On this very night in 1938, a radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds may or may not have caused mass hysteria for American listeners. But there’s another War of the Worlds that scared me much more as a kid. For me, there’s the HG Wells version, the Orson Welles version, and the rock opera version by composer Jeff Wayne, released in 1978.
Turning the fictional Martian invasion into an orchestral prog rock concept album sounds as wacky as believing in an actual Martian invasion, but Wayne brought together a talented roster of collaborators and produced a best-selling, bonafide masterpiece (it would even be turned into a stage show). He collaborated with lyricist Gary Osborne, who co-wrote many of Elton John’s albums, and tapped Richard Burton to play the narrator. Most of the songs are performed by Justin Hayward, the distinctive voice of The Moody Blues. Which was why I think my dad played it over and over. And over.
As a kid, listening to the album in its entirety became somewhat of a ritual for us. We’d turn off the lights and I’d drop the needle on the turntable, scrambling back to the couch in time for the dramatic opening chords. But even these symphonic interpretations of blood-hungry aliens provided far too much aural detail for my overactive imagination, and for most of my childhood, the album absolutely terrified me. I’d have to cover my ears during the heat-ray sound effect—“uuuuuullllaaaaaaaa”—and the sounds of the Martian capsule grinding ominously open made me shiver. To complete the imagery in my head, there were fantastical illustrations of rampaging Martians across the entirety of the album. I was often too scared to look at the cover art at night.
I knew it wasn’t real. Even Hayward reassured me of that fact—“The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one!”—in that voice that would provide the soundtrack for most of my childhood. Still, I can remember the cosmic sounds reverberating through the living room as I looked out the window at the night sky, wondering if maybe, there was something out there after all.
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA