13 Chapters
Medium 9780253010261

7 The Music of a Passion Play

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

Like thick as a brick, a passion play takes the listener on a spacious musical journey, although the journey is a bit gloomy because of the subject matter of the lyrics. Yet because of Anderson’s wry vocal delivery and the droll and inane “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” the gloominess is not overbearing. The music is rich, layered, and diverse, and a close look at some its features allows one to discover something new with every listen. I begin this chapter by analyzing A Passion Play’s overture, explaining how it encapsulates the work as a whole, introduces two of its primary musical motives (Motives 1 and 2), shows the influence of Baroque-era music, and resembles the Danse Macabre, the medieval dance of death. I then analyze the work’s form, thematic development, instrumental passages, and instrumentation. After this, I discuss the music of “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles,” and the chapter concludes with some observations on A Passion Play’s metrical and harmonic complexities.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253010261

1 Life is a Long Song: Providing a Context for Thick as a Brick and a Passion Play

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, british progressive rock bands such as King Crimson; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Yes; Genesis; and Jethro Tull were imbuing their music with a broadened harmonic palette, large-scale forms, polyphonic textures, avant-garde sensibilities, virtuoso technique, and the use of the latest advances in instrument and studio technology. All of these ingredients are in evidence on Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973). Each of these albums is one continuous song – composed of numerous vocal sections interspersed with instrumental passages – lasting over forty minutes. Their complex yet accessible music, perplexing lyrics, and unique LP packaging place them among the most creative albums in the history of rock music. Although they are quite innovative, one would not expect such oddities to achieve success with the mainstream popular music audience. Amazingly, they did. “Jethro Tull’s back-to-back Number One albums, 1972’s Thick as a Brick and 1973’s A Passion Play, are arguably the most uncommercial and uncompromising albums ever to top the Billboard album chart.”1 So writes Craig Rosen, author of The Billboard Book of Number One Albums. Thick as a Brick reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 Album Chart in June 1972, where it remained for two weeks, and reached number five on the UK Albums Chart.2 A Passion Play hit number one for one week on Billboard in August 1973. How can these “uncommercial and uncompromising” albums have been so popular?

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253010261

2 Galliards and Lute Songs: The Influence of Early Music in Jethro Tull

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

This chapter, which builds upon chapter 1 in providing a context for Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, first describes how an interest in medieval and Renaissance culture and music arose within the British folk and rock music of the late 1960s. It then considers how these influences began to show up early in Jethro Tull’s career and on the two albums. By the early 1970s these influences became a defining characteristic of the band and were reflected not only in their music but also in their lyrics, live shows, and album covers. Although Ian Anderson has the uncanny ability to summon up vestiges of the past, he has never claimed to be a scholar of the music, literature, or culture of the British Middle Ages. He has never expressed any intention of authentically recreating the music of earlier periods, and thus his allusions and borrowings, especially on the earlier Jethro Tull albums, have a vagueness about them. He is a fusionist at heart, with a foot in both the past and the present. His performance of “The Witch’s Promise” in 1970 on the British television show Top of the Pops demonstrates this.1 He could pass for a hippie, a medieval strolling minstrel, or a Victorian-era tramp.2

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253010261

5 The Music of Thick as a Brick: Other Features

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

This chapter continues the study of thick as a brick’s music, focusing on its stylistic diversity, instrumental passages, instrumentation, and harmony. As with many large-scale progressive rock songs, Thick as a Brick is a stylistically diverse and restless piece of music, with unrelenting shifts in musical style, meter, key area, tempo, texture, dynamics, instrumentation, and mood. The listener’s interest is maintained throughout the piece because there is always some new and unexpected turn in the music that continually propels it forward. Speaking of certain songs on the Aqualung album, Anderson said: “Even within the context of an individual song I still like the idea that you can have perhaps a loud riff to start the thing off, and then it goes into a gentle acoustic passage, and then it does some other big stuff and then it changes tempo and feel and goes off into something else, round the houses, a couple of guitar solos, whatever, and back to something else. I like that in music.”1 Yet the stylistic diversity on Thick as a Brick is not the type that is found on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! (1966) or the Beatles’ White Album (1968), where the songs overtly adopt or parody several different styles of music (dance hall, doo-wop, surf music, psychedelia, novelty songs, sound collage, etc.). Albums such as these are like musical quilts in which separate squares made from different fabrics are patched together with the seams showing. Thick as a Brick is an organic and blended album, as if it were a tapestry woven on a loom. It contains stylistic changes, yet they are smoothed over with a wealth of transitional material. Using the metaphor of a chef, Anderson says: “You have to find things that complement each other, you have to find the right flavors, the right colors, the right textures and you have to put those things together and blend them and coax them into something that is a satisfying and pleasing mixture. That’s what making eclectic music is all about.”2

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253010261

6 The Château d’Isaster Tapes and the Album Cover and Lyrics of a Passion Play

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

During a break in the tour for thick as a brick in the summer of 1972, Jethro Tull began work on the music that would later become A Passion Play. From the start, the band intended on writing another concept album. Anderson comments: “[Thick as a Brick] was a very successful album, and when it came to the next album I guess we all collectively fell into a trap of thinking, ‘Oh shit, maybe we should do this kind of thing again and instead of being silly about it, maybe we should take it seriously.’”1 Anderson worked on the new music in Montreux, Switzerland, and then moved with the band to the Château d’Hérouville, a castle-turned-recording-studio in the Oise valley northwest of Paris. Although Elton John loved the studio and named his 1972 album Honky Château after it, Anderson and the band detested it, referring to it as the “Château d’Isaster.” In contrast to the recording of Thick as a Brick, which was carried out quickly and without interruption, the new album was plagued with technical difficulties. Bad food and homesickness for England made things even worse for the band. As Anderson says of the Château d’Hérouville: “The equipment was extremely dodgy, everything was going wrong technically every day, and we were really struggling to make this album. We did eventually get three sides of a double album recorded with great difficulty, but then we finally became so disenchanted with it we just jumped on a plane and went back to England. We scrapped the whole thing and started again.”2 Before considering the album cover, lyrics, and music of A Passion Play, the lyrics and music from the period at the Château d’Hérouville must be explored. Not only do these recordings contain the origin of some of the ideas on A Passion Play, but they are also captivating in and of themselves.

See All Chapters

See All Chapters