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No science fiction music lover's collection would be complete without at least one album by Rick Wakeman. And with so many albums to choose from, (I found over 100 albums listed on his Web site -- which doesn't even count another sixty on which Rick has appeared), there is sure to be at least one that you might judge as essential listening.

Just to get you started, let's look at a few of his SF/fantasy theme albums from the last 30 years:

"Journey to the Centre of the Earth" -- originally released in 1974

Journey to the Centre of the Earth cover

This is perhaps the very first Rick Wakeman album I ever listened to, and I admit to fond memories. It seemed (to me, at least) very innovative and radical at the time. The album is a live concert recording, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on January 18, 1974, with the London Symphony Orchestra. As live recordings can, it suffers from a few vocal flaws. However, overall, this is a good introduction.

"The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table" -- originally released in 1975

The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table cover

If your preference is Arthurian legend, this may be the album to try. Of all the tracks, Merlin The Magician seems to be everyone's favorite. This album combines orchestral music with progressive rock (just as "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" did before).

"No Earthly Connection" -- Originally released in 1976

No Earthly Connection cover

This has all the ingredients of a true concept album. The main song, entitled "Music Reincarnate" is made up of five parts, and takes up 1-1/3 sides of the vinyl album. From the ancient times of Stonehenge, to images of Spaceman visitors we hear musical explorations of our human soul. The final track, "The Lost Cycle," tells a moving science fiction story against a musical background of compelling composition and inspired performances. This was his last album with The New Rock Ensemble, who were also on the earlier "King Arthur" and "Journey to the Centre of the Earth."

"1984" -- Originally released in 1981

1984 cover

With vocals by such artists as Chaka Khan, Jon Anderson, and Tim Rice this album is said to contain both classical and modern-opera styles (that is, modern-opera of the '80s). Given that Tim Rice wrote all the lyrics, this one is definitely on my "to buy" list.

"2000AD Into The Future" -- Originally released in 1991

2000AD Into the Future cover

A completely instrumental album, this seems to be from a "new age" time in Rick Wakeman's life. (This is the same year he released "Aspirant Sunrise," "Aspirant Sunset" and "Aspirant Sunshadows.")

"Return to the Centre of the Earth" -- Originally released in 1999

Return to the Centre of the Earth cover

Of all the Rick Wakeman albums I have listened to, this one is definitely my favourite. The narration is by Patrick Stewart, and vocalists include Justin Hayward, Bonnie Tyler, and Ozzy Osbourne. The setup on this album is very interesting: if you only wish to listen to the narration, you can program your CD player for the odd numbered tracks. (And if you only want to listen to the songs, you can program the CD player for the even numbered tracks.) My suggestion is to listen to the whole album. The music is evocative, and combined with the narrative and vocals, I was able to picture the entire journey in my mind. If you only buy one of his albums, this is the one I would recommend.

Rick Wakeman's total discography covers a wide range of subjects, including history ("The Six Wifes of Henry VIII") and religion ("The Gospels"). Aside from his solo career, he has also recorded with a vast number of musicians, including David Bowie, Pete Best, Elton John, The Kinks, Ralph McTell, and Cat Stevens. Perhaps best known as a member of the group Yes, he was also a member of the Strawbs. His first album with that group, recorded in 1970 live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, is entitled "Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios." One of the items pictured on the cover is a copy of Analog!


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Peggi Warner-Lalonde is Senior Music Editor for Strange Horizons.

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