Performer: Mike Oldfield
Songwriter: Mike Oldfield
Original Release: Tubular Bells
Definitive Version: Airborn, 1980. This is just Part 1 of the two-part, two-album-side song, but it’s enough. A few years ago, I found a version by the California Guitar Trio—three guys doing an unplugged version of this song. It’s pretty incredible, although it’s about 40 minutes shorter than the original.
I knew Tubular Bells, of course, like most people my age from The Exorcist, which scared the crap out of everyone back in the Seventies. Tubular Bells became the Halloween fright music of choice for the rest of the decade. I even had the single, all 3:18 of it, or about 8 percent of the entire song.
I hadn’t heard this song for almost a decade when I finally heard it again in 1984, and it was the Airborn version. The occasion was a Wabash football game my junior year against Albion.
Long before game time, while the teams practiced on the football field, I’d arrive at the stadium with the radio equipment—the mixer and two sets of headphones. I’d set up the gear and test the equipment with the producer back at the studio, who was there to make sure everything ran smoothly—and get some songs on the air and call for backup as soon as possible if it didn’t. For the Albion game, Eric, my Fiji buddy and on-air morning partner that year, ran the board. Everything checked out fine.
He started this song, and I was surprised to hear it, although I thought that sounded cool to intimidate the opposition. So I cranked the volume on our in-booth radio and turned it around and out the window until someone told me to cool it. I was struck by how the song went from the familiar “tubular bell” sound from the Exorcist to a flowery symphonic epic, and it just went on and on and on.
While I was thinking, wow, is this song really THIS LONG, I wondered whether something had happened to Eric. We were getting close to kickoff, and the point where the music was supposed to fade out and the taped pre-game interviews were supposed to kick in came and went. The song kept going. OK, man. Get out of the bathroom and send it over to us … Finally, uncomfortably close to kickoff, he switched over to the game.
Doing football was far different than basketball. In many ways, it was more difficult. You had more names and numbers to remember, and you had to fill more time. With basketball, you basically spent the whole time describing the action. It was easy, as long as the phone line was set up properly, of course.
If it wasn’t, it was bad. However, it was REALLY bad if there were a problem during a football game. Football was the big money maker for the radio station. Well, someone screwed up—it wasn’t me—and we had no phone line for the biggest road game of the season, one of the biggest in Wabash history.
I don’t know how it was arranged, but Wabash got to play one of its games—one of the first games—in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, the now-gone domed stadium that lured the Colts from Baltimore 30 years ago. I was excited and a little intimidated to be doing a game in a major-league stadium. I remember arriving and feeling the wind rip by me as I walked in the facility. (The Hoosier Dome, of course, had an inflatable roof, thus the extra air pressure.)
Tony, my analyst, and I were in an auxiliary press box. Learning my lesson from basketball the previous year, I had called Indiana Bell to handle all phone lines back in May, well ahead of time when we’d need them. Unfortunately, no one got the memo on the Hoosier Dome game. Instead of a line into which we could plug a mixing box, all we got was a standard phone jack.
I quickly got on the phone to the radio station, asking them to call Indiana Bell—I had to call collect to call out—but it was no use. They wouldn’t be able to get anyone out to us until the afternoon. We HAD to be on the radio for this game. What are we going to do?
The sound came through fine over the phone, the engineer assured me, just not the mixer. OK, we’ll go with what we have. I held the phone up like I was talking to the listener on the other end and called the game as though nothing was wrong. When appropriate, I passed the phone to Tony for his analysis. Somehow, we made it through the entire game, a 45-20 Wabash victory over Taylor, that way. We were a minor-league outfit in a major-league stadium.
Oh, and at the end of the school year, with WNDY increasingly phasing out records, somehow the station’s copy of Airborn ended up in a record crate bound for Columbus.