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

4 The Music of Thick as a Brick: Form and Thematic Development

Tim Smolko Indiana University Press ePub

Before examining the form and thematic development of Thick as a Brick, it would be helpful to read a portion of the first review of the album, which warns the listener that the structure of the work may seem a bit odd: “One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable. Poor, or perhaps naïve taste is responsible for some of the ugly changes of time signature and banal instrumental passages linking the main sections but ability in this direction should come with maturity.”1 This review isn’t from Rolling Stone or Melody Maker, the leading music periodicals when the album was released. Beating the critics at their own game, Ian Anderson wrote this tongue-in-cheek review himself and included it on the album on page 7 of the St. Cleve Chronicle. Although Anderson (under the pseudonym Julian Stone-Mason B.A.) writes that Thick as a Brick shows “naïve taste,” this is a piece of music whose form shows a great deal of “maturity.” The form of Thick as a Brick is one of its most distinctive features, and a close examination lends insight into the originality of the piece.

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

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
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

See All Chapters