Happy Anniversary: Mike Oldfield, The Songs of Distant Earth
20 years ago today, Mike Oldfield released a concept album based on a sci-fi novel by Arthur C. Clarke, one which the author not only approved of but, indeed, enjoyed enough to compose a few words for the liner notes.
The idea of Oldfield taking a shot at composing an album based on The Songs of Distant Earth came via Rob Dickins, the chairman of Warner Brothers at the time, but it seems unlikely that the suggestion was one offered completely out of the blue: Oldfield’s Warner Brothers debut, 1992’s Tubular Bells II, had featured two tracks which seemingly had ties to Clarke’s work. (“Sentinel” was the name of the short story which ultimately evolved into 2001: A Space Odyssey, while “Sunjammer” was reportedly the original title of the short story “The Wind from the Sun.”)
Once again proving that Oldfield’s popularity is far more profound in the UK than the US, two singles were released from The Songs of Distant Earth, and both “Hibernaculum” and “Let There Be Light” successfully charted, albeit at #47 and #51, respectively. But, hey, do you know the last time Oldfield had a single chart at all in the States? Try 1979…and then try seeing how many Americans even remember the song “Blue Peter.” Suddenly the low 40s and high 50s don’t seem too bad. The album also made a name for itself by being released as an Enhanced CD, something which was still pretty new-fangled at the time.
In his liner notes, Clarke – who confessed that he’d been particularly impressed with the soundtrack for The Killing Fields – wrote, “I was delighted when Mike Oldfield told me that he wished to compose a suite inspired by (The Songs of Distant Earth)…and now, having played (the album), I feel he has lived up to my expectations. Welcome back into space, Mike: there’s still lots of room out here.”