reDiscover Vangelis’ ‘China’

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We’re taking a look at an important album in the career development of Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, but don’t let all those syllables put you off. You might know him better as Oscar-winning Greek composer and artist Vangelis, and we’re going back to 1979 for the chance to reDiscover China.

Vangelis’ early work in local pop groups in Athens led him to become a founder member, with future superstar Demis Roussos, of the important progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child. But even as they amassed millions of sales, he was restlessly getting involved in many side projects, leading to his first solo album, on Reprise, in 1972.

Those enterprises were consciously less commercial, as Vangelis would explain to the NME in 1976. “There was a time when I was in the charts all the time but I was not so happy with the music. I don’t think like the ‘Top Of The Pops’ market.”

Stints with Vertigo, RCA and Windham Hill all followed before Vangelis began his association with Polydor by taking on an adventurous new project. ‘China’ was a concept album that combined traditional Chinese instruments, such as flutes and violins, with the banks of synthesisers, drum machines, electric pianos and so on that were also at his creative disposal.

The self-produced album sounds very much like a soundtrack in waiting, and is best remembered for the moving and evocative piece ‘The Long March.’ Later, part of the track ‘The Little Fete,’ featuring an eighth-century poem, was indeed used by director Ridley Scott, not for a movie but for the Chanel TV commercial he was hired to make. That set in motion a relationship that did end on the big screen, when Vangelis wrote and performed the score of Scott’s Hollywood blockbuster ‘Blade Runner.’

‘China’ was also ahead of its time in introducing western audiences to words and concepts of the phraseology of eastern culture that was largely unknown at the time, as with ‘The Tao Of Love,’ one of several delicate instrumental pieces on the album. Early the following year, in January 1980, Vangelis’ new collaboration with Jon Anderson would take him back into the singles chart that he had spurned years before, and onwards to ever greater achievements.

China is included in the 13CD box set Delectus, which collects many of the master’s great works along with a number of rarities. Purchase the collection here.

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  1. D.j.brennan

    October 3, 2014 at 3:58 am

    Have been a fan of vangelis since the mid 1970s when I first heard part of the heaven and hell album on the Alan freeman radio programme,think it was Saturday afternoons,just recently heard an album by vangelis/demis roussos,brilliant,check it out everyone.

  2. Titan

    October 3, 2014 at 10:40 am

    A genius! Too bad that there is no box set with everything remastered.

    • Rubin

      November 23, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      Remasters are generally done to commercially benefit the studio. The residuals to the artist are a pittance and unnecessary. Also, the tendency is for remasters to bring amplitude levels in line with modern recordings which are engineered terribly…. clipping at peak levels all the time, causing distortion. For a proper re-issue, the original master recordings shouldn’t be altered in any way.

      • Ian H

        January 7, 2015 at 8:59 pm

        Well Said Rubin.

        • Patrick Gleeson

          April 13, 2016 at 6:35 pm

          I agree 100% Rubin – well said

  3. clayton

    November 23, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    chung kuo was the song that sparked my desire for music made with electronic instruments.

  4. Sav

    November 23, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    There is a mistake in the article, Vangelis didn’t have a stint with Windham Hill prior beginning his association with Polydor, it was RCA…. Also notice Vangelis had a record on Polydor for his soundtrack L’Apocalypse Des Animaux, that’s before RCA years.

  5. Doug

    November 27, 2014 at 7:54 am

    My first exposure to Vangelis was when I was a DJ on my campus radio station….everyone knew I was a Yes fanatic, and a friend handed me a copy of HEAVEN & HELL and suggested I play the duet track between Vangelis & Jon Anderson. The rest of the album did not create a lasting impression with me (I need to hear it again), but shortly afterwards another friend bought a copy of SPIRAL. He turned me on to it one night when we had ingested some psychedelics, and that was when it all happened for me…..especially in hearing the track “Ballade.” Shortly afterwards, I got the CHINA album and Vangelis became one of my electronic music idols. It saddens me that he is not producing much in the way of new music today (to my knowledge), and like many of us, I wish he could make amends with Jon Anderson. The best of friends can have a bad falling out, but it needn’t be a permanent thing…I believe he & Jon could still create beautiful music together. At any rate, he will always be a very highly-regarded musician in my world, and I hope to hear new music from him in the future.

  6. Ray Girard

    January 7, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    One of my all-time favourite albums. I use it to test speaker systems when purchasing them for others. Every detail seems to have been thought out with care and expertise. The actual vibrations soothe me in many ways. I love The Little Fete and the openning piece especially.

  7. Jack Deckard

    January 8, 2015 at 2:49 am

    I used to travel 60 miles to a special record store just to buy this kind of new, unusual, hard to find music. Still buying this stuff 40 years later. Thank you Vangelis’s for opening my ears.

  8. Jussi Heinonen

    January 13, 2015 at 12:14 am

    My favourite track of the Album is “Dragon”. I have The China Album both original vinyl and CD-disc. I think The China album is one of the best album of Vangelis. It is like an echo of the past and an echo of my youth too.

  9. kommer

    September 10, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Heb alle Cd`s van Vangelis grandios.

  10. Jeff Nielson

    April 14, 2016 at 2:06 am

    Did you know that right after China was released, The Long March was used in the Ford Mercury Lynx Commercials featuring a Lynx cat jumping onto a big ball (I think). It was THOSE TV commercials, that made me aware of this album, and began my life long admiration of Vangelis and his amazing albums.

    This is also the first Vangelis album to have much improved sound quality. Never was a big fan of RCA vinyl records. Tomita was on RCA Red Seal, and ALL of those had excessive clicks and noises when brand new. Polydor was WAY better.

    This is about my all time favorite Vangelis album, by the way, and pretty much my all time favorite “new age” album.

  11. Brian Foster

    April 16, 2016 at 8:12 am

    I wish there was an instrumental version of The Little Fete. What a beautiful song, even as is, but I would love to hear it with no dialogue also.

  12. Jay Hoff

    October 5, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    FINALLY!! What a wonderful gift to us! I just downloaded the “Delectus” remastered release of this classic album and, after nearly 40 years this album has been given the remastering it has DESPERATELY needed – and it sounds FABULOUS! You may recall that “China” had always been marred by poor production, particularly during the last 2 tracks, resulting in a rather odd and annoying repetative ‘scratchy’ sound. This has now been completely resolved, and the entire album just sounds glorious! THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

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