Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Round 68 – Graham’s Choice

My lack of physical product to Rick_Wakeman_Journey_to_the_Centre_of_the_Earth bring along to DRC has forced me down some strange avenues of new purchases recently. This venture in to extreme progressive rock, was fostered by a childhood fascination by this album. Too young to understand what it was all about, but it looked great. A gatefold with page inserts kept me occupied in record shops on many a wet Saturday afternoon. In the mid 70’s world of men with long hair, this was what an album should look like and was seemingly greeted with the appropriate respect on release in 1974.

I introduced this with a tug of the forelock to Punk, pointing out you can’t really understand what comes next, until you appreciate what came before. This has apparently sold 14 million units worldwide and has been described as one of Prog Rock’s “crowning achievements”. It comes post Wakeman’s debut of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and follows his departure from Yes after concluding ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ was too pretentious!

How would you pitch this to a record company these days? “It’s too expensive to record in studio, can we hire the Royal Festival  Hall for a couple of nights, get the London Symphony Orchestra along and see if Richard Harris will be the narrator (David Hemmings finally got the gig)? “Cool, here’s the cheque”.

It sold in bucket loads, won an Ivor Novello awards and was described by  Melody Maker as  “entertaining, fresh and disalarmingly unpretentious”. I guess you had to be there at the time, because listening today I certainly don’t get it. The most dramatic element  are the pinched bars from  ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ by Edvard Grieg. Maybe just the rock/orchestra combo was enough to excite people? There were a splurge of subsequent albums by the LSO under the clever title of ‘Rock Classics’ (for reference listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXTtkKzLY4A)

Rick did an national arena tour of it this year, and even people from the Guardian seemed to enjoy themselves, http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/apr/29/rick-wakeman-review-journey-to-the-centre-of-the-earth

Having listened now, my childhood (perhaps ‘misplaced childhood’) memories are dashed. I understand better why punk turned up later in the decade, but have no idea where music like this ‘fitted’ in the mid 70’s. As for Prog, give me Marillion anyday!

Tom listened: My mum always told me that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!

Nick listened: I was fascinated by Ed’s reaction to this; as he’s a musician, I kind of trust and defer to his judgement on certain things, because he does actually know what he’s talking about, even if he’s not got the anally-retentive alt.pop factoid recall that some of us are blessed/cursed with. If someone who knows about playing music, especially classical music, says this is simplistic, infantile bullshit, then we’re correct to completely discard it, right? Even if we’re discarding it from some post post-punk ideological platform, rather than on a purely musical basis

And Ed did dismiss this as simplistic, infantile bullshit, so everything’s fine. This was overblown, deliberately therefore uncomfortably ‘odd’ for the sake of it (while at the same time being absolutely not odd in any real way, either), and sat at distinct odds with the Owen Pallett record, which, in some ways (strings, synthesisers, classical-meets-rock, other reductive signifiers), it bore some slight resemblance to.

How many million people bought this? The 70s were weird.

Ed listened: Like politicians at a pre-election televised debate, I agree with Nick.


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