Mike Oldfield has always been chiefly an album artist, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had several moments of glory on the singles chart. One of them was not just his first UK Top 5 single, but has become a part of the sound of Christmas in his home country. The jaunty instrumental “In Dulci Jubilo” entered the British bestsellers on December 20, 1975.
Oldfield had been part of the singles scene only once before, when “Mike Oldfield’s Single (Theme From ‘Tubular Bells’)”, as it was idiosyncratically titled, reached No.31 in 1974. This time, the multi-instrumentalist was going specifically for the Yuletide market with his distinctive version of a Christmas carol that had its origins in the 14th century.
“In Dulci Jubilo” (sometimes spelt “dulce”) translates as “in sweet rejoicing.” The song, usually with words (originally from a combination of German and Latin), was popular throughout Europe in various incarnations through the centuries. There were two separate 19th century translations of the lyrics into English, firstly by composer Robert Lucas de Pearsall and then by priest, scholar and hymn-writer John Mason Neale.
Officially a double A-side
Oldfield recorded his version specially for the Virgin Records single release, which came out officially as a double A-side. “On Horseback,” the closing track from his then just-released third album Ommadawn, was listed alongside it. The single debuted on the UK chart at No.42. The album, which held at No.16 that week, climbed back into the Top 10 at No.9 on the final chart of the year.
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Although it had a festive air, “In Dulci Jubilo” wasn’t a Christmas melody as such, so its appeal spread well into the new year of 1976, when it peaked at No.4 in mid-January, as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” came towards the end of its run at No.1.
The experience was such a success that Oldfield repeated it the following year with another instrumental single for the Christmas market, “Portsmouth.” That was an even bigger hit, reaching No.3 and winning a silver disc. Both hits were added to the Mercury Records reissue of Ommadawn in 2010.