On a rainy day in 1974 when I was just 14 years old, one of my crowd’s older friends came down to our hangout with two records that would come to shape my musical tastes forever. One was Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, and the second was Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We sat transfixed by these exhilarating albums and in particular Rick’s “Journey” sounded fantastic, mystical, as a perfect blend of rock and classical music. This album started my own long journey as a collector of progressive rock music, focused first on the many practitioners who were mixing classical and rock forms to build large and dramatic soundscapes. It helped that early on in my own musical education I was exposed to Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky, and so many of the classical masters. To me, Rick’s music fit right into that pantheon.
Journey to the Center of the Earth was, then, for me the perfect record with which to start my collection. It combined the best of so many things we had all been discovering – a conceptual framework such as The Who’s Tommy, use of real symphony orchestra, and lots of that (then) “new” futuristic Moog synthesizer sound. Add narration dramatically delivered by actor David Hemmings, he of the film Camelot (1967) and so many others, and we have one of the most beloved prog rock epics of the era.
In 1998 EMI Classics commissioned Rick to create Return to the Center of the Earth. At our house, this became my son’s first purchase-upon-release CD as by the young age of 6 he had already been introduced to Rick’s Journey and Arthur. He was also very familiar with the narrator, Patrick Stewart, due to his role as the captain on the series Star Trek Next Generation. This album became a favorite in our home, with the spectacular instrumental “Dance of a Thousand Lights” as musical highlight.
Many readers will already be familiar with the fact that the original Journey album was taken from a live performance, and that a studio recording had not been attempted until 2012 after original sheet music and notations from the 1973 performances once thought lost, were found. It’s this new recording that is included in Rick’s new limited edition boxed set for Journey and Return. This album has been available since last year, and is now the subject of a new box set.
The set is a very nice collection of these two albums, Journey to the Center of the Earth (Studio, 2012) and Return to the Center of the Earth (1998). It arrives with a numbered certificate, a print from Roger Dean signed by both Rick and Roger, a lengthy booklet with writings by Rick, liner notes, all lyrics including narration, and several new and old photographs to chart this history. While I would have added more photos, the booklet itself is a nice read, and includes many gems from Rick – a few of these being:
- Rick dreamed of creating something like this after attending a performance of Peter and the Wolf to witness “the wonders of putting a story to music”
- Rick played on the live orchestral version of the Who’s Tommy at the Rainbow Theater in 1972, and Lou Reisner who produced that show, signed on the do Journey
- David Bowie’s advice to “listen to my own musical thoughts and dreams” was influential while navigating the path to Journey, itself an uphill battle
- In 2009 a battered and water damaged conductor’s case was sent to Rick from Australia with a score from the original Journey performances.
- Only 2 live performances of Return were staged – both in Canada (so you can’t always blame Canada!)
The boxed set includes a CD each for the albums Journey (Studio, 2012) and Return, which sit in one album sized binder with the booklet. Then, each recording is treated to a two album pressing, each pair in their own binder, without extra accompaniment. I’m not as much a fan of albums which span multiple disks, but these sound fantastic in this vinyl format – something we’ve gone back to over the last several years for our favorite recordings.
All in all a very nice presentation and wonderful set piece to any fan’s collection of Rick’s many works. To be complete, be sure to retain a copy of your original Journey recording from 1974, along with a good DVD pressing of that concert captured live in Australia (1975) – This is also available as part of the Rick Wakeman live box set from Gonzo. It’s a miracle that we have it for posterity given the number of important key progressive rock tours that were not filmed.