Tubular Bells is the debut album by English musician Mike Oldfield, released on Virgin Records on 25 May 1973. Apart from occasional vocal contributions, the album is essentially an instrumental record, consisting of two musical compositions in excess of twenty minutes each, one on each side of the original vinyl release. It is notable for the fact that Oldfield, only 19 years old when it was recorded, played almost every instrument on the album himself. Tubular Bells was also the first release on the Virgin label and its success played an important part in the company’s subsequent growth. Although sales of the album during its first few months were slow, it gained global attention when its introduction was used briefly but memorably on the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film The Exorcist which was released in North America in December 1973 and in the UK three months later. The album became a worldwide success during 1974, reaching number one in the UK, Australia and Canada, and number three on the US Billboard 200. It ended the decade as the third best-selling album of the 1970s in the UK.
The original album has subsequently appeared in several different versions: it was orchestrated the following year by David Bedford for The Orchestral Tubular Bells, re-recorded as Tubular Bells 2003 for its 30th anniversary, and in 2009 a newly mixed and mastered re-issue of the original album appeared on Mercury Records, with bonus material. Tubular Bells was followed by three sequels during the 1990s: Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) and The Millennium Bell (1999).
Tubular Bells is estimated to have sold in excess of 15 million copies worldwide, with sales of more than 2.6 million in the UK alone. The album’s contribution to British musical history was recognised when Oldfield played extracts from Tubular Bells and its sequels live during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in London.