Though something of a historical footnote to the American rock audience, Mike Oldfield is a veteran who continues to appeal to a large sector of listeners in his native Britain, more than 30 years after his debut solo album. Born in Reading, England, in 1953, Oldfield was something of a prodigy. His first LP, folk music recorded with his sister Sally (with whom he would continue to collaborate over the years), came in 1967 under the name Sallyangie. Oldfield followed that up by joining Kevin Ayers in the art-rock band Whole World, and they recorded Shooting at the Moon. Soon, Oldfield was at work on what was, quite literally, a solo project -- he played most of the 30 instruments on the album-length composition Tubular Bells. Budding entrepreneur Richard Branson bankrolled the sessions, but none of the established British labels was interested in the somewhat outre disc. Eventually, Branson founded his own company to issue the LP, and Virgin Records became the base of his empire after Tubular Bells spent months at No. 1 in the U.K. charts. The record also won a Grammy, and its main theme was used in the demonic-possession saga The Exorcist. Oldfield has celebrated the title with a 1975 orchestral version, as well as Tubular Bells II (1992), Tubular Bells III (1998) and Tubular Bells 2003.
Oldfield followed the original with Hergest Ridge, which also took top position on the U.K. bestseller lists. By 1980, he'd submerged his leanings toward progressive, proto-New Age sounds in favor of a more pop-oriented approach; Hall and Oates would even take his witty song "Family Man" into the U.S. singles charts. At the same time, Oldfield continued to display his instrumental composing talents on soundtracks to such films as The Killing Fields. Though doubtless considered more a purveyor of lifestyle music than a progressive artist at this point in his career, Oldfield has remained prolific and is looked upon as something of a forerunner of a wide variety of artists. Certainly his eclectic jaunts into various world musics led the way to the acceptance of someone like Enya. And Tubular Bells itself has long outlasted its reputation as "the music from The Exorcist."