"Tubular Bells" was the first album released by a man called Mike Oldfield. It is a fifty minute piece of music divided up into two parts. The tubular bells referred to in the title appeared at the end of the first part. Most of the rest of the piece is made up of synthesizers, organs, pianos and about twenty different types of guitar. I particularly enjoy the finale to Part 1, where Viv Stanshall introduces all of the instruments used.
That was 1973. After about twenty years, Oldfield released Tubular Bells 2. This sold as many copies as the original, and then some. But the funny thing about it is: it's virtually the same tune, tweaked and modernised just enough to make it sound different. Tubular Bells 2 was also divided into two parts, each with seven tracks with titles such as Red Dawn, Maya Gold and The Great Plain. It includes the voice of Alan Rickman.
Tubular Bells 3 is completely different. Made just six years after Tubular Bells 2, Tubular Bells 3 is also split into two parts. To me, it seems to tell a story, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Tubular Bells 3 has the elements that 1 and 2 had, but mixed up. For example, a section is repeated later rather than earlier in the piece, and the tubular bells are struck at the end of the disc rather than the middle.
Tubular Bells 2003 was released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the release of the original Tubular Bells. It is the exact same piece, but modernized and including the voice of John Cleese instead of Viv Stanshall. Great stuff, but it really can't compare with the original in some respects.
The only other Tubular Bells to be released before 2005 is The Orchestral Tubular Bells. It was interesting to hear how certain sections were performed, like the bit with the caveman and the voice at the end of Part 1. It is a very quiet CD in comparison to the others. Good for orchestra lovers.
In 1999, Mike Oldfield released a similar CD to Tubular Bells called The Millennium Bell. It is in a single part and according to the jacket notes, it is a trip through the past 2000 years. Near the end a single tubular bell sound is heard, probably to signify the end of the first two millenia A.D. It is a great piece of music for New Years' parties.
Oldfield has released other CDs, my favourites being Five Miles Out and Tres Lunas. My suggestion is: listen to all the Oldfield CDs you get in chronological order - a full list found on allmusic.com - that way, you get a feel for how much times have changed.