Oldfield's most famous work is Tubular Bells, an instrumental composition recorded in 1972 and launched in May 25, 1973 as the inaugural album of Richard Branson's Virgin Records label. The album was groundbreaking, as Oldfield played more than twenty different instruments in the multi-layered recording, and its style progressed continuously, covering many diverse musical genres. The album quickly reached the top 10 in UK album sales and stayed on the chart for 247 weeks. In the US, it got attention chiefly by appearing on the soundtrack to The Exorcist. In autumn '74. the follow-up LP, Hergest Ridge, was No 1 in the UK for three weeks and was then dethroned by Tubular Bells.
Like Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge took the form of a two-movement instrumental piece, this time evoking scenes from Oldfield's Herefordshire country retreat. This was followed in 1975 with the pioneering world music piece Ommadawn, and 1978's Incantations which introduced more diverse choral performances from Sally Oldfield, Maddy Prior and the Queen's College Girls Choir.
Around the time of Incantations, Oldfield underwent a controversial self-assertiveness therapy course known as Exegesis; no doubt as a result of this, the formerly reclusive musician staged a major European tour to promote the album, chronicled in his live album Exposed, much of which was recorded at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham, the first ever concert at that venue..
The early 1980s saw Oldfield make a transition to "mainstream" popular music, beginning with the inclusion of shorter instrumental tracks and contemporary cover versions on Platinum and QE2 (the latter named after the ship). Soon afterwards he turned his attention to songwriting, with a string of collaborations featuring various lead vocalists alongside Oldfield's trademark searing guitar solos. The best known of these is Moonlight Shadow, his 1983 hit with Maggie Reilly which took John Lennon's death as one of its themes.
Oldfield later turned to film and video, writing the score for Roland Joffe's acclaimed film The Killing Fields and producing substantial video footage for his album Islands. This was however a time of much friction with his record label, with Virgin Records reportedly insisting that any future instrumental album should be billed as Tubular Bells 2. Oldfield's rebellious response was Amarok, an hour long work featuring rapidly changing themes (supposedly devised to make cutting a single from the album impossible), unpredictable bursts of noise, and a very cleverly-hidden Morse code insult directed at Richard Branson. Although regarded by many fans as his greatest work, it was not a commercial success. His parting shot from the Virgin label was Heaven's Open, which continued the veiled attacks on Branson but was notable for being the first time Oldfield had contributed all the lead vocals himself. Some say this was due to his anxiety to quit Virgin as soon as possible (he had previously stated that his voice did not belong on his recordings).
On the Warner label Oldfield continued to embrace new musical styles, with Tubular Bells 2 (a re-interpretation of Tubular Bells, the album that originally shot him to fame), which was premiered at a live concert at Edinburgh Castle, and The Songs Of Distant Earth (the latter based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel of the same name) exhibiting a softer "New Age" sound, and Tubular Bells 3 (also premiered at a concert, this time in Horse Guards Parade, London), drawing from the dance music scene at his new home on the island of Ibiza.
In 2003 he released Tubular Bells 2003, a re-recording of the original Tubular Bells, on CD and DVD-audio. This was done to fix many imperfections in the original that existed due to limitations of the recording technologies of the time and limitations in time that he could spend in the recording studio. This celebrated the 30th anniversary of Tubular Bells, and the fact that Oldfield had recently celebrated his 50th birthday.
Most recently he has added to his repertoire the ongoing Music VR project, combining his music with a virtual reality-based computer game.