After making a remarkable entry into the British group Yes, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, inspired by the wives of King Henry VIII of England, launched a first solo album with original material. This opus, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, will celebrate its 50th birthday on Monday.
Released on January 23, 1973, this album marks the start of a prolific solo career for the English musician with several opuses and sales exceeding 50 million albums.
Wakeman had launched, in 1971, Piano Improvisations, an album of covers, with tracks from Elton John, James Taylor and Leon Russell that went unnoticed. The musician, at the time, was part of the group The Strawbs. His name isn’t even on the cover.
The idea of The Six Wives of Henry VIII took shape following a purchase of a book at the airport in Richmond, Virginia. Rick Wakeman was passing through this city on September 27, 1972, on the occasion of the tour Close to the Edge of Yes.
“There were no iPods, CDs or portable cassette players to keep you busy. When you arrived at an airport, you bought a book,” he said in an interview published in October 2021 in the daily. Lockport Union-Sun & Journal from New York.
During the tour Close to the Edge, with Yes, the label A&M offered a five-album contract to Rick Wakeman. The musician had no idea, however, what he was to put on this first album with A&M.
The 23-year-old keyboardist found himself in a small shop where there were few books. Wakeman, who is interested in history, acquired The Private Life of Henry VIII by Nancy Brysson Morrison.
“I started reading it on the plane and a tune came to mind while reading about Anne Boleyn. I wrote the song in a small script, continued reading and another idea came up. I have found these brides to be very musical and inspiring. Everything fell into place quickly,” added the keyboardist.
The coins relate to the six wives of the King of England and Ireland, from 1509 until his death in 1547, also known as Bluebeard.
Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes and Chas Cronk, Dave Cousins and Dave Lambert of the Strawbs participated in the recording sessions.
The opus reached the 7e position in the British charts and the 30e on the Billboard 200 in the United States.
The musician believes he took advantage of a change in television programming in England to achieve this success.
The controversial movie BlueMovie by Andy Warhol was supposed to air on British channel ITV, but it was pulled at the last minute. At the same time, on BBC 2 TV, Rick Wakeman presented excerpts from his album on the show The Old Gray Whistle Test.
“It seems like most people didn’t want to see a cover […] and they changed stations. I couldn’t ask for better than that,” he mentioned in the book. Rick Wakeman: The Caped Crusaderpublished in 1979.
The total sales of the opus The Six Wives of Henry VIII reached 15 million copies.