13 Chapters
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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?

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8 Monty Python, Reception, and Live Versions

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

This final chapter discusses three aspects of thick as a Brick and A Passion Play that are important but have not yet been considered. The first section shows how the two albums were influenced by British humor of the 1960s and 1970s, especially the television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–1974). The second section describes how the albums were received by fans, critics, and the musicians themselves, and the third explores the live versions of the two pieces, which Jethro Tull performed in their entirety during their 1972 and 1973 tours.

A new brand of satire became a cultural force in 1960s Britain with the BBC radio show The Goon Show (1951–1960), the West End and Broadway comedy revue Beyond the Fringe (1960–1964), and television shows such as That Was the Week That Was (1962–1963) and The Frost Report (1966–1967). This “satire boom” brought a surreal, absurdist edge to the music hall tradition that dominated British humor in the first half of the twentieth century. The comedy team Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) took elements of the “satire boom,” piled on even more surrealism and absurdity, and created Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969. Jethro Tull was directly influenced by the surreal and absurd elements in these shows. When asked by an interviewer, “What makes you laugh?” Anderson replied: “The absurd. I suppose what makes me laugh is something that seems on the surreal and absurd side and in that way I’m probably right in the mainstream of what makes most British people laugh. With the landmark eras of The Goons and The Pythons and the current brigade, like Eddie Izzard … it may seem like it is all improvisation but there’s a lot of structure and form underlying that illusion of randomness. But that’s the stuff that makes me laugh – the surreal and the absurd.”1

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Appendix 2. The Complete Lyrics to a Passion Play

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

The lyrics are shown with regularized scansion, timings, and approximate song forms.

“Passion Play”

Words and Music by Ian Anderson.

Copyright ©1973 Chrysalis Music Ltd.

Copyright Renewed.

All Rights for the U.S. and Canada Administered by Chrysalis Music.

All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

Reprinted by Permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.

SIDE 1

Instrumental passage 1 (0:00–3:28)

Vocal 1 Part 1 : strophic (3:28–4:36)

“Do you still see me even here?”

(The silver cord lies on the ground.)

“And so I’m dead,” the young man said –

Over the hill (not a wish away).

My friends (as one) all stand aligned,

Although their taxis came too late.

There was a rush along the Fulham Road.

There was a hush in the Passion Play.

Vocal 1 Part 2 : strophic/through-composed (4:36–5:52)

Such a sense of glowing in the aftermath

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Conclusions

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

In the liner notes from the 1988 compilation 20 years of Jethro Tull, David Rees and Martin Webb encapsulate the band’s career in a way that is difficult to improve upon:

If ever there was a band beset by paradox, Jethro Tull is it. In a medium where gimmicks are the norm, the group’s success has always come from the music itself – and yet, in the wild-eyed, one-legged flute player, Ian Anderson has created one of the strongest images in the rock world.

The content of the music is intelligent, analytical, even cerebral – and yet there is a constant thread of self-depreciating and often vulgar humor running through every album and stage presentation.

Over the years, Jethro Tull has become ever more eclectic, drawing on all kinds of musical sources, from jazz and blues to folk and classical – and yet, their music has an instantly recognizable identity.

They are often written off by a fickle music press as “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll” – yet each new album and tour produces a new generation of fans.

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Epilogue: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

On february 1, 2012, on the official jethro tull website, Ian Anderson announced something as unexpected as Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play hitting number one on the Billboard chart: he had written and recorded a sequel to Thick as a Brick. The new album recounts the further possible adventures of Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, the fictional boy genius and supposed author of the Thick as a Brick lyrics. Titled Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? it was released on April 2, 2012, forty years and three weeks after the original album. Of the concept, Anderson writes:

The theme of this anniversary ‘part two’ album is to examine the possible different paths that the precocious young schoolboy, Gerald Bostock, might have taken later in life. Not just for Gerald but to echo how our own lives develop, change direction and ultimately conclude through chance encounters and interventions, however tiny and insignificant they might seem at the time. The imagination-filled process of thinking how things might have turned out for the young and older Gerald kept me fascinated.1

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