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Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

The War of the Worlds is the innovative ‘70s album everyone should know

In the United States and around the world, seemingly every other week, a new album comes out from some famous artist that keeps everyone hyped for new music. In 2024 alone, albums by Kid Cudi, 21 Savage, Kali Cushi, and Benny the Butcher have left listeners to discuss their work’s quality and greatness, solidifying the common presence of hip-hop, electronic, and rap music in contemporary, musical culture. Today’s music listeners of any age and genre quite easily understand the structure of a typical album: an artist will release several songs, 30 minutes to an hour in length total, with (hopefully) wonderful singing, great instrumentals, and a deeper meaning meant to reflect the ideals of the artist or group that produces said album. But every now and then, a new album comes out that challenges what structures or defines an album, showing itself to be an innovative, perhaps redefining mix of musical talent and skill. In late 1970s England, this was Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, yet close to no one knows the true novelties and peculiarities of such a lengthy album.

I would give it an 8/10; it’s a very good album. Anybody that’s interested in fantasy, the audio-musical format, progressive rock, symphonic rock, or just super catchy and well-written pop music should check it out. It’s a very strong album for me, it creates a great story and you can become so fixated on it. The way that it weaves different themes and storylines and incorporates them with musical themes and storylines… The album is just really cohesive as a whole. It did bring together a lot of those [concept album] ideas and created something that was really seminal and unique.”

— Alexandre Banks, Sophomore

 Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978) is a progressive, storytelling, rock concept album created by Jeff Wayne and Richard Burton. It retells the classic story by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898); in this story, Martians invade Earth leading to a planetary war in an attempt to move the Martian race to Earth. This story delivered a powerful, liberal message; the story was a critique on humanity’s excessive focus on imperialism, especially British imperialism, by making the human race the technologically inferior party in this “Anglo-Martian War.” Not only that, but the album upholds science, critiques religion on its inability to pair with or overcome logic, and even delves into themes of depression and suicide. Jeff Wayne’s album musically retells this story, not through several clearly split songs, but through over a dozen songs, all mixed together into over an hour and a half of orchestral emotion, deep voiced narration, and alien sci-fi noises and war cries. More than anything, this album is more akin to an audio musical, like radio theater, but is instead a music album, one that can be found on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music.

The War of the Worlds, as a story, has, rather unknowingly, been adapted into countless media forms, but Jeff Wayne’s album stands out especially because of its form and what it stands as. It doesn’t feel like an album, yet it is, and it is made professionally. While this album was Jeff Wayne’s most famous work, he had already been famous in British rock circles for his work in film music, advertising jingles, and helping to produce David Essex’s debut album (and single), Rock on. Richard Burton on the other hand is the album’s main narrator, who some may know for his role as O’Brien in the film Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984). The album, being made so professionally and from such unexpected sources, feels more like a musical or show; it’s almost impossible to imagine any moment in this album without striking and horrific visuals, ones fabricated from the mind of the listener. This is even further cemented through the creation of the five hour long musical drama, Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The Musical Drama, which can be found on Audible and YouTube. One can’t even listen to each song in a random order (on their first listen), it must be heard in its full 93-minute glory as, like the original book, the story is told chronologically.

Cover of the 2012 album, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation
(Jeff Wayne, Liam Neeson, Gary Barlow)

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a unique and strange album fresh out of the 1970s that almost no one knows about; many may recognize The War of the Worlds but not its musical adaptation made a full 80 years later. While not popular with the general public, Jeff Wayne’s album specifically has paved the way for other connected works: a video game, a remix album, a summarized highlights album, the aforementioned musical drama, and even a 2012 re-working album featuring Liam Neeson as the narrator (also available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music). Despite being produced as an entirely audio based experience (save the album cover), this album is often recognized by its visuals despite not having a single official music video, becoming almost inseparable from them, unlike any other album. Even more incredible is the fact that this album “tours” in the UK. Called “The Immersive Experience.” the music of this album is presented with a full orchestra, large screen visuals, and a giant replica of a Martian war machine that spits fire; The Spirit of Man Tour has already been announced for 17 different shows in 2025 all across the UK as well.

Large model of a Martian “tripod” war machine used for Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience
(Keith Jones)

This album undeniably changes what the structure of an album can be by mixing different nuanced elements of then-new conceptual music into a 93-minute masterpiece. By mixing musicless narration, orchestral music backed by electronic instrumentation, multi-character dialogue, and a range of other new musical elements, Jeff Wayne’s conglomerate paragon retells a classic tale in a nuanced, modern way. This album, having turned 45 in 2023, must not be forgotten despite its nuances and niches. It tells a gripping tale of survival and fleeting hope under a foreign, Martian takeover of the planet we call dear, in a near impossible “us versus them” battle: humans versus Martians. Even moreso, the musical drama 40 years later may have even told the story better, in over thrice the time. For anyone with the time in their life to watch an entire movie, for anyone with a passion for sci-fi and powerful music, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is definitely worth the listen.


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About the Contributor
James R Prizant
James R Prizant, Asst. People Editor
James "Jimmy" Ryan Prizant is a junior at Niles North. In his free time he enjoys bowling, scrolling and chatting through socials, and listening to '80s music on Spotify. He one day hopes to have a job relating to mental health, writing, or bowling.

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