Curd Jurgens). The album itself included extended art like the painting you see here. This was no small undertaking and I would say, due to the initial response and the continued interest, is a classic piece of music with possibly some flaws.

I’ve found myself listening to it numerous times. We all know Martians aren’t going to get us, but place yourself in the role of what would happen if we were under attack by an alien world. Would we forget our differences and band together as a human race? Or would we go mad like Parson Nathaniel?