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Traumafessions :: Reader Steampunk on ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds’

September 10th, 2009 by aunt john · 4 Comments

Though WAR OF THE WORLDS is a terrifying property in anybody’s hands, the version which scarred me as a youth was Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds.’

Back in the mid ‘90s, my neighbour/best friend had an older sister who recorded it off the radio for us onto a cassette. Our neighbours had a shed which was kinda like our hangout as kids, there were chairs and a radio there and we used to keep toys and stuff there also. So we used to listen to WotW on a beat-up old radio/cassette player in the shed, and because we were kids, it seemed to be incredibly long and epic… not to mention terrifying. We’d listen breathlessly to RICHARD BURTON‘s commanding voice (I still know the opening narration off by heart) describe the coming of the Martians, backed by the most otherworldly sounds that British ‘70s prog-rock could offer. The music was mysterious, eerie and threatening, and combined with Wells’ alien-invasion story of heat-rays and incinerated bodies, it was certainly enough to traumatize.

A couple of years later, we discovered that another neighbour living further down the street had the actual LP from the ‘70s. This opened a whole new level of trauma- the paintings of the Martians themselves contained within the record booklet. The tripods just looked incredibly alien- we were unsure if they were supposed to be the Martians themselves of if they were machines controlled from within (due largely to one image of the crows tearing bright red flesh from a downed tripod)- which only added to the horror. The most stirring painting was the one in which a tripod is destroying a street, and some of the fleeing crowd pass close to the ‘camera’- and we can see the blood on their faces. Horrifying.

The biggest factor adding to the trauma was that all this was happening in the 19th century- I was deeply troubled that these people were being confronted with a horror they had no means of understanding, never mind combating. For some reason I found the idea of an alien invasion terrifyingly real, but found the quick-fix-it ending (nothing the humans do succeeds, the Martians are killed by bacteria) unconvincing and therefore unconsoling.

Years later, and the opening bars are still enough to send a chill down the spine, though I am amazed at how ‘70s, and how disco (!), War of the Worlds really was. But however strange, this was one property that definitely scared more than a few kids.

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Tags: Traumafessions

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 10, 2009 at 10:54 am


    I have never heard of this before but I love it. I’m getting a copy a.s.a.p!

    I might even have to track down this DVD…

  • 2 BlackwingroseNo Gravatar // Sep 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    My grandmother used to have this freaky War of the Worlds art print hanging in her living room. It was all sepia tinted and had a lot of water and freaky stuff and the ships out of the classic film.  It looked like War of the Worlds done by Hieronymus Bosch. I’d kill to find a copy of it somewhere.

  • 3 Pax RomanoNo Gravatar // Sep 10, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    WOW! an old friend and I were discussing this album a few weeks ago.  On Monday I downloaded the entire thing and have added it to my MP3 player.  I still recall my original copy of this (on 8 Track, no less).  It is a powerful piece of music.  And Richard Burton as the narrator is just the icing on the cake.

  • 4 littlemickeymamboNo Gravatar // Sep 10, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    my parents had this album amongst their Leonard Cohen LPs and I would look at the crazy inlay for hours on end (alot more interesting than Mr.Cohen smoking and looking handsome). One day I plucked up the courage to put it on and had the bejesus scared out of me!
    that night i had one of the worst and most terrifying nightmares I’ve ever had. The only one that tops it came last year after reading ‘fred + rose’ and ‘happy like murderers’, two books about the english serial killers Fred and Rose West. but at least now i’m an adult and can handle that stuff, whereas the war of the worlds nightmare happened when i was about 8!
    thanks for your post steampunk!

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