This is an instrumental song that is more than 25 minutes long. The most famous part is the intro, which was used as the theme to the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist.
More than half of the instruments were played by Mike Oldfield. He insists that minimal synthesizer was used.
Some unusual instruments were used to record this, including a Farfisa organ, a Lowrey organ, and a flageolet (a kind of wind instrument). There were also flutes, a mandolin, and the tubular bells. The bells are represented on the album cover.
This makes up side one of the album. "Tubular Bells (Part 2)" makes up side two and is around 23 minutes long.
All the major record companies turned down the album. It was finally released on a new label called Virgin Records, and became the first album they issued. Virgin has since grown into a massive company, with an airline, record stores, and cell phone interests. Some of the artists who recorded for Virgin Records included The White Stripes, Moby, Aimee Mann, and The Black Crowes.
This was Oldfield's first album. It sold over 16 million copies.
The album hit #2 in the UK and #3 in the US. An edited version was released as the single and hit #7 in the US.
In 2003, Oldfield released a remastered version of the album to commemorate 30 years since it's release.
The UK release concluded with a rousing version of "The Sailor's Hornpipe" and a severely drunken Viv Stanshall babbling wondrously meaningless nonsense in an imitation of stuffy BBC announcers.
Oldfield told the Daily Mail March 14, 2008 that he'd been badgering Richard Branson and his business partner, Simon Draper of Virgin Records, to give him a break. He recalled: "They had been fobbing me off for a year. I was actually about to apply for citizenship of the USSR, where I thought I could become a state-funded musician. Then the phone run and it was Simon Draper asking me to come to dinner with Richard and his wife on their houseboat.
Eventually, he asked me what I needed to make an album. So I gave him a list of guitars, drums and pianos. Tubular Bells weren't actually on the list. But, as I arrived at the studio, I noticed they were bringing some out from the last session, and I grabbed them. I had a hunch they might be useful."
Tubular Bells was one of the benchmark albums of the Progressive Rock era, spending 279 weeks in the UK chart and selling 15 million copies worldwide.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in 2014, Oldfield attributed much of Tubular Bells' success to its unusual key signature. "Most music is in 4/4 time, but that curious little figure at the beginning is in 15/8. It's like a puzzle with a little bit missing," he said. "That's why it sticks in the brain. And that's why it worked so well as the soundtrack to The Exorcist - with that little bit missing everything is not quite right."
Mike Oldfield wrote much of Tubular Bells on an old piano. He recalled to Uncut: "When I lived in Harold Wood, Redden Court Road, my grandma came to live with us. She was a pub pianist in the days when pubs were nice places, and people would go along for singalongs and could smoke. She brought her old piano to ours. It had a lovely vibe to it. Most of Tubular Bells was written on that piano."