American composer and producer Jeff Wayne, 9th May 1973. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
American composer and producer Jeff Wayne, 9th May 1973. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images).

I remember being utterly enthralled on first hearing Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’. It was back in 1978 not long after the album had been released that our next door neighbour, who had a copy on compact cassette tape, let my mum know that I should really take a listen to it because it was ‘my kind of thing’ – I was 12 years old at the time and very much into science fiction. The experience of listening to the musical (in stereo!) over headphones was spell-binding. Richard Burton’s narration had me hooked from the start and the combination of his resonant voice with the beautifully orchestrated rock performances of Phil, Lynott, David Essex, Julie Covington and Justin Hayward made it magical and compulsive listening.

Wayne’s big score musical interpretation and arrangement of Wells’s visionary novel is more sophisticated and involved than a typical rock or pop song. There’s much happening in terms of dynamics and movement within the composition as sections and motifs recur and keys and time signatures shift and change. The beauty is that this all works and sounds natural and unforced, unlike some progressive rock music which more often than not sounds contrived – being clever just for the sake of it. What follows is a deconstruction of the musical arrangement to reveal it’s structure and hopefully shed some light on the compositional processes Wayne employed to bring Wells’s novel to life.


The Coming of the Martians

Side One

The first side of the album could be considered as being based on symphonic form where ‘The Eve of the War’ is the first ‘movement’ in the key of Dm. The piece immdediately sets the tone with a pace of urgency. Wayne uses heavy and bombastic of orchestration and synthesisers to carry the main melody whilst also capturing a mood of Victorian nostalgia through the use of harpsichord. The main riff (lead motif) is played against a pedal note and the dissonance between them creates a dramatic air of tension. Wayne’s approach here was to utilise traditional orchestration of string sections and wind instruments such as the oboe to represent humanity and play these instruments against the latest (often customised) synthesisers along with heavily fuzzed guitar riffs to represent the Martians and their mighty heat ray weapon. Other motifs of what’s to come can be heard in this piece including the ‘woo, woo, woos’ where pure sinewave tones just hang in the air. This is reminiscent of the melody for BBC television sci-fi drama ‘Doctor Who’ theme music where composer Delia Derbyshire utilised a test signal generator to achieve this effect.

The pace slows down but the tension moves up a notch in the second movement, ‘Horsell Common and the Heat Ray’ which is in the key of G#m. Bass guitar lays down an unrelenting and menacing groove whilst homemade sound effects – created by scraping two saucepans together and close micing them in stereo – set the scene of the Martian cylinder lid slowly unscrewing in the pit. The cylinder opens and the Martians make their appeareance. Wayne describes this piece as his, ‘fat man theme’, where he uses a combination of Tar (an ancient plucked instrument) and wobbly synth sounds to convincingly depict the huge, bulbous and clumsy bodies of the Martians. The ‘War of the Worlds’ was originally serialised in an adventure magazine before it was first published as a whole in a book. Each episode ended as a cliff-hanger and Wayne took his cue from this. Side one leaves the listener in suspense wanting to hear more…

Side Two

The structure of side two is symmetrical with the love song ‘Forever Autumn’ bookended between two battle scenes. The first battle scene, ‘The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine’ begins in G#m (following on from ‘Horsell Common and the Heat Ray’) and then key changes to Db at around 3 minutes into the piece. This creates a sense of tension and movement as the artilleryman and the narrator make their journey across the landscape of a battle-scarred London. The tempo also increases at this point alerting the listener that something is about to happen. And it does – a Martian fighting Machine appears. At this point, Wayne makes another key change to Dm and recapitulates the main theme. From here on the rest of side two is in Dm.

The next piece is the beautifully crafted song ‘Forever Autumn’ sung by Justin Hayward. This is the romantic element of the album. Here the pace slows down and becomes sadder and more nostalgic. It’s apparent that Wayne has put considerable thought and care into ensuring that this musical is well balanced and not running at full steam continuously. ‘Forever Autumn’ is a respite from all the intense battle action.

Side two closes with ‘Thunderchild’, again in Dm (it seems Wayne chose Dm to be the key to represent the human perspective of events), a song telling the tale of humanity’s last epic stand against the Martians. ‘Thunderchild’ is a climatic piece in the album, a full out rock song in 7/4 time signature to create a powerful rolling feel of being out in the open sea. ‘Thunderchild’ puts up a valiant stand against the Martian fighting machines before being oblitereated by the all-powerful Martian heat ray. Side two closes broodingly and ominously leaving the listener in anticipation of what dreadful events will come next…

The Earth Under the Martians

Side Three

Side three follows the same bookend format as side two, however this time it’s the uptempo rock duet ‘The Spirit on Man’ that is sandwiched between the avante-garde soundscape of ‘The Red Weed’

The main melody for ‘The Red Weed’ in the key of B, however this played over an arpeggio in G. The two keys only have one note in common creating disturbing dissonance. Wayne is utilising this approach to represent the fact that the red weed is both beautiful and deadly. This haunting and dreamlike, freeform jazz soundscape drifts along without any obvious rhythm or time signature.

‘The Spirit of Man’ is in the key of Bm. The song is a powerful duet with Phil Lynott (Parson Nathaniel) singing the verse sections and Julie Covington (Beth) singing the chorus. The piece has several different sections and dances around a great deal being more complicated than a typical rock or pop song. There’s also a key change in the verse section which adds even more energy and momentum to Parson Nathaniel’s hyterical ranting. There seems to be two distinctly different middle eight sections – one sung by Lynott and the other by Covington. There’s quite a lot going on and it’s an incredibly well structured and dynamic piece with lovely melodies on top of a pulsing rock groove.

Side three gradually winds down and drifts away into subdued nothingness with a reprise of ‘The Red Weed’.

Side Four

‘Brave New World’ is in the key of Eb. This piece, sung by David Essex dominates most of side four. Essex’s performance is outstanding as he alternates his singing seamlessly with the delusional rhetoric of the artilleryman. As with ‘The Spirit of Man’ the piece is composed of quite few different sections and the arrangement is extrordinary. For example, the military band section by Ken Freeman on synthesiser is beautifully and meticulously arranged – a huge amount of work has gone into crafting it.

‘Dead London’ is based on a repetitive jangle piano piece played by Wayne. It paints a vivid picture of a derelict London littered with debris, ruined buildings and the dying Martians – slain by the humblest of things – tiny bacteria.

Side four closes with two epilogue pieces. The first is an optimistic reprise of one of the upbeat military band sections from ‘Brave New World’ – a celebration of life returning to normal. The second is a more sinister piece added by Wayne where NASA lose contact with probes sent to Mars. This was not in Wells’ book, however at the time of the album release NASA had launched the two ‘Viking’ explorer probes to Mars in search of life on the red planet.

Detailed examination of the sections that make up each piece of the composition.

The Coming of the Martians

1. The Eve of the War (9.04)

Narration (0.36)
A1 (String intro – 1/2 section) (0.55)
A1 (synth – 1 main theme and heat ray motif/hook) (1.32)
A1 (Strings with harpsichord then fuzz guitar) (2.12)
B1 (Spacey electric guitar) (2.34)
C1 (Pipe synth – ‘Chances of anything coming from Mars’ theme) (2.52)
A1 (Strings with harpischord then fuzz guitar) (3.31)
B1 (Spacey electric guitar) (3.54)
C1 (Pipe synth) (4.11)
A1 (4.31)
D1 (woo, woo, woos) (4.40)
B1 (narration) (5.14)
C1 (Pipe synth) (5.34)
A1 (Strings and synth) (5.47)
A1 (narration) (6.10)
C1 (vocals – ‘The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one’) (6.30)
A1 (narration) (7.05)
C1 (vocals – ‘The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one’) (7.45)
A1 (8.09)
D1 (woo, woo, woos) (8.32)
D1 (narration) (9.04)

2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11.35)

A2 (bass riff and sound of cylinder lid unscrewing) (1.10)
A2 (narration) (1.22)
A2 (bass riff + tar/dulcimer + voice synth) (1.32)
A2 (narration) (1.56)
B2 (Tar) (2.13)
C2 (Tar and wobbly synth) (2.31)
B2 (Tar) (2.49)
C2 (Tar and wobbly synth) (3.06)
A2 (narration) (3.34)
A2 (Fuzz guitars) (4.46)
B2 (Tar) (5.04)
C2 (Tar) (5.24)
A2 (narration) (5.49)
A2 (Tar and truncated synth bubbles) (6.23)
A2 + D1 (woo, woo, woos)
A2 (narration) (7.35)
A2 (Fuzz guitars) (9.07)
B2 (Tar) (9.24)
C2 (Tar + electric guitars) (9.44)
A2 (voice synth)
A2 (narration) (10.42)
A2 (Fuzz guitars) (11.35)

3. The Artillery man and the Fighting Machine (10.36)

A2 (Bass guitar) (0.31)
A2 (narration and artilleryman talking) (1.38)
A3 (Acoustic and electric guitars then synth) (2.17)
B3 (Oboe synth and narration) (2.50)
Jet sound effect
A3 (Oboe synth – tempo increases and key change Db) (3.10)
B3 (narration) (3.30)
C3 (Horn synth (Martian motif) and oboe synth (humanity) reply) (4.10) narration
A1 (back to main theme strings and harpsichord and fuzzed guitars: key is now Dm) (4.48)
B3 (fragment narration) (4.59)
C3 (martian horn motif and oboe narration Ulla!) (5.28)
D3 (Thunderchild synth motif – based on A1?) (5.58)
C3 (Martian horn motif Ulla!) (6.05)
D3 (Thunderchild synth motif) (6.35)
C3 (Martian horn motif Ulla!) (6.43)
A1 (Fuzz guitar – Heat Ray theme) (7.08)
D3 (7.39)
C3 (7.45)
B3 (narration) (8.28)
D3 (8.57)
B3 (Oboe synth)
C3 (with heat ray mixed in) (10.36)

4. Forever Autumn (7.43)

Big Ben strikes – narration (0.23)
A4 (verse 1 – acoustic guitar) (1.00)
A4 (verse 2 – add strings) (1.32)
B4 (chorus) (1.51)
A4 (verse 3) (2.34)
A3 (narration) (3.08)
B4 (chorus) (3.26)
A4 (verse 4) (4.16)
A3 (narration) (4.43)
C3 (narration) (5.15)
A1 (main theme then narration) (5.53)
Steamer horn blows
A3 (narration) (6.41)
B4 (chorus) (6.59)
A4 (verse 1 again) (7.43)

5. Thunderchild (6.06)

C3 (0.18)
A1 (narration) (0.55)
A5 (verse 1) (1.25)
A5 (verse 2) (2.01)
C3 (narration) (2.14)
C3 (Fuzzed guitars – heat ray) (2.40)
D3 (Thunderchild synth) (3.11)
C3 (3.18)
A5 (verse 3) (4.14)
C3 (narration) (4.36)
A1 (1/2) (5.14)
D1 (woo, woo, woos) (6.06)

The Earth Under the Martians

6. The Red Weed (Part 1) (5.53)

D1 (woo, woo, woos then narration) (0.42)
A6 (Pipe synth and piano – red weed vista) (1.12)
B6 (Flute synth – red weed is slimey) (2.00)
A6 (Pipe synth) (2.28)
B6 (Squashy synth and theremin) (3.24)
C6 (Electric guitars – red weed flowering) (4.10)
A6 (Pipe synth) (4.49)
B6 (narration) (5.15)
A6 (Pipe synth, wah and fuzz guitars) (5.53)

7. The Spirit of Man (11.38)

A6 (narration then Beth calling, ‘Nathaniel! Nathaniel!’) (0.14)
A7 (Electric piano and horn synth – Parson Nathaniel’s theme) (0.40)
C7 (acoustic guitar – Beth theme) (0.48)
A7 (Beth talks as Nathaniel rants) (1.15)
C7 (Beth talks to narrator) (1.30)
C7 (Ulla! Beth – ‘Dear God help us.’ Nathaniel – ‘The voice of the devil is heard in our land!’ Whoosh!) (1.44)
A7 (verse 1 – Nathaniel sings) (2.13)
B7 (chorus – Beth sings) (2.40)
A7 (verse 2 – Nathaniel sings) (3.15)
B7 (chorus – Beth sings) (3.42)
D7 (Electric guitar) (3.48)
D7 (middle eight 1 – Nathaniel rants, ‘Didn’t I warn them?’) (4.29)
C7 (middle eight 2 – Beth, ‘No Nathaniel’) (5.43)
A7 (verse 3 – Nathaniel sings) (6.19)
B7 (chorus – Beth sings) (6.46)
A7 (Nathaniel, ‘Forget about goodness and mercy. They’re gone’) (6.52)
D7 (middle eight 1 – Guitars and Nathaniel ranting) (8.01)
C7 (middle right 2 – Beth, ‘No Nathaniel’) (8.55)
Sound of cylinder approaching (8.59)
A7 (Electric piano and horn synth and sound of shattering glass) (9.20)
A7 (Bass – narration) (9.48)
B7 (Electric guitars and Nathaniel ranting) (10.17)
B7 (chorus – Nathaniel takes Beth’s chorus) (10:34)
C7 (acoustic strumming + bass + strings) (10.50)
A7 (Bass guitar then narrator) (11.38)

The Red Weed (Part 2) (5.26)

A6 (chime and pipe synth then narration and parson ranting) (2.00)
A6 (Fuzzed guitars and strings) (2.42)
C6 (3.24)
B6 (Pipe synth then narration) (4.35)
A6 (Pipe synth then fuzzed guitars) (5.26)

The Artilleryman Returns (1.27)

D1 (woo, woo, woos) (0.20)
A2 (Bass guitar with harpsichord and wah guitar then narration) (1.27)

8. Brave New World (12.13)

D1 (woo, woo, woos) (0.06)
Synthesised wind sound – artilleryman and narrator talking (0.42)
B8 (chorus – horn synth artillery man talking) (1.51)
A8 (verse 1) (2.27)
B8 (chorus) (3.06)
E8 (Acoustic guitar strumming – artilleryman talking) (4.02)
E8 (military band) (4.17)
B8 (Electric guitar) (4.38)
A8 (verse 2) (4.48)
B8 (chorus) (5.08)
A8 (verse 3) (5.19)
B8 (chorus) (5.40)
C8 (middle eight – arpeggio guitar) (5.54)
D8 (build – vibe guitar) (6.08)
B8 (Electric guitar) (6.27)
E8 (synth) (6.46)
B8 (Electric guitar) (6.55)
C8 (middle eight – arpeggio guitar) (7.09)
D8 (build – vibe guitar) (7.22)
A8 (verse 4) (7.32)
B8 (chorus) (7.54)
E8 (Acoustic guitar and military band) (8.37)
A8 (verse 5) (8.56)
B8 (chorus) (9.35)
E8 (artillery man talking) (9.59)
E8 (narrator) (10.10)
E8 (artilleryman talking) (10.37)
E8 (narrator) (11.20)
B8 (chorus) (11.37)
A8 (verse 1) (12.13)

9. Dead London (8.37)

Synthesised wind sound (0.10)
D3 (Thunderchild synth riff played slowly and guitar harmonics) (1.16)
A9 (Jangle piano then narration) (1.45)
A9 (Electric guitar) (2.19)
A9 (Ulla! narration and electric guitar) (2.43)
A9 (Ulla! electric guitar and synth then narration) (3.37)
A9 (Ulla! electric guitar then narration) (4.55)
A9 (Ulla!) (5.07)
Silence then narration (5.29)
A1 (main theme strings/synth and narration) (6.22)
C1 (Pipe synth) (6.51)
A1 (Harpsichord then narration) (7.28)
B1 (narration) (7.51)
C1 (8.08)
A1 (8.35)

Epilogue (Part 1) (2.31)

E8 (synth then narration and clean electric guitar solo) (2.31)

Epilogue (Part 2) NASA (1.50)

(woo, woo, woos)

For more information I recommend watching the DVD ‘War of the Worlds Deconstructed’ featuring an interview with Jeff Wayne. This is one of the discs found in the special edition of the album. It’s also worth checking out There is also an excellent article by Simon Inglis describing how the album was remixed and remastered for Dolby 5.1 surround sound in 2005. Finally, the music score for ‘The War of the Worlds’ was published by ‘Wise Publications’ – ISBN 0.86001.572.6. It’s now out of print, however copies do turn up on Ebay once in awhile.