War of the Worlds: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Adaptation

All through October of this month, I’ve been writing about War of the Worlds and all its various adaptations. I had planned to do several more entries than I actually ended up completing. It’s been a busy month and I didn’t get a chance to rewatch the 2005 Tom Cruise film or a few others I had in mind. We’ll save those for next October, and today’s offering will be the last one for this spooky season!

A couple years ago, I got an Audible subscription, probably one of those Black Friday deals. In addition to a credit that could be used to get any audiobook I wanted, the subscription came with one or two free audiobooks every month. These were of varying quality and interest to me, but one stood out: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Drama version of War of the Worlds.

Listening to the first chapter was a revelation. A good audiobook drama, with multiple characters and great acting, is an excellent way to experience any story. The acting in this drama is top notch. Michael Sheen is the main narrator, and is excellent, but everyone in the cast is superb.

But even better than the acting is the music! The music is quiet in the background during slower scenes, but ramps up in volume and intensity during key moments of the tale. I was amazed by this entire arrangement. The music is unearthly, with all sorts of strange tones and instruments, but it also really rocks at times, with heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums. I was stunned listening to it for the first time.

I immediately went online to try to learn more about this Jeff Wayne fellow. Turns out that back in the 70s, Wayne released a sort of concept album based on War of the Worlds (see the sweet cover art above). It’s firmly in the prog rock genre, with orchestral instruments in addition to the electric guitars, drums, etc. It really reminds me of Rush’s 2112, and that’s one of the best compliments I can give!

There have been several video games based on Jeff Wayne’s album. In the 80s, a game was released for the ZX Spectrum, and in 1998 there was a real time strategy game n PC. I was a huge RTS gamer at this time, and this game would have been one I spent hours on, I’m sure. I’m hoping I can find a way to play it now. Despite the dated graphics, I feel compelled to check it out. The venerable Playstation got a 3rd person shooter based on Wayne’s album, even. I can’t believe I had never heard of these games!

There’s more to Jeff Wayne’s World of the Worlds than classic era video games, though. There have been various stage shows, with a full orchestra, vocalists, and screens with images that go along with the story. Several of these are on YouTube. The earlier tours used a “virtual” Richard Burton, while later ones, dubbed The New Generation, feature Liam Neeson as the narrator. I’d love to be able to see these in person some day, the production looks amazing.

I would highly recommend getting your eyes and ears on some version of Jeff Wayne’s masterwork as soon as you can. The audio drama, with the music mixed in to great effect, is my favorite of all of them. You can’t go wrong queuing up the original album while you’re on a long drive or doing some chores. If you have time and can catch them on YouTube, the stage shows are very impressive. I’m so thrilled I came across this adaptation. It’s very true to H.G. Wells original classic and is a wonderful way to end War of the Worlds month for 2021!

3 comments

  1. HA HA Mate so nostalgic !! that takes me back to 1977 and turning out the lights in the flat ,puffing a J and just being drawn into a brilliant ALBUM! David Essex did a marvelous job, and I was so lucky to see him in Evita When I spent two amazing years in the UK !!

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