There aren’t many artists whose debut album sells 3.75 million copies. Back in 1973, Mike Oldfield’s debut album Tubular Bells did. Reaching number one in the UK and number three in the US Billboard 200, Mike Oldfield not only launched his career, but the new record label he was signed to, Virgin Records. Mike’s symphonic style of music seemed to strike a chord with record buyers. Indeed, for his first three albums, Mike could do no wrong. Then as musical tastes changed, Mike Oldfield had to change direction musically. This started with 1982s Five Miles Out which was recently rereleased as a Deluxe Edition by Mercury Records. Did this change in direction save Mike Oldfield’s career?  

The follow up to Tubular Bells was Hergest Ridge. Released in August 1974, it reached number one in the UK and was certified silver. Ironically, Hergest Ridge was knocked off the number one spot by Tubular Bells. Over in the US, Hergest Ridge stalled at just number eighty-seven in the US Billboard 200. Hergest Bridge, like Tubular Bells, featured two lengthy movements. Each were sophisticated, multilayered and explored a series of themes. With this being the prog rock era, Mike Oldfield was quickly becoming one of the most popular British artists.

Having enjoyed two consecutive UK number one albums, Mike released his third album Ommadawn, in October 1975. It reached number four in the UK and was certified silver. Over the Atlantic, Ommadawn reached just number 146 in the US Billboard 200. Featuring a Celtic influence and a myriad of traditional instruments, Ommadawn marked a change in direction from Mike. One thing stayed the same, Ommadawn featured two lengthy movements. That would change with his next album…Incantations.

There was a gap of three years before Mike released the followup to Ommadawn. This was 1978s Incantations. By the time Incantations was released, music had changed and changed drastically. Punk arrived in 1976, threatening to shake up what they saw as the musical establishment. Mike was perceived as part of the establishment. Punks had prog rock in their sights. Another change was disco. It was at the height of its success. It was against this backdrop that Incantations was released.

Released in November 1978, Incantations was Mike’s first double-album. Rather than featuring two movements, Incantations featured four minimalistic, mystical movements. Gone was the almost grandiose sound of Mike’s first two albums. Gone was the folk-tinged sound of Ommadawn. For Mike, this was a process of reinvention, one that took three years. 

On its release, Incantations reached number fourteen in the UK. Despite this, Incantations was certified silver, which equates to sixty-thousand units. Mike it seemed, wasn’t winning over new fans. That was the the case over the Atlantic. Over in the US, Incantations failed to chart. Success continued to elude Mike in America. At least in Europe, Incantations enjoyed a degree of success. Maybe the change in direction from Mike had caused the dip in sales? Either that, or his music was no longer fashionable?

For Mike’s final album of the seventies, 1979s Platinum continued his reinvention. Not only does Platinum feature songs, but cover versions. This includes George and Ira Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm. Side One features a twenty-minute piece which comprised four parts. The highlights are the first two parts, which are instrumental prog rock. As for Side Two, it’s a compelling combination of Gershwin, disco and Mike’s response to punk. Released on November 1979, Platinum reached just number twenty-four in the UK. At least Platinum sold enough copies to be certified silver. Platinum failed to chart in America. A small crumb of comfort was Platinum was certified gold in Germany. As the seventies ended, Mike Oldfield reflected on what had been his least successful album, the ironically titled Platinum.

As the new decade dawned, a new Mike Oldfield seemed to have been born. His first album of the eighties, featured two cover versions. Abba’s Arrival and The Shadows’ Wonderful Land featured on QE2. Bach also influenced Mike, with an excerpt from the Orchestral Suite in B Minor featuring on Conflict. Another change for QE2, was Maggie Reilly, who was collaborating with Mike. Featuring nine tracks, QE2 was released in October 1982.

On the release of QE2, it reached just number twenty-seven in the UK. This was Mike’s lowest chart placing ever. Despite this, it was enough to see QE2 certified gold, having sold 100,000 copies. At least QE2 reached number 174 in the US Billboard 200. It was five years since Ommadawn charted in the US. This was nothing to go overboard about. Far from it. 

QE2 saw Mike Oldfield’s music at a crossroads. If he didn’t do something to address the problem, he risked becoming irrelevant. Gone were the days when prog rock was King, and two lengthy musical movements appealed to music buyers. That was long gone. Times had changed, not necessary for the better. Mike realized this and had gradually changed his music. Vocalists, cover versions and shorter songs had all been introduced. More changes were afoot for his seventh album Five Miles Out. One thing wouldn’t change, the twenty-minute track.

Nine years after releasing his debut album, Mike Oldfield decided his music had to change. His albums were no longer selling as many copies. Success in America seemed to elude Mike. If it hadn’t been for excerpts from Tubular Bells being played in The Exorcist, his debut album might never have reached the heights it did. After that, America proved a hard nut to crack. Even at home, in the UK, his albums last three albums hadn’t even reached the top ten. Each album slipped that further bit down the charts. There was a reason for this, music was changing.

Music was in a constant state of flux. Fashion changed quickly. During 1981, when Mike started recording Five Miles Out, boogie and synth pop were just two of the musical flavors of the month. For a new generation of record buyers, Mike Oldfield was the music of their parents. When they thought of Mike, they thought of grandiose, symphonic music, music that’s mystical and of course, prog rock. That was the problem. 

People’s perception of Mike was problematic. Although his music was much more eclectic than that, that was how people perceived him. Little did people realize his music had never stood still. He’d been determined to push musical boundaries. This is what he’d do with Five Miles Out.

Synths, sequencers and drum machines were starting to replace real musicians. Mike had been using synths since 1979s Platinum, where he’d used a Roland SH-2000 and Sequential Prophet. For his seventh album Five Miles Out, Mike used a Fairlight CMI.

The Fairlight CMI was a digital sampling synth, which Mike Oldfield would put to good use on Five Miles Out. This lead to a change in style. Gone was the symphonic style of earlier albums. Replacing it, were short, poppy songs. Full of slick, poppy hooks, Mike Oldfield was trying to make his music more accessible. That didn’t please everyone. For some people, Mike had sold out. He however, was being a realist. If he didn’t change, he’d risk becoming irrelevant.

For Five Miles Out, Mike wrote three of the five tracks. He penned Taurus II, Mount Teidi and Five Miles Out. With Maggie Reilly, Tim Cross, Rick Fenn, Mike Frye and Morris Penn they cowrote Family Man and Oribadoo. These five tracks were recorded in Buckinghamshire during 1981 and 1982, and marked a new chapter in Mike Oldfield’s career.

When it came to recording Five Miles Out, Mike who was never confident about his vocal prowess, decided to step out of the shadows. He shares the vocal with Maggie Reilly on Oribadoo and Five Miles Out. Mike played guitar, bass, synths and keyboards. The band included drummer Graham Broad, guitarist Rick Fenn, keyboardist Tim Cross and percussionists Mike Frye and Carl Palmer. Paddy Maloney adds the distinctive uillean pipes, while Morris Pert adds percussion and plays keyboards. He also arranged the strings which Martin Ford conducted. With Mike producing Five Miles Out, the album was ready for release in March 1982.

The lead single from Five Miles Out was the title-track, which reached number forty-three in the UK. This gave Mike his first single in six years. Released in March 1982 Five Miles Out was Mike most successful album since 1975s Ommadawn. It reached number seven in the UK, where it was certified gold. Five Miles Out was certified gold in Germany and even reached number 164 in the US Billboard 200. Then when Mike released Family Man, which featured the vocals of Maggie Reilly, it reached number forty-five in the UK. Later, the song would be covered by Hall and Oates, who made the song their own. Five Miles Out it seemed, was a return to form for Mike Oldfield. Was that the case?

Some things never change. Opening Five Miles Out is Taurus II. It’s a twenty-four minute opus. Best described as a musical adventure, Mike and his band embark upon a musical adventure. The jagged arrangement has a rocky, sometimes Celtic sound. It comes courtesy of the unmistakable and distinctive sound of the uillean pipes. Mike is a like a magician, weaving spells with his guitar. Accompanied by a pounding rhythm section, prog rock keyboards and the ethereal beauty of female harmonies. Urgent chord changes see a change of direction. We’re heading in the direction of prog rock. Banks of urgent keyboards are key to this. Sudden shifts in tempo, result in an almost medieval, then gothic sound. Later, Mike revisits themes from Taurus I, which featured on QE2. Snippets of quotes from Taurus I are quoted as this mesmeric, dramatic and genre-melting musical movement shows its many secrets, subtleties and nuances. Dramatic, urgent, ethereal and melodic, as Mike mixes the old and new, he shows whether it’s 1973, 1982 or 2013, he’s just as relevant.

For many people, Family Man is a song from Philly popsters Hall and Oates. It’s not. It was written by Mike, Maggie Reilly and members of his band. This is seen as Mike’s first rock song. Here, Maggie breathes life and meaning into the lyrics, as she plays the role of the sultry temptress to T. This she does against an arrangement that has a real eighties sound. That’s down to the electronic drums, synths and rocky guitars. She struts her way through the songs. Guitars chime and soar, drums crack and a myriad of beeps and squeaks provide the backdrop to Maggie’s sassy, feisty vocal.

Orabidoo has a beautiful, ethereal sound. Just percussion and a gently strummed guitar combine. They meander along as this eleven-minute epic unfolds. Then it’s all change. A vocal sung through a vocoder proves atmospheric. Enveloped by drums then the rest of the rhythm section, the vocal becomes part mantra, part chant. During the track, there’s quotes from Taurus I and Conflict, from QE2. By utilizing the electronic instruments, the track takes on an inventive and futuristic, sci-fi sound. The robotic vocal gives way to prog rock keyboards, which inject urgency and drama. Pounding drums, harmonies and rocky guitars join the banks of keyboards on this genre-crossing musical adventure. Then as you think Mike’s out of surprises, the song takes on a a celestial sound. Ethereal harmonies drift in and the drama builds and builds. Mike’s final surprise is ending a song within a song. Ireland’s Eye brings Orabidoo to a thoughtful, wistful and tender close.

Just four minutes long, and named after a mountain in Tenerife, Mount Teidi has an African sound. It’s the drums that lead to this comparison. Behind them are synths and short bursts of crystalline guitars. Languid, laid-back and melancholy describe this track, which shows yet another side to the multitalented Mike Oldfield.

Five Miles Out tells the story of Mike’s experience of an airplane crash. Listening to the song, the musical structure is extremely complex. Like the rest of Five Miles Out, there’s numerous changes in tempo and style. Similarly, there’s numerous vocal parts. They’re sung by Mike and Maggie. For many of the vocals, Mike uses a vocoder. As for the arrangement, it’s mostly rock-tinged and dramatic. Other times it’s briefly understated. Mike’s vocal is full of emotion. No wonder. This song must bring back memories. Hopefully, writing and performing it, proved cathartic.

Closing Five Miles Out is Waldberg (The Peak). It’s the shortest song on Five Miles Out, at less than three-minutes long. A combination of synths, percussion and the rhythm section are joined by ethereal harmonies. Together they play their part in a track where influences collide head-on. Medieval, Celtic and classical, especially Handel, spring to mind, as Mike and his band combine tradition and electronic instruments potently and successfully.

Just two before Mike Oldfield released Five Miles Out, he’d just released his least successful album QE2. It reached just number twenty-seven in the UK. Granted it was certified gold, but this was due to his loyal fans who bought every album Mike released. The problem was, his music wasn’t appealing to a new generation of music lovers. That’s why Mike Oldfield’s career was at a crossroads. If he didn’t do something to address the problem, he risked becoming irrelevant. So, Mike decided to change direction.

This was something he’d done and embraced his whole career. No two Mike Oldfield albums are the same. Each album is a but different. When Mike could’ve released Tubular Bells II, he released Hergest Ridge. Mike didn’t stand still. His career saw his music constantly evolving. On Five Miles Out, Mike fully embraced technology. Using the Fairlight CMI, was part of the reinvention of Mike Oldfield. Without throwing out what had resulted in Mike enjoying a successful career, Five Miles Out saw a series of subtle changes.

Side one of Five Miles Out was for his old fans. A twenty-four minute Magnus Opus, it’s Mike Oldfield at his very best. Then on Side two, three of the four songs are shorter, with a slick, poppy sound. Mike doesn’t spare the hooks. He even joins Maggie Reilly on vocal duties. Fusing everything from prog rock, pop, electronica, rock, Celtic and classical music, Mike returned with his most successful album since 1975.

Not since Ommadawn, in 1975, had Mike Oldfield enjoyed such a high chart placing. Reaching number seven in the UK, plus two hit singles saw Mike’s decision to reinvent himself vindicated. It would’ve been easy for him to keep churning out album after album of similar material. Mostly likely, his loyal fans would’ve bought the albums. That wasn’t enough for Mike. He wanted and needed to challenge himself. Mike also wanted to embrace the new technology. Throughout his career he’d been an innovator, always wanting to push musical boundaries. This is what Mike Oldfield did on Five Miles Out, which was recently rereleased as a Deluxe Edition by Mercury Records. 

Featuring three discs, Five Miles Out is what a Deluxe Edition should look like. Disc two features a recording of a concert in Cologne from the Five Miles Out tour. Then on Disc three, there’s Mike Oldfield’s 5.1 Surround Mix. This is a very welcome addition and brings new life and meaning to Five Miles Out, Mike Oldfield’s comeback album. The 5.1 Surround Mix showcases Mike Oldfield at his innovative an inventive best on Five Miles Out, which features the rebirth and reinvention of Mike Oldfield.



  1. The music still sounds fresh to this day.

    • Hi John,

      How are you? I’m enjoying your book. I’ll drop you a line later this week. Glad you liked my review of Five Miles Out. The Deluxe Edition is well worth buying, especially with the 5.1 Surround Mix on disc three. All Mike Oldfield’s music is being rereleased. November sees another rerelease of Tubular Bells. I’m looking forward to that. There’s lots of rereleases out just now. Just working my way through them. Someone’s got to do it, so it might as well be me.

      Best Wishes,

      • I’m fine, thanks. I work too hard occasionally, as I think you do. There’s an old saying that you keep politics and religion out of the band room but (and I’m not presupposing you’ll agree with me) I’m just about to publish a mini ebook entitled ‘The Tory Jackboot’, subtitled ‘Why I Don’t Vote Conservative’. I feel safe mentioning this because I know they have few friends up there.

        The sleeve design resembles a wartime propaganda poster. I did it in Photoshop and Illustrator.

        I’m looking forward to hearing your views on the music book, regards, John Morton.

  2. Lee

    Great summary.

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