4 The Music of Thick as a Brick: Form and Thematic Development
5 The Music of Thick as a Brick: Other Features
6 The Château d’Isaster Tapes and the Album Cover and Lyrics of A Passion Play
7 The Music of A Passion Play
8 Monty Python, Reception, and Live Versions
Epilogue: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?
Thick as a Brick
A Passion Play
Appendix 3. Analysis of the Instrumental Passages
Life Is a Long Song: Providing a Context for Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play
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.” 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. 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?
In the mid to late 1960s the Beatles and other bands fostered an atmosphere of artistic freedom within the music industry and created a new style of popular music in which active and concentrated listening was valued. A simple comparison between an early Beatles album (Meet the Beatles! from 1964) and a later Beatles album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from 1967) illustrates how quickly this spirit of inventiveness arose. The first album is a collection of singles primarily for dancing, while the second is an eclectic and experimental album made primarily for listening. The fact that both Beatles albums reached number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 Album Chart shows the drastic shift in artistic expression in popular and rock music from the mid to late 1960s. In this period the rock album was becoming quite an experimental art form, with bands and musicians like Pink Floyd, the Doors, the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa taking it into uncharted territory. It was in this period, and because of this artistic freedom, that progressive rock arose as a distinctive style of rock music.
Yet even in this time of creativity and innovation, it is still remarkable that a band like Jethro Tull could release albums like Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play and see them become number one hits. The ability to compose extended pieces of music that are both challenging to the listener and accessible to the general popular music audience is something that few bands have accomplished. Of all the progressive and experimental rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s – besides the Beatles – only the Jimi Hendrix Experience (Electric Ladyland, 1968), Jethro Tull (Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play), and Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon, 1973; Wish You Were Here, 1975; The Wall, 1980) had number one albums on the U.S. Billboard chart. Chart success was a little easier in England for these types of bands and musicians, with Jethro Tull (Stand Up, 1969), Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Tarkus. 1971), Pink Floyd (Atom Heart Mother, 1970; Wish You Were Here, 1975), Yes (Tales from Topographic Oceans, 1974; Going for the One, 1977), Rick Wakeman (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 1974), and Mike Oldfield (Hergest Ridge, 1974; Tubular Bells, 1974) having albums that reached number one on the UK Albums Chart. While such charts are not a critical assessment of music, they are a good indication of what is in vogue at a particular time. In the early 1970s it seems that the popular music audience was interested in listening to a forty-minute-plus rock song – perhaps if only for the novelty of it.
THE RISE OF PROGRESSIVE ROCK IN THE LATE 1960S
While the early days of progressive rock have been well documented by Edward Macan, Paul Stump, and Bill Martin, a brief overview would not go amiss. Progressive rock grew out of the psychedelic rock of the British counterculture of the mid to late 1960s. The Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Yardbirds, Cream, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who were based in London even though Hendrix was American) established psychedelic rock in the years 1965–1967. The psychedelic bands from the American West Coast, such as the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, were also an influence. While there was a commonality between the British and American aspirations of the counterculture, much of the music that came out of the American counterculture addressed divisive issues such as politics, racial tensions, and, especially, the war in Vietnam. The numerous antiwar protest songs from the period, like “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish (1967), bear this out. Although these issues were important to the British hippies, they didn’t have the immediacy they did to their American counterparts. As a result the British psychedelic bands developed a form of expression more rooted in escapism, a music in which “art for art’s sake” was celebrated. Thus, the first few albums by progressive groups like the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson had some, and often many, psychedelic elements, such as surreal lyrics and album covers; extended song structures and instrumental soloing; and the use of phasing, tape reversal, and other studio effects.
Progressive rock’s other essential elements, listed below, grew out of the experimentation of the psychedelic era, even if they were not directly influenced by psychedelic music. The music stretched beyond American rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and R & B and incorporated aspects of folk, jazz, classical, and Eastern music. The instrumentation expanded beyond the usual guitar, bass, and drums to encompass classical instruments (even a full orchestra), a vast array of keyboards, and ethnic instruments from other cultures. The music blended both acoustic and electric instruments, and often pitted them against one other. The lyrics tended toward the symbolic and surreal, rather than the literal and real, with utopianism, fantasy, science fiction, mysticism, and mythology becoming common themes. Album cover designs reflected this escapist aesthetic by depicting fantastical landscapes, such as Roger Dean’s album covers for Yes. The surrealism and escapism in the lyrics and albums covers were also brought to the concert stage. Extravagant lighting systems, lasers, and fog machines were used to create other-worldly settings for the music. Yet for all this escapism, as Edward Macan points out, there is a palpable strain of confrontational social critique in the lyrics that has often been overlooked. This social critique is evident in the lyrics of Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick, as will be discussed in chapter 3.
One element that was common in the music of the counterculture on both sides of the Atlantic was the influence of drugs, especially marijuana. Macan describes the close connections between the psychedelic drug experience and the elements of progressive rock music:
The consistent use of lengthy forms … underscores the hippies’ new, drug-induced conception of time. The intricate metrical and wayward harmonic schemes of the music … reflect the elements of surprise, contradiction, and uncertainty that the counterculture prized so highly. The juxtaposition within a piece or an album of predominantly acoustic with predominantly electric sections, one of the hallmarks of the progressive rock style, seems to encapsulate … the contrast of the pastoral and organic with the technological and artificial, the conflict between matriarchal and patriarchal values, between ancient and modern ways of life … that were of great significance to the counterculture.
Rather, drug use is one area in which Jethro Tull stood apart from their peers. Most of the members of the band, especially Ian Anderson, had a negative view of the drug culture and never took drugs. Yet, because of the band’s scraggly appearance, long mangy hair, and general freakiness, they were immediately pegged as potheads. Anderson’s manic stage presence – as can be seen on the DVDNothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (2004) – prompted the music press to assume he consumed huge quantities of drugs, something he continually felt compelled to deny. Anderson said in 1977, “I’ve never smoked marijuana or taken any of those drugs. The main reason I don’t do it is because everybody else does – it strikes me as boring.” Noting the obvious influence of LSD on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Anderson quips “most of mine have been Löwenbräu albums.” Psychedelic influences can be found in early Jethro Tull, but they are not overbearing. The most overt instances are the swirling effect on Martin Barre’s guitar in “A New Day Yesterday” from Stand Up (in which Anderson swung a microphone in a circle in front of Barre’s guitar amplifier) and the tape reversal in “With You There to Help Me” and “Play in Time” from Benefit (1970). The elements that Macan describes (lengthy forms, intricate metrical and wayward harmonic schemes, acoustic vs. electric passages) are vital aspects of Jethro Tull’s music, but they did not arise because of drug use.
A second area where the band stood apart from their countercultural peers was their view of free love, and they became notorious among rock groupies not for their sexual escapades, but for their lack thereof. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin referred to the band as “Jethro Dull.” Anderson said in 1969, “Sex … is something which I can probably only share with one person, [whom] I would want to marry. That’s probably rather an unusual viewpoint for somebody in this day and age, particularly in my profession … where drug-taking and sex and the whole bit … is almost expected of you.” In 1991 he said, “We would go back to a hotel after a show, no groupies, no hangers-on, and … pick up something from the deli, and we would read aloud to each other … from Agatha Christie novels.” Yet, ironically, one can find dozens of sexual innuendos (some downright vulgar) in Anderson’s lyrics, and among his favorite stage antics during concerts is to use his flute as a phallic symbol.
Jethro Tull achieved their first mainstream success in the summer and fall of 1969, and a closer look at this period reveals just how popular they became. The band was invited to play at the Woodstock festival in August of that year but declined because of conflicts with previously scheduled concerts. “Living in the Past” was a hit single and Stand Up reached number one on the UK Album Chart in August. In a reader poll in the September 20, 1969 issue of the leading British music magazine, Melody Maker, Jethro Tull was voted the second most popular group in the United Kingdom, an astounding accomplishment for them. The Beatles, who were just about to release Abbey Road on September 26, were unsurprisingly voted number one in the poll. The Rolling Stones were number three, having released Beggar’s Banquet back in December 1968, but they had not yet released Let It Bleed, which would eventually hit number one with the help of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” According to this poll, Jethro Tull was also more popular than the Who (who had released Tommy in May), Led Zeppelin (who released their first album in January but had not yet released Led Zeppelin II), Cream (who had already broken up but released two high-charting albums in 1969), and Pink Floyd (who were about to release their double album Ummagumma). Jethro Tull’s early success with singles and albums, visceral live shows that continually sold out, positive reviews in the British musical papers, and subsequent success in American and Europe allowed the band the liberty, resources, and clout to create such innovative works as Aqualung (1971), Thick as a Brick, and A Passion Play.
Returning to the rise of progressive rock, most writers on the style see it coming into its own and branching off from psychedelia in 1969. In the early 1970s the overt influences of psychedelia gradually faded from progressive rock – and rock music in general – as the counterculture itself splintered and slowly disintegrated. Yet progressive rock became ever more popular with the ascendancy of the album over the single, the impact of FM radio stations that played longer songs, affordable concert tickets, and other factors. By the mid 1970s, Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Yes; Genesis; Jethro Tull; Pink Floyd; and North American groups like Rush, Kansas, and Styx were selling millions of records and playing in large arenas. Kevin Holm-Hudson succinctly describes the rise and fall of progressive rock, and its reception, this way:
From 1969 to about 1977, progressive rock – a style of self-consciously complex rock often associated with prominent keyboards, complex metric shifts, fantastic (often mythological or metaphysical) lyrics, and an emphasis on flashy virtuosity – dominated FM radio and rock album charts. When punk became an ascendant force in popular culture in 1976–77, the excesses and high-cultural pretensions of progressive rock made it an easy target, hastening its demise.
Although progressive rock has never died, it did fall headlong out of the mainstream in the late 1970s with the rise of punk, disco, and new wave music. Beginning in the late 1980s, there has been a resurgence of interest in the style with the mainstream success of adventurous bands such as Marillion, Dream Theater, and Radiohead. Three of the major progressive rock bands, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Rush, have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1996, 2010, and 2013, respectively).
BAND MEMBERS AND THEIR BEGINNINGS
The British progressive rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s were prone to frequent lineup changes, with musical or personal differences being the common reason for a musician leaving a group. Jethro Tull is no different, with more than twenty-five musicians at one time or another being in the band. Guitarist Martin Barre, not one to sugarcoat a situation, bluntly remarks “the continuity is rubbish.” Yet each new musician brings a fresh perspective, an added dimension to the band’s craft, and the group has always had an easily identifiable sound despite the personnel changes. The musicians who recorded Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play are Ian Anderson on vocals, flute, and acoustic guitar; Jeffrey Hammond on bass; John Evans on keyboards; Barrie Barlow on drums and percussion; and Martin Barre on electric guitar. In addition, David Palmer (who underwent a sex-change operation and became Dee Palmer in 2003) arranged and conducted all the orchestral parts for the band’s early albums. This group of musicians – which lasted from mid 1971 to late 1975 – is widely considered to be among the finest versions of Jethro Tull. They created some of the band’s most popular and adventurous albums and reached a peak in popularity, especially in America. The recordings by this lineup are Life is a Long Song (a five-song British EP from 1971), Thick as a Brick, Living in the Past (a 1972 double album compilation that includes the five songs from the Life is a Long SongEP), A Passion Play, War Child (1974), and Minstrel in the Gallery (1975). An important reason why this particular group of musicians achieved such musical heights is because four of the five began playing together when they were teenagers as the Blades (later called the John Evan Band and the John Evan Smash) years before Jethro Tull released their first album, This Was, in 1968. Martin Barre was the only member not in these early bands. He joined Jethro Tull for their second album, Stand Up.
The Blades, the earliest incarnation of what would become Jethro Tull, was a rhythm-and-blues band that was formed in Blackpool, England, in 1962 by Ian Anderson (vocals, harmonica, guitar), Jeffrey Hammond (bass), and John Evans (drums). Anderson was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, on August 10, 1947, grew up in Edinburgh, and moved with his family to Blackpool, England, in 1959 when he was twelve. He obtained his first guitar, a Spanish acoustic, around this time. In late 1962 Ian approached Jeffrey Hammond (later “Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond”), born on July 30, 1947, in Blackpool, about forming a band. Hammond, Anderson’s schoolmate at Blackpool Grammar School, agreed and took up the bass guitar. John Evans (later “Evan”), another Blackpool native and school chum, joined the group on drums. Evans, born on March 28, 1948, began playing piano at the early age of four, since his mother was a piano teacher. The group played coffeehouses, youth clubs, and dance halls around Blackpool and were influenced by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and American R & B. In late 1963 and early 1964 Evans moved to keyboards, where he excelled under his mother’s tutelage, and the band recruited Barrie (later “Barriemore”) Barlow to play drums. Barlow was born in Birmingham on September 10, 1949, and at age fourteen moved to Blackpool, where he met the other members of the band. Thus, four of the five members of Jethro Tull who would eventually record Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play were playing together almost ten years earlier in 1964.
Blackpool, north of Liverpool and south of the Lake District on the west coast of England, has been a seaside resort since the middle of the eighteenth century. The advent of railways in the mid-nineteenth century gave factory workers the means to travel from the smoky industrial centers of Manchester and Birmingham to the waves at Blackpool’s beaches. Even today it remains England’s most popular vacation destination after London. In the early 1960s a wave of a different sort hit its shores along with the rest of England: American music. Although it was not on par with Liverpool, which received into its ports the early rock ‘n’ roll records from America and was host to hundreds of bands and dozens of venues, Blackpool had its own thriving music scene. Bands such as Johnny Breeze and the Atlantics and the Rockin’ Vickers were combining American rock ‘n’ roll, R & B, and soul with British skiffle to create an original style. Pete Shelton, a Blackpool music historian, sees this pursuit of originality as the key to the early success of these bands, one of which was the John Evan Band that eventually became Jethro Tull. Shelton writes: “The Beatles and the Stones had set the benchmark for progress … and were beginning to develop their own musical style simply by creating their own image, and writing their own material. To succeed in music, a band need[ed] to constantly move forward. That was the feeling in Blackpool among the new bands being formed.”
Ironically, by 1968 when Jethro Tull recorded their first album, the only member from the original Blades remaining in the band was Ian Anderson. Hammond left in 1966 to go to the Blackpool College of Art and later studied painting for three years at the Central School of Art in London. He was replaced on bass guitar by Glenn Cornick, who played on the first three Jethro Tull albums. After Cornick was asked to leave the group in 1971, Anderson convinced Hammond to take a break from art, pick up his bass again, and join the band. Hammond’s first album with Jethro Tull was Aqualung.
In late 1967 Evans and Barlow left the band together. They were both disenchanted with the blues direction that Anderson was taking with lead guitarist Mick Abrahams, and with the meager income they earned from playing gigs. Evans enrolled in the Chelsea College of Science (now King’s College) and continued to study piano. He was asked by Anderson in December 1969 to play organ on Jethro Tull’s single “Teacher” and piano and mellotron on “The Witch’s Promise.” In early 1970 he played organ and piano as a sideman on Jethro Tull’s third album, Benefit. He left school and joined them full-time in April 1970, staying with the band for ten years until 1980. Barlow joined Jethro Tull in May 1971, replacing Clive Bunker, who left the band after the Aqualung album to get married and settle in England. Barlow played drums in various bands after leaving the Blades and also worked as a lathe turner. He first recorded with Jethro Tull on the five-song EPLife is a Long Song and then joined the band on the road to complete the Aqualung tour. His first full-length album was Thick as a Brick, and he played drums in the band until 1980.
The fifth member is the superb electric guitarist Martin Barre, who was born in Birmingham on November 17, 1946. By age seventeen he was playing saxophone, flute, and guitar, and studying architecture and surveying at Hall Green College in Birmingham. He first came into contact with Jethro Tull in 1968 when his band Gethsemane opened for Tull at a concert. Barre was asked to join the band in 1969 after Mick Abrahams left and has been the longest-standing member besides Anderson.
On a final biographical note, this book is just as much about the individual Ian Anderson as it is about the band Jethro Tull. While I am loath to give short shrift to the other band members, who are all brilliant in their own respects, Anderson deserves most of the credit for the accomplishments of Jethro Tull. In the band’s forty-five-year career he has written practically all of the music and lyrics to their over three hundred songs, although various members have contributed ideas. He guided the designs for their almost fifty studio, live, and compilation albums; oversaw the stage designs for their more than three thousand concerts; and handled almost all of the band’s promotion, including hundreds of interviews and personal appearances. Dee Palmer, in her succinct manner, puts it this way: “Jethro Tull is Ian Anderson.”
INFLUENCES ON JETHRO TULL
While the Beatles were a major influence on Barre, Barlow, Evans, and Hammond, they were not so on Ian Anderson. Anderson’s early songwriting and performing were shaped mostly by American blues musicians such as T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker; the jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk; and the British folk musicians Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Above all, though, was Roy Harper. Anderson says that Harper is his “primary influence as an acoustic guitarist and songwriter.” Jethro Tull biographer Greg Russo reports that in the early days Anderson owned only one LP, Roy Harper’s first album, Sophisticated Beggar (1966), which he played on his mono record player plugged into a Vox guitar amplifier. Anderson says that Harper’s second album, Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith (1967), “spun endlessly on my Dansette turntable through the equally endless Summer of ’68.”
Since Anderson was greatly inspired by Harper’s songwriting craft and playing, it is easy to see certain similarities between the two musicians. First, their experiences living in the seaside city of Blackpool have been a subject in their songwriting. Harper’s Sophisticated Beggar, contains his “Blackpool” while Anderson’s “Up the ’Pool” is on Jethro Tull’s Life is a Long Song and Living in the Past. In fact, Harper recorded his version of “Up the ’Pool” for the Jethro Tull tribute album To Cry You a Song: A Collection of Tull Tales (1996), which convinced Anderson to begin playing his long-forgotten song in concert. Second, Harper’s fingerpicking style on acoustic guitar, especially his mastery of picking out melodies within strumming patterns, is a vital component of Anderson’s style. For example, Anderson’s “Nursie” (on Life is a Long Song and Living in the Past) sounds much like Harper’s “Girlie” from Sophisticated Beggar. A third similarity is both musicians’ use of string ensembles to augment intimate acoustic songs. Some examples, of which there are dozens to choose from, are Harper’s “All You Need Is” from Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith and Jethro Tull’s “Reasons for Waiting” from Stand Up. Fourth, both artists wrote many songs that inveigh against authority figures and organized religion, such as Harper’s “Circle” and “Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith” from Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith and Jethro Tull’s “Wind Up” and “My God” from Aqualung. Lastly, both songwriters employ large-scale musical structures that stretch the boundaries of conventional folk and popular music song forms. Harper’s longest song is the twenty-two-minute “The Lord’s Prayer” from Lifemask (1973), while Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play clock in at forty-three and forty-five minutes respectively. The 2012 sequel album Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? tops them both, being fifty-three minutes of continuous music. It is to this aspect of the band’s craft that I will turn next.
THE ART OF THE LONG SONG
One of the defining characteristics of progressive rock is the use of large-scale forms to create works of extended length. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a number of bands integrated rock music with large-scale forms – typically found in classical music – using a variety of means. The most popular was the concept album, which, as Roy Shuker defines it, is “unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative or lyrical.” The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is generally regarded by rock critics, scholars, and fans as being the first rock concept album, although John Lennon said, “It was not as ‘put together’ as it sounds.” The majority of concept albums from this period consist of separate songs that tell a story, such as the Who’s Tommy from 1969. Some bands integrated classical music with rock by either recording with a symphony orchestra (the Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Procol Harum), interpreting classical works within a rock context (Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition), or quoting familiar themes by great composers in their songs.
While creativity and experimentation in rock music can take many forms, composing a piece of original music of formidable length without falling into the traps of predictable and mindless repetition, extended soloing, and vacuous studio wizardry is impressive. Writing a large-scale work that keeps the listener’s interest requires a keen understanding of form, harmony, arranging, and instrumentation. Employing different styles of music, varying the mode of expression, and having a flair for dramatic storytelling are also important. John Covach points out two approaches to long rock songs that bands adopted in the late 1960s:
The first is the “medley,” in which a number of independent tunes are played one after the other with no break in the music and sometimes with a bit of transition to ease the way from one tune into the next. Perhaps the most famous rock medley of this type is the second side of [the Beatles’] Abbey Road, where tunes follow one after the other to fill up one whole side of the LP. A second way of creating pieces of extended length is to “stretch them from within,” so to speak: in such a case a song of conventional length is extended by creating a long jam session in the middle, and something like [Iron Butterfly’s] “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is a pretty good example of this. Here the song and its reprise act as bookends surrounding the extended soloing in the middle.
Thick as a Brick (TAAB) and A Passion Play (APP) have some similarities with the first approach, yet because they have numerous instrumental passages, they are much more than just medleys of tunes. TAAB has nineteen different instrumental passages that link the vocal sections, and APP has sixteen. Some of these passages are placed between sections of a particular tune. This is quite a bit more sophisticated than “a bit of transition,” which characterizes the medley approach. In fact, the instrumental passages in TAAB take up approximately twenty-three minutes of music, while the vocal sections take up approximately twenty-one minutes, which makes the album more “transition” than “tune.” Yet the relationship between the vocal and the instrumental sections is more complex than just thinking of the vocal sections as “tunes” and the instrumental passages as “transitions.” (This will be discussed in more depth in chapters 4 and 7 with regard to the thematic development in both albums.)
The two Jethro Tull albums bear little resemblance to the second approach. In fact, they are marked more by concision than by extension, being tightly composed collages of many musical ideas rather than a stretching of a few musical ideas. Even the passages of improvised solos are short, and no section, neither vocal nor instrumental, lasts longer than five minutes. Concerning the stretching of musical material, Edward Macan writes: “When listening to the long instrumental jams of even the most gifted psychedelic bands – the Hendrix Experience, Cream, the Nice – one is initially wowed by the musicians’ daunting virtuosity, but after two or three minutes a certain numbness sets in: one wishes for a greater variety of instrumentation and dynamics, a better balance between virtuoso solos and a more melodic approach, and ultimately a sense that the music was ‘going somewhere.’” Indeed, a long song that is composed and arranged well (i.e., that is “going somewhere”) is often more satisfying than a long song that is made long simply by instrumental soloing. Although Anderson did indulge in dreadfully long flute solos in concerts, there is none of that on Thick as a Brick or A Passion Play. Yes, the songs are quite long, but they take the listener on a spacious musical journey that is satisfying from beginning to end. As a result, these two albums transcend Covach’s categories because of their wealth of thematic development, their unique forms, and their stylistic diversity.
JETHRO TULL’S LONG SONGS
When one considers the progressive rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, it seems unlikely that Jethro Tull would be the first to release an album that consisted of one continuous song. Not counting live recordings, the longest song the band wrote and recorded before Thick as a Brick was “My God” from Aqualung, which is just over seven minutes long. Several bands broke the “eighteen-minute sound barrier” (a continuous, unified song lasting the whole side of a record or more) before Thick as a Brick, and many composed concept albums before 1972. Yet practically all of these side-long pieces fit into Covach’s two categories, being either songs strung together as a medley with linking material or conventional-length songs stretched by instrumental soloing.
Thick as a Brick was a huge leap forward for Jethro Tull, but there are signs on Aqualung that the band was capable of a work of this magnitude. “Aqualung” and “My God” are dramatic pieces of music that employ different styles and modes of expression. Yet there are even clearer signs in “By Kind Permission Of,” a piano solo recorded live at Carnegie Hall on November 4, 1970, and included on Living in the Past. In this piece, pianist John Evans strings together bits of the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 8 in C minor (“Pathetique”), Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner, and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C minor Op. 3 No. 2, and combines them with his own tuneful vamping, improvising, and duetting with Anderson on flute. Because of its large-scale structure and merging of a number of different styles, this piece may be seen as a precursor to a work like Thick as a Brick.
In interviews Ian Anderson has expressed mixed feeling about progressive rock bands and their penchant for writing extended-length songs. On the one hand, he does not think of Jethro Tull as exclusively a progressive rock band. The band and Anderson as a solo artist have delved into several different styles of music throughout their career: blues rock, hard rock, electric folk, acoustic folk, electronic, world music, and classical music. Progressive rock is simply one of those styles. He maintains that Thick as a Brick was not envisioned from the start as a continuous forty-three-minute song (although A Passion Play was). On the other hand, he has expressed some regret that album-length compositions were no longer feasible for the band after A Passion Play. In an interview with Greg Russo, Anderson said, “I enjoyed the experience of working in that way. I’m very sad that it’s been proved necessary to have to work in conventional song lengths again.”
The uniqueness of Jethro Tull’s progressive phase is accentuated when one compares Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play to their next studio album, War Child. The songwriting on War Child is strikingly different from TAAB and APP and is a bit of a letdown. The foursquare melodies, the repetitive strophic and verse-chorus forms, and the lack of instrumental passages and counterpoint give the album a predictability, a conventionality, a blandness that pales in comparison to the audacity of the two prior studio albums. If the songwriting on TAAB and APP erred on the side of bombast and complexity, the songwriting on War Childerred on the side of reticence and simplicity. One gets the feeling while listening that the band is much better than the music on that album. Anderson says of “Bungle in the Jungle,” the first single released from War Child:
It’s a rather odd song for Jethro Tull, I think. Every so often there are those songs that fall into the conventional pop-rock structure – songs like “Teacher,” for instance – but that style isn’t our forte. We’re not very good at it because I’m not that kind of a singer, and it doesn’t come easy to me to do that stuff. But “Bungle” is one of those songs that was nice to have done. It’s got the Jethro Tull ingredients, but it’s a little more straight-ahead. It’s Jethro Tull in tight leather trousers.
Yet this album of “straight-ahead” rock songs “in tight leather trousers” was a necessary step for Jethro Tull after negative critical reaction to A Passion Play. Another concept album consisting of one long song would have been too much cream in the coffee. But after War Child the band returned once again to longer, more involved song structures with Minstrel in the Gallery, the concept album/song cycle of aging rocker Roy Lomas on Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die! (1976), the compositionally dense folk trilogy of Songs from the Wood (1977), Heavy Horses (1978), and Stormwatch (1979), and the eclectic and underrated A (1980). Anderson continued to write long songs throughout the eighties and nineties, the best tracks being “Budapest” from Crest of a Knave (1987) and “At Last, Forever” from Roots to Branches (1995). In 2012 Anderson jumped headlong back into album-length concepts with Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock?
THICK AS A BRICK AND A PASSION PLAY COMPARED AND CONTRASTED
Now that the backdrop for progressive rock and Jethro Tull has been established, it is time to look a bit closer at the albums themselves. TAAB and APP have much in common. Both albums were composed and recorded within a year and a half of each other and, as a result, are cut from roughly the same musical cloth. They are a blend of rock, folk, and classical music with the five band members displaying expansive instrumentation and virtuoso technique. They both eschew the common forms of popular and rock music and consist of one continuous piece of music lasting over forty minutes with similar amounts of short vocal and instrumental sections. They are both unified by the periodic return of vocal melodies, lyrics, mode/key areas, and instrumental motives. They are intended to be concept albums and experienced as unified works, although portions have been extracted and released as three- or four-minute singles. Lastly, both works were accompanied by extravagant album packaging when they were first released, and both were played live in their entirety on the tours to promote them.
Yet there are many discernible differences that make them two distinct listening experiences. Regarding the overall musical impression of the two albums, Thick as a Brick sounds more organic and unified than A Passion Play because of its wealth of thematic development that binds it together from beginning to end. While APP contains thematic development, it doesn’t have the unity and continuity of its sibling. TAAB maintains a nearly constant intensity throughout, even in the slower sections, while APP comes at the listener in fits and starts, with abrupt shifts in tempo that periodically stymie its forward progress. For instance, the most identifiable section of APP (“There was a rush …”) appears several times, but its slow tempo and unvaried hymn-like setting continually deflate the momentum and energy of the music. The most identifiable section of TAAB (the opening acoustic guitar pattern) also returns a number of times throughout the piece, but it is continually varied in some fashion. This makes it sound fresh each time it is encountered and moves the music forward. “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles” is another factor that compromises the unity of APP, since it is so stylistically different from the rest of the album, even though it provides a welcome respite from the dark, lyrical subject matter. “The Story,” a spoken-word fable with orchestral accompaniment in the middle of APP, divides the piece into three sections – the first twenty-one minutes, the four-minute “Story,” and the last twenty minutes – and has little, if anything, to do with the rest of the music and lyrics. TAAB also has sections that venture into divergent musical territory, but they are short and transitory. Although continuity, unity, thematic development, and forward progress are not necessarily markers of good music, they are musical ingredients in which Jethro Tull excelled. If Frank Zappa (on many of his albums) and the Beatles (on side 2 of Abbey Road) were masters of using abrupt transitions and divergent musical styles to create sound collages, Jethro Tull were masters of using gradual transitions and thematic development to create unified works.
Ironically, although the music of Thick as a Brick holds together better than that of A Passion Play, the Thick as a Brick lyrics can confound the listener with their bewildering and incoherent assortment of characters, settings, and narrative viewpoints. Because of their perplexing and obtuse nature, the average listener is likely to give up trying to make sense of the lyrics by the end. The lyrics to A Passion Play, on the other hand, are easier to follow, since they concern a central protagonist, Ronnie Pilgrim, who goes on a journey through his afterlife. Yet the narrative of APP also has its wayward moments and veers off course completely with “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.”
Thick as a Brick is an album of paradoxes. The preposterous newspaper that comprises the album cover implies that it is a spoof of concept albums, yet it is a classic example of a concept album. Its music is complex and layered, yet it is tuneful and hummable. Its lyrics are fragmentary and puzzling, yet the music makes the barrage of disjointed images, characters, and ideas flow fluently. It is an experimental album not intended to please the general popular music audience, yet it hit number one on the Billboard chart. While Thick as a Brick was a milestone for the band, A Passion Play was something of a millstone. It is nearly as compelling a work as its predecessor in terms of music, lyrics, theme, and use of humor, but it suffered simply because the band had already recorded a monumental album-length composition, and a second attempt at this endeavor was bound to fall short. Anderson himself predicted this even before the band conceived A Passion Play. While on the Thick as a Brick tour in 1972, Anderson said, “I think every record and every year has to be different. If we ever turned out two successive records which were … in the same vein, the second wouldn’t be good, I mean to me.” Although many fans – including myself – believe A Passion Play to be one of the band’s greatest albums, it has always received negative reviews from the musical press, scarring its reputation. Ironically, Jethro Tull’s two most difficult and perplexing albums were the only ones to hit number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 Album Chart.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the two albums, and the essential element that makes them worthwhile, is their wealth of melody and the sheer tunefulness in the music. Without this, listening to a continuous forty-five-minute piece of music of any type would tax the ears of even the most dedicated music lover. Eric Tamm effectively described the progressive rock of the 1970s as “a music in which the head of classical sophistication was grafted Frankenstein-like onto the erotic body of rock.” There are numerous musical monstrosities in the rock music of the 1970s, but, thankfully, Jethro Tull never abandoned simple and beautiful melodies in their desire to stretch the boundaries of the rock album.
Galliards and Lute Songs: The Influence of Early Music in Jethro Tull
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. He could pass for a hippie, a medieval strolling minstrel, or a Victorian-era tramp.
Popular, rock, and folk musicians in the late 1960s expressed a desire to move society forward beyond the Vietnam War, beyond the conservative mind-set of their parents, beyond the din of industrial capitalism, and beyond the homogeny of the suburban sprawl. Many musicians found the answer in turning back to medieval and Renaissance music and culture, or at least an idealized version of it. Yet they found it difficult to completely abandon their electric guitars and amplifiers. Bill Martin expresses this Janus-like perspective when he writes that progressive rock bands were “performing works whose lyrics concern ecologism, pastoralism, and antitechnological romanticism … even while employing the most up-to-date electronic musical gear; to say nothing of megavolts of electricity.” Jethro Tull was but one of several British bands to go “living in the past” in the late 1960s. This trend can be seen in progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Renaissance, and the Strawbs; folk musicians and bands like John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Pentangle, the Incredible String Band, Dolly and Shirley Collins; and electric folk bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Even more mainstream rock bands like Led Zeppelin showed this influence with their mythical “The Battle of Evermore” (from Led Zeppelin IV, 1971), on which singer Robert Plant is accompanied by Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny.
How did this interest in preindustrial culture arise within British folk and rock music of the late 1960s? The first strand of influence was broadly cultural while the second was more specifically musical. Two major factors in the first strand were the burgeoning ecology movement and popularity of fantasy/historical literature and film. Regarding the first, the late 1960s counterculture saw in the preindustrial period a people who lived closer to the earth. Although the first Earth Day was officially celebrated on April 22, 1970, the ecology movement can be traced to the early 1960s with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), which warned of the dangers of chemical pesticides. In an increasingly urbanized and industrialized 1960s, the predominantly rural population of the medieval/Renaissance period was seen as a type of utopia. Hippies from both sides of the Atlantic were “Going Up the Country” (as in the 1968 Canned Heat song) in order to get themselves “back to the garden” (as in Joni Mitchell’s 1969 song “Woodstock”).
The second factor in the cultural medievalism in the late 1960s was the popularity of fantasy/historical literature and film. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), with its borrowings from the medieval epic poem Beowulf, became a great source of lyrical inspiration. There was even a rock concert venue in London’s Covent Garden in the late 1960s called Middle Earth, where psychedelic and progressive bands played (such as Pink Floyd, the Who, Fairport Convention, Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart, Soft Machine, and Tomorrow). T. H. White’s book The Once and Future King (1958), a retelling of the King Arthur legends, was also popular in the 1960s and was the inspiration for the musical Camelot on Broadway (1960), in the West End (1964), and as a blockbuster film (1967). Paul Hardwick comments on the connection between progressive rock bands and the King Arthur legends: “the image of the mounted Arthurian knight has become … an icon of the genre.” The film A Man for All Seasons (1966) portrayed Sir Thomas More in his stand against King Henry VIII’s wish to annul the marriage to his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon. The Lion in Winter, another play (1966) and blockbuster film (1968), dramatized the stormy relationship between King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, in twelfth-century England. Also in 1968, Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet filled the ears and eyes of filmgoers with courtly life in the Renaissance era.
What influence did the ecology movement and the popularity of fantasy/historical literature and film have on Jethro Tull? Although Anderson was at odds with the free love and drug use of the hippies, as discussed in chapter 1, he did have their passion for ecology. The band shares its name with the British agriculturist who perfected the horse-drawn seed drill in 1701. Dozens of their songs either celebrate the beauty of nature (“Velvet Green,” 1977; “A Winter Snowscape,” 2004) or inveigh against the detrimental effects of industrialization (“Wond’ring Again,” 1970; “Farm on the Freeway,” 1987). Regarding medieval-influenced literature and film, Anderson’s aesthetic sense was not enlivened so much by kings, queens, knights, or star-cross’d lovers, but by those at the other end of the social spectrum: the peasants, minstrels, and court jesters. It may be true to say that Anderson identified more with the medieval “counterculture,” the minstrels and jesters, than with his late 1960s contemporaries, an idea that will be explored further below.
THE BRITISH FOLK REVIVAL: “SPIN ME DOWN THE LONG AGES”
The second strand showing the influence of the Middle Ages in the late 1960s had a concerted focus on recreating the music of earlier periods. It would be helpful at this point to briefly trace the British folk revival, since it provided a foundation that bands like Jethro Tull built upon. The British folk revival came in two installments. The first gained its impetus from the work of Harvard professor and folklorist Francis James Child (1825–1896), who collected manuscripts of traditional English folk ballads and published them as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Most of these ballads are from the late fifteenth to the late seventeenth centuries, although some date to the thirteenth century. Child’s collection, published in ten volumes between 1882 and 1898, contains 305 ballads and has long been a primary tool for scholarly research on English history and folklore as well as a rich resource for folk musicians. Cecil Sharp built on Child’s work by transcribing and publishing collections of traditional British songs, instrumental music, and dances. He disseminated them within the British public school system, bringing the nation’s folk heritage to its youth. In the early twentieth century he established what is known today as the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), whose purpose is to preserve British folk manuscripts, music, instruments, and costumes. It was also during the early twentieth century that a new breed of English composers emerged (Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, and Gustav Holst) with a keen interest in preserving, arranging, and borrowing traditional British folk music.
While the first British folk revival focused on written manuscripts and was a scholarly enterprise, the second revival’s agenda was more of a populist movement and treated folk song primarily as an oral tradition. A pioneer in this second revival was Alan Lomax, who, with his cumbersome recording equipment, traveled all over the British Isles in the 1950s to record folk music in its natural habitat. The rise of folk clubs, mostly in London, and the establishment of a folk “scene” were crucial in creating a community where folk song could flourish. Record labels, radio shows, and television shows were also influential in propagating the music to this new audience. Lastly, the skiffle craze in the late 1950s played a huge role in putting inexpensive acoustic instruments, especially the guitar, into the hands of young musicians. Shirley Collins and John Renbourn both played in skiffle groups in the early 1960s before their encounters with medieval music. By the mid 1960s, folk music had reached a mainstream audience on both sides of the Atlantic with musicians like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Simon and Garfunkel reaching the top of the record charts with their albums and singles.
Three albums released in 1969 provide examples of how fruitful the confluence between medieval music and contemporary folk music was in this period. The first of these albums is Anthems in Eden, which features the folksinger Shirley Collins on vocals, her sister Dolly Collins on portative organ, and several members of the Early Music Consort of London playing medieval instruments such as viols, crumhorns, and rebecs. One of these members, David Munrow, a musician and early music historian, was influential in developing and preserving period instruments and performing on them with British folk musicians. The centerpiece of Anthems in Eden is a twenty-eight-minute medley of eight traditional British folk songs called “A Song-Story.” This medley has structural similarities to Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play, and the medieval lai, which is discussed at the end of the chapter.
The second landmark album from 1969 is Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief, which perfectly synthesizes medieval/Renaissance English ballads with folk and rock music. The band’s original numbers, such as “Come All Ye” and “Crazy Man Michael,” perfectly complement their renderings of Child ballads like “Tam Lin” and “Matty Groves.” This album added an electric edge to the blending of 1960s folk and medievalism and is widely regarded as being the seminal “electric folk” album.
The third is Jethro Tull’s second album, Stand Up, which reached number one on the UK Albums Chart. While the medieval and Renaissance influences on Stand Up are not nearly as overt as on the Collins and Fairport Convention albums, it was the first manifestation of this vital element in Jethro Tull’s style and helped to bring an appreciation of early music to a mainstream audience. While the band explored many musical avenues besides medievalism, their early albums can be described, in Rob Young’s words, as “music born out of the battle between progressive push and nostalgic pull.”
The remainder of this chapter will consider Jethro Tull’s interest in the Middle Ages on the albums from Stand Up onward, as seen in their lyrics, live shows, album covers, and instrumentation.
From his earliest lyrical attempts on Jethro Tull’s first few albums, Ian Anderson has been adept at writing in past literary styles and imbuing his lyrics with pastoral imagery found in preindustrial British literature and folklore. This type of lyric writing would come to full fruition on Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses, but many early songs, such as “The Witch’s Promise” (1970) and “Mother Goose” from Aqualung, use folkloric imagery that can be found in ballads, fables, nursery rhymes, and fairy tales. Many of Anderson’s lyrics adhere to strict rhyme schemes and poetic meters and have an affinity with traditional British narrative forms. Several phrases in the lyrics of Thick as a Brick incorporate or allude to past literary genres; for instance, the folk and ballad tropes “Let me tell you” and “Come all ye” in Vocal 12. In this regard, Jethro Tull was part of a larger group of electric folk bands – including Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span – who merged rock music with English folk music, folklore, and literature. Yet Jethro Tull differed from these groups in that they rarely performed versions of Child ballads or other traditional British folk songs. From Stand Up onward, Anderson clearly saw himself as an original songwriter and not an interpreter of others’ material. The few pieces of early music that the band did create their own versions of are “Bourrée” (from J. S. Bach’s Suite for Lute in E minor, BWV 996), “King Henry’s Madrigal” (written by King Henry VIII and better known as “Pastime with Good Company”), the sixteenth-century English folk song “John Barleycorn,” and some Christmas carols on The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003). In addition, Anderson was not deliberately trying to imitate any particular literary form or style. The form and content of the lyrics to Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play are unique and defy easy classification.
The late 1960s was a period in rock music when addressing contemporary issues like the Vietnam War was viewed as imperative. Anderson addressed contemporary social issues in his lyrics but did so obliquely, often adopting the tone of a medieval or Renaissance-era court jester. “Sossity; You’re a Woman” from Benefit, much of the Aqualung album, and “Wond’ring Again” from Living in the Past all contain social critique delivered in this fashion. The lyrics to Thick as a Brick can also be viewed in this way, an oblique critique of society from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy genius (as discussed further in chapter 3 on the lyrics).
Specific references in Jethro Tull’s lyrics to medieval/Renaissance life and culture begin to show up more often beginning with A Passion Play. The passion play itself was an early medieval invention. Maypole dancing – though not exclusively a medieval English tradition – is mentioned in the lyrics and was shown in the short film played during the tour for that album. “Back-Door Angels” and “Only Solitaire” from War Child contain references to fools and court jesters, and the lyrics to “Minstrel in the Gallery” (1975) are written from the perspective of a minstrel looking down on his audience. Most of the songs from Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses are about rural life in preindustrial England and Scotland.
Early in the band’s career, Anderson began to shape his iconic persona of the slightly mad minstrel flutist hopping up and down on one leg, as he was so often described. This can be seen on the DVDThe Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, recorded in December 1968 but not released until 2004. For Jethro Tull concerts in the early to mid 1970s, Anderson dressed in garb similar to that of a medieval or Renaissance-era strolling minstrel or jester, complete with tights and a codpiece. When speaking of his life as a touring musician, he often invokes minstrelsy: “It’s something to do with being a gippo [gypsy], a troubadour, a traveling musician, that peculiar romanticism about traveling around and hawking your wares, which is what we do to a bunch of different people in different places.” In fact, Anderson conflated the itinerate-musician role of the strolling minstrel and social-critic role of the court jester into one persona. Beatrice Otto points out that this overlap between the two has historical precedent: Watt, the lute player for King Henry VII (reigned 1485–1509), is also called a “fole” (fool) in the king’s account book. Otto writes: “There was common ground in the duties of minstrels and jesters – both provided entertainment at banquets and festivals. The medieval minstrel may also have shared the jester’s paradoxical privilege of being able to judge those he served, and many minstrels composed songs of derision about unpopular matters.”
Anderson differs from his peers in folk and rock music in the manner of his vocal delivery during concerts. He doesn’t project the earnest, everyman persona of musicians like Pete Seeger. His inclination toward sardonic humor and sarcasm is akin to the type of social critique a fool or court jester would revel in, and this is apparent on Thick as a Brick. Although Anderson is very serious about his musical performance on stage and expects perfection from his bandmates, he is also aware of his role as an entertainer. In between songs he engages in much stage banter, making ribald jokes about himself, his fellow musicians, or society in general, and offering snide remarks about the concert venue or technical difficulties with equipment. This playful banter creates a rapport with the audience and demonstrates how Anderson appropriates certain performance conventions of minstrels and jesters into Jethro Tull’s concerts. When the band performed Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play in concert, they added some surreal comedy bits, making each show unpredictable and somewhat improvised.
The electric folk bands and musicians in general show a close affinity with the medieval strolling minstrels. They learn their craft “on the road,” picking up techniques, influences, and ideas from other musicians they play with. They are more in the oral music tradition than the written music tradition (although many folk musicians can read musical notation). Lastly, they are primarily self-taught musicians who foster their love of early music outside of academia and music conservatories.
Jethro Tull’s interest in the Middle Ages did not find its way onto their album covers until after Thick as a Brick, although the inside gatefold of Aqualung consists of a painting of the group inside a Gothic cathedral. Living in the Past mimics the bulk and grandeur of an illuminated manuscript with its thick front and back panels. The cover to Minstrel in the Gallery is a painting depicting courtly entertainment in the main hall of a castle or banqueting house. The group of players in the minstrels’ gallery on the front cover is mirrored on the back with a photograph showing the band in the balcony of the radio station in Monte Carlo where they recorded the album. Later album covers, such as those for The Broadsword and the Beast (1982), Crest of a Knave, and The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, show the band’s continuing fascination with early British history.
Beginning with their second album, Stand Up, Anderson shifted Jethro Tull away from the electric blues influences that dominated their first album, This Was, and adopted elements from a number of sources, including medieval/Renaissance minstrel music and late-1960s acoustic folk music. In fact, it could be said that Anderson and the band embarked on this traditionalist tack just weeks after the release of This Was on October 18, 1968. Their British single “Love Story/Christmas Song” was recorded and released in November 1968. The B-side, “Christmas Song,” with Anderson playing the mandolin and tin whistle for the first time, has a distinctive medieval/Renaissance character that is far removed from the blues. By the years 1971–1972, when Aqualung and Thick as a Brick were released, this influence was an integral part of Jethro Tull’s music. Anderson said in a 1982 interview of the band’s movement away from the blues: “I quickly became dissatisfied with what we were doing. I found it hard to go onstage and convincingly be a polite shade of black. What really got me was that I was singing something that was essentially stolen. And it wasn’t just stealing music, it was stealing somebody’s emotions and point of view, almost pretending to have an awareness of what it means to be black.”
Anderson’s increasing use of the flute and acoustic guitar from Stand Up onward summons up resonances with the medieval strolling minstrels, troubadours, and trouvères who commonly accompanied themselves on the flute, recorder, and lute. The flute is one of the oldest and most widespread of all musical instruments. There is nothing particularly “medieval” or “English” about it, and the recorder was used more often by strolling minstrels. Yet with flute in hand, Anderson became quite clever at embodying the persona of a medieval English strolling minstrel. Anderson did not study early music firsthand, however. He picked up influences from Roy Harper, John Renbourn, and Bert Jansch, three British acoustic guitarists who blended folk music and early music.
In this period Anderson also changed the way he played and composed for the flute. He abandoned the electric-blues-guitar-derived flute lines he played on This Was for lines reminiscent of medieval and Renaissance music. For instance, in “My Sunday Feeling,” the first song on This Was, Anderson employs the blues progression and the call-and-response verse form, commonly used by blues musicians such as Muddy Waters and B. B. King, in which the singer sings a line and then “responds” to it with a riff on harmonica or guitar. The opening section (Vocal 1) of Thick as a Brick uses the same convention of call and response, yet the blues influence has all but vanished. The flute melody’s lilting dotted eighth notes, ascending contours, and bright F Mixolydian mode contrast with the dark, heavy, descending contours of “My Sunday Feeling.” Edward Macan sees this shift away from the blues as a major trend in late 1960s progressive rock: “While modality and the I-IV-V blues progression coexisted uneasily in British rock during the early days of psychedelia, by the late 1960s progressive rock musicians had largely abandoned the rigid framework of the blues progression in favor of modality’s greater flexibility.” Regarding his flute playing, Anderson often sang through the flute on Jethro Tull’s blues-influenced songs. This technique gave the instrument more of a thick, heavy, electric guitar timbre. However, on much of Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, he plays with a pure, clear tone.
Anderson’s movement away from electric blues is also evident in his use of the acoustic guitar (and other acoustic plucked instruments), creating associations with the troubadours’ and trouvères’ use of the lute in secular medieval song. On This Was Anderson sings, plays the flute and harmonica, and dabbles on the piano, but on Stand Up he adds four more instruments to his recorded repertoire: acoustic guitar, balalaika, bouzouki, and mandolin. Anderson writes:
When Mick [Abrahams] left the band in December of ’68 to be replaced by Martin Barre, it offered me the chance to broaden my flute playing by moving out of the blues form and towards the use of a more eclectic mix of influences, some half-formed from childhood memories, some, more recently adopted from Classical music, Asian music and the more adventurous peer group progressive pop and rock work of the time. Curiously, Mick’s departure also re-awakened the guitar player in me; not only acoustic and electric guitars but mandolin, bouzouki, balalaika and almost anything with strings (and frets) attached!
From Stand Up on, Anderson makes the acoustic guitar (and other acoustic plucked instruments) an essential element in the band’s music and begins to develop a characteristic style as identifiable as his singing and flute playing. In fact, on Thick as a Brick he plays five acoustic instruments (acoustic guitar, flute, soprano saxophone, violin, and trumpet), and they are the foil, or counterbalance, to the electric instruments. Although Anderson never recorded on the lute, guitarist Martin Barre plays it in Vocal 11 (“The poet and the wise man … ”) of Thick as a Brick. The use of medieval instruments by the band members becomes more pronounced during the tour for 1977’s Songs from the Wood: on the song “Velvet Green” Martin Barre plays the lute, keyboardist David Palmer plays portative organ, and drummer Barrie Barlow plays the nakers and tabor. Finally, Anderson’s playing technique on both flute and acoustic plucked instruments is replete with trills, turns, mordents, and other ornamentation found in lute and keyboard music from the medieval to the Baroque periods.
Two other examples from Aqualung are worthy of note as evidence of musical medievalism in early Jethro Tull. The first is the “chant” section in “My God.” In the middle of a song attacking the “bloody church of England,” Anderson obviously mimics plainchant and the serene character of medieval sacred music in general. Second, the recorders in “Mother Goose” – combined with the lyrical allusions to nursery rhymes – give the song its medieval/Renaissance feel.
THE MEDIEVAL LAI AND JETHRO TULL’S LONG SONGS
A second musical factor, besides instrumentation, that shows Jethro Tull moving away from the blues is their adoption of a wider variety of song forms. Although song forms are covered more fully in chapters 4 and 7, I focus now on one form that both Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play resemble: the medieval lai. Although its origins are obscure, most medieval scholars believe the lai began as an extended poetic form in the late twelfth century. The French poet Marie de France is the first poet of definitive authorship of the form. She wrote her lais in Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old French, and the subject matter was predominantly courtly love. Beginning in the early thirteenth century, the form was used by the trouvères and troubadours, who expanded and diversified it, added music, and made it variable in length depending on the number of stanzas. The lai would later be taken up by Guillaume de Machaut, who regularized the form into twelve stanzas. Machaut added a feature to his lais that the two Jethro Tull albums also have: the last stanza repeats material from the first stanza, rounding off the form and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. Unlike the motet or the mass, which were cultivated by composers throughout the Renaissance and Baroque eras and beyond, the lai was abandoned after Machaut. Consequently, it is an unadulterated example of large-scale medieval song form.
The structure of the lyrics and music of the two Jethro Tull albums shows many similarities to the forms of the lais written by the trouvères and troubadours of the thirteenth century, and to Machaut’s lais from the late fourteenth century. Concerning the former, Christopher Page writes: “For the troubadours and trouvères a lai was a specific lyric form, of most ambitious design, in which each subdivision of the text had its own metric form and musical setting.” Similarly, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play are “of most ambitious design,” and most of the vocal sections have their own metric form and musical setting. Concerning Machaut’s lais, Richard H. Hoppin writes: “It is obvious that the poetic structure of the lai must determine the larger aspects of its musical form. The different stanzaic forms require different music, and only the last stanza can, and does, repeat the melody of the first.” Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play match this description. Expanding on this, Isabelle Ragnard writes: “The absence of a refrain, a relatively unconstraining framework for the versification, requires that the poet ‘invent’ the form [of the music] as he goes along, just as he freely invents his poetic material.” This is true of Thick as a Brick in that Anderson wrote the lyrics first, shaping the music to fit the varying structures of the lyrical stanzas. This is not true of A Passion Play, since much of the music was composed before the lyrics (more on this in chapters 6 and 7).
But were Anderson and the band modeling their two albums on the form of the medieval lai? No. Were they even aware of the form? Perhaps. My purpose in pointing out the similarities between the forms of the lai and the two albums is not to show that Anderson knew of the form and tried to emulate it, but that his compositional thought process was comparable to that of a medieval composer writing a lai. In a 1977 article from Creem magazine, he said that he does not get his musical ideas from listening to or studying music, but from an emotional response to what he calls “folk memory.” When asked by rock journalist Eric “Air-Wreck” Genheimer, “Have you always liked traditional English folk music, or did you pick it up recently by listening to old recordings or something?” Anderson replied:
No, I don’t listen to anything. I hate that approach, personally speaking. The academic delving and the subtle sharpness of traditional English music is a relatively sterile intellectual exercise. I believe first and foremost in a folk memory. I’m of particularly mixed origin; my mother is English, my father is Scottish. So you have the peculiar sort of mixture of origins in me. But I do believe in a folk memory or something which is at once Anglo-Saxon and Celtic mixed together from way back a long, long time ago and I believe that we retain something of, certainly not the academic wherewithal to put that type of music together, but something of the emotional response to that music.
The clever use of early musical and cultural tropes in Jethro Tull’s oeuvre, which I’ve only provided the most obvious examples of in this chapter, made me skeptical about this comment. Since the interview occurred thirty-five years ago, I asked Anderson in 2012 about his knowledge of early music. Again he was modest and unassuming about his talents: “As far as medieval music, Renaissance music, Baroque music, I actually have no real knowledge of that music other than little snippets of things I have heard. I’m just someone who picks up little elements of things and tries to utilize them. I’m not a musician who’s studied the disciplines of music-making in the conventional sense. I don’t read or write music. My knowledge is extremely limited.” Referring to the more overt early music references in Jethro Tull’s albums Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch, Anderson said in a 1993 Rolling Stone interview: “Looking back on some of that stuff, it was a bit self-conscious in its acknowledgment of formal historical references from English, Irish, Scottish and European folds. As with the blues, it’s best when it just oozes out of you when you’re trying to write a song.” The medievalism in Jethro Tull seems to come from this “oozing,” this emotional response to folk memory, rather than any conscious effort to recreate it. While it is unlikely that Anderson was familiar with the medieval lai as a musical form and explicitly tried to model it when he was writing Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, it is possible that a modern songwriter grappling with a large-scale piece can follow similar thought patterns as the trouvères or Machaut and create a comparable structure.
POSTSCRIPT: “WE’LL WAIT IN STONE CIRCLES”
Jethro Tull’s interest in the Middle Ages, and ancient British history in general, was such an identifiable characteristic of the band that they became fodder for parody in mainstream rock culture. In the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, a fictional band of aging rockers are trying to find a gimmick for their live show that will help rejuvenate their floundering career. Guitarist Nigel Tufnel’s stroke-of-genius answer is “Stonehenge.” The band agrees to the idea but is subsequently laughed at by the audience because of the silly hooded robes, insipid lyrics, dancing dwarves, and an eighteen-inch stage prop of Stonehenge that was supposed to be eighteen feet. While this scene clearly parodies the genres of hard rock and heavy metal in general, and their dabblings in ancient history and culture, Jethro Tull may have been a more direct target. In the middle of “Stonehenge” Tufnel plays a jig on mandolin, and the keyboardist takes up the tune with a flute-like setting on his keyboard. Jethro Tull employs the jig often in their music, and Anderson is closely identified with the mandolin and the flute. More tellingly, the band released their video Slipstream in 1981, which contains a music video for the song “Dun Ringill” (from their 1979 album, Stormwatch). The video shows Anderson lip-synching to the song – about the Iron Age standing stones of Dun Ringill on the Isle of Skye – while sitting on a rocky promontory near the white cliffs of Dover (an iconic image, like Stonehenge, of “ancient” England). Although Black Sabbath had a song called “Stonehenge” on their 1983 Born Again album and created an actual Stonehenge stage prop for the live show, Jethro Tull’s song and video most likely were also sources of inspiration for the Spinal Tap parody.
Geared toward the Exceptional Rather than the Average: The Album Cover and Lyrics of Thick as a Brick
Just as the music of thick as a brick was inspired by the broadened possibilities and creative atmosphere of rock music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so was its album cover. The album cover became a wildly creative art form during this period, and browsing the stacks in the rock section of a used record store even today can be quite an adventure. One may find the psychedelic ambigram on the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty (1970), the working zipper of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers (1971), the rotating wheel of Led Zeppelin III (1970), or the stark, enigmatic whiteness of the Beatles’ White Album (1968). Some record covers were designed to be simulacra of physical objects and were “interactive,” almost like origami puzzles. Jefferson Airplane’s Long John Silver (1972) can be folded into a cigar box. Alice Cooper’s School’s Out (1972) folds out into a school desk. Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Catch a Fire (1973) resembles a Zippo lighter with a “lid” that flips open revealing the record. Isaac Hayes’s Black Moses (1971) folds out into the shape of a cross and shows the singer attired in robe and sandals. Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick not only looks like a newspaper, it actually is a newspaper, the St. Cleve Chronicle & Linwell Advertiser. Once you open the gatefold and unfold the bottom section, you realize you’re holding a full-size twelve-page newspaper filled with dozens of inane, preposterous stories and advertisements plus the lyrics (supposedly written by an eight-year-old boy genius), a mock review of the album, a crossword puzzle, and a naughty connect-the-dots puzzle. Although some of these album cover designs were nothing more than kitsch, they show how malleable and expressive the medium of the long-playing disc could be in terms of packaging.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ALBUM COVERS
It is difficult these days to appreciate the visual impact and selling power that an album cover had in the 1950s through the 1980s. Roger Dean, who created many album covers for Yes (among other bands), said, “I bought the Grateful Dead album Aoxomoxoa  a year before I could afford a record player simply for Rick Griffin’s cover.” The compact disc, with its small size and uncompromising plastic jewel case, is not much of an attention grabber – although designs for CD box sets can be just as diverse and creative as LPs were. A downloadable MP3 file can come with a wide array of online visual and textual material, but alas, this is a medium with no physicality.
Album covers did for musicians in previous decades what music videos and online websites do for artists now: attract attention to the artist and their music. Some record covers, like Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass (1965), attracted attention to themselves because of their sexual content. Some attracted attention because of their artistic merit, aesthetic beauty, or their shock value. Some albums, like Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band (1969), attracted attention simply because they were odd. Thick as a Brick fits into this last category; it is definitely odd.
Although album covers have been creative in terms of design, graphics, illustration, and photography since the inception of the long-playing record in the late 1940s, the musicians back then were given limited input. Many record labels had an identifiable style that was developed by art departments with graphic designers. Often these graphic designers fitted the liner notes, song lyrics, and photographs or drawings of the musicians into a standard template. This changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the musicians themselves began to consider the album packaging as a vital avenue of expression. Steve Jones and Martin Sorger write: “As the market for rock music grew, recording artists gained more leverage, and clauses for artistic control began appearing in contracts, including control over packaging. Spearheading the trend were the Beatles.”
In his article on the album covers of the Beatles, Ian Inglis points out four functions of the album cover. The first is to protect the record from damage, the second is to advertise the recording, the third is to provide accompanying materials to the recording, and the last is to be a work of art that can be appreciated in and of itself. Virtually all album covers accomplish the first three of Inglis’s functions, but fewer accomplish the fourth. The Beatles paved the way for rock musicians who saw the album cover both as a work of art and as an integral part of the album. The cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was especially influential in this regard. The rise of psychedelic art, innovations in graphic design and printing technology, and the creative freedom that record companies granted artists in this period all produced an expansive environment for album cover design. As Jones and Sorger say, “The cover and the record together acted as a kind of complete audio-visual experience.” Joni Mitchell is in a class by herself in turning the LP into a multivalent medium of self-expression. Beginning with her first album, Song to a Seagull (1968), she augmented her roles as principal songwriter, lyricist, and performer by painting the art for many of her album covers. Similarly, Thick as a Brick qualifies as an album cover that is a work of art unto itself.
Some of the more literarily inclined songwriters in the rock era went beyond composing lyrics and had their writing experiments spill over onto the album packaging. For example, Bob Dylan included extra poems/lyrics titled “Some other kinds of songs … Poems by Bob Dylan” on the back of his 1964 album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Jim Morrison included his poem “The Celebration of the Lizard” on the inside gatefold of the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun (1968). In addition to the lyrics (printed on the two record sleeves), Peter Gabriel included a prose story on the inside gatefold of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). In essence, the story of The Lamb is told twice, first in the lyrics and second in the prose story. Thick as a Brick is also a unique literary experiment, with the members of the band writing all the material for the twelve-page newspaper.
THE MAKING OF THE ST. CLEVE CHRONICLE
Concerning the time and effort the band put into the design of the album cover, Anderson said this in an interview from 1979: “All of that album cover … and I’ve said this before and it’s absolutely true, took longer to put together than the album. I’m not suggesting it’s any more important, but it took a long time to write all of that. I did, I suppose, more than half of it; Jeffrey [Hammond] did quite a lot and John Evans did a bit, and it was put together, put into columns and laid out, by Royston Eldridge at Chrysalis.” A closer look at the band’s activities in late 1971 and early 1972 shows the breakneck speed at which both the music and album cover were created. During a break in the American leg of the Aqualung tour in August 1971, Jethro Tull began work on the music at Morgan Studios in London. After finishing the tour on November 18, 1971, they continued the process of writing, arranging, and rehearsing at the Rolling Stones’ rehearsal studio in Bermondsey. They completed the recording and mixing again at Morgan Studios in December. In two interviews Anderson says it took approximately one month to make the record (two weeks to write, arrange, and rehearse the music and then ten days to two weeks to record). In another interview Anderson says the process took a little over six weeks. Regardless of which account is correct, the band had the music recorded by the end of December 1971. One month to a little over six weeks is an incredibly short period of time to produce a piece of music of such complexity. The band and Royston Eldridge then must have spent all of January and February writing and designing the newspaper, since the album was released in the United Kingdom on March 10, 1972. To complicate matters, the band started another tour on January 6, 1972, so it appears that they wrote the material for the newspaper while they were traveling throughout Scandinavia and Western Europe playing concerts almost every night. Regarding this, Jeffrey Hammond says: “I just remember doing a lot of recording into a Dictaphone … or a small tape recorder, and tapes got sent off to various secretaries to type up. But most of it was giggling, I think, and laughing at some of the more immature sections of it.”
Royston Eldridge was uniquely qualified to take on such an unusual project. Before being hired by Chrysalis Records, he worked as a rock journalist for the popular British music periodicals Melody Maker and Sounds and also for a small-town newspaper. As David Rees puts it, “He had the possibly unique experience of leaving a newspaper to work for a record company only to find one of his first tasks was to compile a newspaper!” Eldridge gives his story on designing the cover for Thick as a Brick in the Jethro Tull: Classic Artists documentary:
When the group had the idea to do it like a newspaper, I was the obvious mug to help them put it together. It was a pretty complex thing, actually. I’d hate to try to do it now. I don’t think you could do it nowadays. There were enormous problems with how you put it together to keep the record safe, who was going to print it. Some of the paper was too thin and tore too easily. We had problems with retailers making sure it fit into the racks. Everything in the paper, the whole twelve pages from births, deaths, marriages, sport reports (the weirdest sports you ever heard of), it was all written by the group. Every photograph features either friends of the group, members of the road crew, even a review of the album inside. [Manager] Terry Ellis, for instance, he’s featured in a photograph. [Producer] Robin Black is the roller-skating champion. Every small ad had some relevance.
From just a cursory glance at the newspaper, one recognizes that the packaging of the album is intended to be satirical. In fact, the album is a spoof of concept albums. While Jethro Tull were obviously inspired by the grand concepts and new frontiers that rock bands were exploring in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they also found it to be a great opportunity for parody. (This topic will be discussed later in this chapter on the lyrics and in chapter 8 on the group’s peculiar brand of humor.)
Jethro Tull was not the first, nor the last, to make the cover of an album look like a newspaper. The Dave Brubeck Quartet (Dave Brubeck at Storyville: 1954) and Elvis Presley (Elvis Sails!) were the first to use this trope in the 1950s. Artists like Pete Seeger (Gazette Vol. 2), Jefferson Airplane (Volunteers), and the Four Seasons (The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette) used it in the 1960s. John Lennon’s overtly political album Some Time in New York City, with the lyrics to the songs printed in vertical columns on the cover, was released in June 1972, just months after Thick as a Brick. Guns N’ Roses used the format for their G N’ R Lies album (1988). Yet none of these albums approach the expansiveness, depth, or the comic absurdity of the Thick as a Brick newspaper, the front page of which is shown in figure 3.1.
CONTENT OF THE NEWSPAPER
The St. Cleve Chronicle & Linwell Advertiser contains more than sixty articles; over thirty pictures, drawings, and illustrations; as well as puzzles, comic strips, classified ads, television and radio listings, advertisements, and a horoscope. The articles consist of local news stories, editorials, advice columns, and sports reports, most of which display the band’s absurd sense of humor. While many of the articles are inane and preposterous (“Mongrel Dog Soils Actor’s Foot” on page 1 and “Magistrate Fines Himself” on page 3), several have a serious tone. For instance, “Do Not See Me Rabbit” on page 9 tells the story of a World War II Royal Air Force pilot who was shot down over London by a German Me-109 fighter in the summer of 1940.
3.1. Cover of Thick as a Brick
Several of the articles address the controversy surrounding Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, the supposed author of the “epic poem” Thick as a Brick, and Jethro Tull’s musical interpretation of it. “Judges Disqualify ‘Little Milton’ in Last Minute Rumpus” on the front page reports that Bostock’s reading of his poem on BBC television caused protests from viewers who felt that the work “was a product of an ‘extremely unwholesome attitude towards life, his God and Country.’” Just below this, another article, titled “Little Milton in School-Girl Pregnancy Row,” states that a fourteen-year-old girl, Julia Fealey, accused the eight-year-old Bostock of impregnating her. On page 3 “Major Beat Group Records Gerald’s Poem” reports that “one-legged pop flautist Ian Anderson … was so enthused by [Thick as a Brick] he wrote forty-five minutes of pop music to go with it.” On page 5 the article “Chrysalis and Bostock Firm Foundation Deal” reports that a special royalty on all sales of Thick as a Brick will go toward a fund called the “Bostock Foundation” to assist young boys and girls in the literary arts. The article also says that Bostock has signed with Chrysalis Records to be the first participant in a series of spoken-word recordings. Page 7 contains the full text of the poem with the preface: “We print here, for all to read, Gerald Bostock’s controversial poem ‘Thick as a Brick’ which caused so much controversy.” All of these articles contribute to the “concept” of Thick as a Brick: Jethro Tull putting to music a controversial poem written by a marginalized and misunderstood boy genius. This is undoubtedly one of the strangest concepts for a concept album.
Most of the material in the newspaper is simply the reporting of everyday life in a supposed small town in the county of Somerset in the southwest of England. It is evident that the band had great fun writing and designing it. There is an obituary on page 2 with the names of the recently deceased being “Bury,” “Graves,” “Hurse,” and “Stiff.” Page 4 contains a hilariously bad poem, “Ode to a Nose,” submitted by a reader. A column about pets on page 5 is written by a “motoring correspondent” who describes animals in terms of vehicles. In the “Weekend Radio” listings on page 7, this curious entry appears: “Serious Music, Delirius D. Rivel, Myart, Randelsson, Sherbet, Gettitonmann, Rightonmann, Lisp and Ibetyoure Boredwith-Thisky,” obviously puns on composers’ last names. In the classified ads on page 9, we find this: “Brick urgently required. Must be thick and well kept.” There are ridiculous references to stuffed penguins, rabbits, and non-rabbits throughout the newspaper. This type of absurd humor was greatly influenced by Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
There are many subtle references to band members and people associated with Jethro Tull scattered throughout the newspaper. The mock review of the album on page 7 is credited to one Julian Stone-Mason B.A., whose first name contains “Ian,” and Anderson has admitted he wrote it himself. In the classified ads on page 10, there is an ad for Royston Estate Agency Ltd. with its address as 44 Eldridge Street, an obvious reference to Royston Eldridge. Eldridge’s name also appears in an ad on page 11 and in a picture caption on page 12. John Covach points out that in the article “Visiting Prof. Gives Talk” on page 5, the professor’s name, Andrew Jorgensen, contains “Anderson.” In the article “Man Threw Bottle” on page 2, we learn that the man who threw the bottle at Jorgensen while he was giving his talk was Albert Innes, which contains “Ian.” On page 11 there is coverage of the St. Clevians’ favorite local sport, “fennel.” A photograph shows a player, Max Quad (probably bassist Jeffrey Hammond), being restrained by an umpire (Ian Anderson) after attacking another player, the Rev. John Smythe-Liphook (probably guitarist Martin Barre), who is lying limp on the field. This type of absurdist sports humor reminds one of the “Upper Class Twit of the Year,” “Silly Olympics,” and “The Philosophers’ Football Match” sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Though there appears to be little thematic connection between the music and lyrics of Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, other than that they both contain one conceptual, album-length composition, there are obvious associations between the two album covers. The cover for A Passion Play is a gatefold with the lyrics printed on the inside. Glued to the inside spine is a playbill for a performance of A Passion Play at “The Linwell Theatre” on Parrish Street by the Linwell Players. The Thick as a Brick newspaper is called the St. Cleve Chronicle & Linwell Advertiser. It appears that Linwell is a neighboring village to St. Cleve in the band’s fictional world. Parrish Street is also mentioned many times in the St. Cleve Chronicle. Two of the members of the Linwell Players in A Passion Play are Max Quad (Jeffrey Hammond) and John Tetrad (Barrie Barlow). In the coverage of the fennel game on pages 11 and 12 of the St. Cleve Chronicle, two of the players are named Max Quad and John Tetrad (again Jeffrey Hammond and Barrie Barlow). It seems that these gentlemen lead busy lives, playing fennel by day and doing a bit of acting in the evenings. It’s obvious that the band intended no deep connection between the two album covers and were just having some fun.
THE LP DILEMMA
Extremely long progressive rock songs from the 1970s such as Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play presuppose a certain style of listening that is not in vogue today: listening at home, on a hi-fi stereo system, without any distractions, to the entire long-playing (LP) record, with the album cover in hand. Few of these qualifiers play a central role in the listening habits of the average rock fan today. As a result, the experience of listening to albums like these today is quite different from what it was when they were released. Jim Curtis writes: “The aural complexity of the Beatles’ White Album, and the imagistic density of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde ma[ke] for frustrating listening in a car. Stoplights, street signs, and exit ramps distract one’s attention from the intense involvement which the music demand[s].” Modern-day music fans prefer the portability and accessibility of CD and MP3 players and eschew the large stereo systems that graced most homes in the 1970s. The long-playing record, then the primary format for commercial sound recordings, is one of the least portable media in the history of recorded sound. This was a major reason for the LP’s demise. Today, listening to music is just one element in a mobile, faster-paced, multitasking world. Most people listen to music while they are walking, exercising, dancing, driving, riding mass transportation, and working. Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, with their lengthy and continuous music, were designed to be consumed in their entirety with the full attention of the listener. As Lester Bangs wrote of Thick as a Brick, “You had to take the whole pie at once or not at all.” Today’s listeners may find this hard to swallow, since they are used to downloading short individual songs rather than entire albums. Album packaging also played a huge role in defining listening habits in the 1970s. The extravagance and creativity of record covers with their expansive gatefold designs encouraged the listener to closely study the lyrics and visual elements, as if one were reading a book. John Covach writes: “The St. Cleve Chronicle is densely packed with references that bear upon the lyrics to Thick as a Brick. … [T]he album packaging is almost as important in figuring out the themes addressed in the lyrics as the lyrics themselves; and this creates a crucial interdependence between the music, lyrics, and packaging that was unprecedented in its day.” Yet, remarkably, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play have aged well despite being created for a listening audience that is vastly different from audiences today.
Thick as a Brick is one of those albums for which one must have both the original LP and the CD (either the 1997 remaster or the 2012 remix) to fully appreciate. The listener needs the original LP, since the newspaper provides the satirical foundation for the concept and is one of the most innovative and entertaining record covers ever conceived in the rock era. Also, the cover cannot be faithfully reproduced in the CD or MP3 format. On the other hand, the listener needs the remastered or remixed CD or MP3 for the vast improvement in clarity and sound quality, which reveals additional timbres and layers in the music. If one has difficulty procuring the original LP through online record retailers, in a library, or in a used record store, there are page-by-page scans of the newspaper available for viewing online. In 2012 Anderson released remixed CD and LP editions of Thick as a Brick with the complete newspaper, essentially solving the dilemma. (See the epilogue for more information on these releases.)
THE LYRICS OF THICK AS A BRICK
Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play bring us face-to-face with that nebulous concept known as the concept album. Marianne Tatom Letts devotes much of the first chapter of her book Radiohead and the Resistant Concept Album to the subject and shows just how many different approaches bands took to this musical idiom. Several of Jethro Tull’s albums could be considered concept albums, in that the lyrics involve a specific topic or theme. Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die! is probably the best example in that it is a song cycle that tells the story of an aging rocker who finds, many years after his heyday, that he is popular again. Many Jethro Tull albums have songs with a specific theme in their lyrics but also include songs that have little or nothing to do with that theme. Some that fall into this category are Aqualung (organized religion), Songs from the Wood (English folklore), Stormwatch (the forces of nature over man), and A (cold war paranoia). Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play are concept albums that fall into a slightly different category in that their music is unified, being one continuous song, yet their lyrics are oblique and difficult to grasp, which clouds the “concept.” In 1976, when asked by an interviewer, “How did the conception for Thick as a Brick start?” Anderson replied:
It wasn’t a conception really, just the act of writing a song thinking about what I might have been, what I began life as being, what kind of childhood images moved me – dealt with in a very oblique fashion, because I’m not setting out to create a threadbare tale of emotional woe or to even delineate emotional happenings. I’m just creating a background lyrical summation of a lot of things I feel about being a contemporary child in this age and the problems that one has – the problems of being precocious beyond one’s age or having interests beyond one’s age, and to some extent being ruled in a kind of heavy-handed, unexplained fashion by father-figures.
Anderson muses on several specific themes in the lyrics, yet he never intended them to be easily digestible or unified, describing them as “very oblique.” He speaks of the lyrics being about “childhood images,” and this is reflected in the fragmentary and episodic nature of the many sections of the lyrics. This steers listeners away from thinking he has created a linear story line with a plot, or a “tale of emotional woe.” Above all, Anderson obliges the listener not to take the lyrics too seriously. In interviews he often brings up the humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as a way of describing the satirical and absurd aspects of not only the album’s lyrics but also its music, packaging, and stage show. In an interview on the remastered CD of Thick as a Brick from 1997, Anderson says:
[Thick as a Brick] came about primarily because the thing we had done a year before, which was the Aqualung album, had generally been perceived as a concept album, whereas to me it was just a bunch of songs, as I’ve always said. So the first thing about Thick as a Brick was, let’s come up with something which is the mother of all concept albums, and really is a mind-boggler in terms of what was then relatively complex music, and also lyrically was complex, confusing, and above all a bit of a spoof. It was quite deliberately, but in a nice way, tongue-in-cheek, and meant to send up ourselves, the music critics and the audience perhaps, but not necessarily in that order! This was the period of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and a very British kind of a humor, which was not terribly well understood by the Japanese or the Americans when we finally went out to perform Thick as a Brick in concert. But they sat politely, if a little confused, through the whole thing and came back next time for more, so it can’t have gone too far amiss.
SALIENT THEMES IN THE LYRICS
Anderson treads a fine line between seriousness and spoof in Thick as a Brick. The lyrics delve into serious matters, yet they are presented as if they were an “epic poem” written by an eight-year-old schoolboy, Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, and Jethro Tull has set the poem to music. Concerning the creation of Gerald Bostock, Anderson says: “He’s the little figure that I’m sort of saying is me as a little lad, who was supposed to have everything going for him, a really quite precocious little lad, very bright, very clever, read books, and knew a lot of things at an early age, but was well into opting out of that and making his own way … a sort of exaggerated version of me as a similarly-aged child.” On the concept of the album, Anderson says: “Thick as a Brick was tongue in cheek, what with the album’s pretense that the lyrics had been written by a 12-year-old school boy named Gerald Bostock. At the same time, the album expressed some serious sentiments about English society, as well as some rather serious music writing. But it was also meant to be a bit of fun.” Some Jethro Tull fans have done a thorough line-by-line analysis of the lyrics. While these analyses give insight into what certain sections or phrases are about, these all-encompassing interpretations tend to be overly serious, contrived, and tedious, and do not take into account the fact that Anderson never intended them to be taken too seriously. (I provide no overall interpretation and limit my comments to a few themes in the lyrics based on Anderson’s own thoughts about them. The complete lyrics to the piece can be found in appendix 1.
3.2. Comic on p. 7 of the St. Cleve Chronicle
In the above quote, Anderson mentions that the lyrics express some “serious sentiments about English society.” One of the important issues in the lyrics is how modern educational institutions breed an attitude of conformity among children and consequently marginalize gifted children. A key phrase concerning this is “we will be geared toward the average rather than the exceptional.” This is spoken by bassist Jeffrey Hammond during Instr. 11 (3:06 side 2). The phrase also appears in a three-panel comic strip titled “Prof. Panglos and Rabbit” underneath the lyrics on page 7 of the St. Cleve Chronicle, shown in figure 3.2.
The first two panels of the strip show the professor feeding a cat and a rabbit their dinner – from a laboratory test tube. The cat, who has been properly conditioned by Prof. Panglos, readily eats his “din dins,” but the rabbit, an exceptionally free-thinking rabbit, is suspicious of what the professor is trying to feed him. The last panel shows the rabbit by himself saying, “I’m geared toward the average rather than the exceptional.” “Pangloss” is the name of the tutor in Voltaire’s satirical novel Candide, first published in 1759. Throughout the novel, Pangloss, who is a devotee of philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and his views on optimism, tries to convince the young Candide that everything is fine and that he lives in the “best possible of worlds.” For instance, Pangloss unfeelingly believes that “individual misfortunes are for the general good: the more individual misfortunes there are, the more everything is as it ought to be.” Candide has trouble fitting the tragedies he sees in his own life and in others’ into Pangloss’s simplistic rubric and ultimately begins to think for himself. Perhaps Pangloss is used in the comic strip to represent the “wise men” who “don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick” referred to in the lyrics (in lines 7–8 from Vocal 1).
The apprehension that the rabbit feels about being “geared toward the average rather than the exceptional” is also satirically addressed in the article “New School Plans” on page 8 of the newspaper, shown in figure 3.3. The article reports on a new educational system that would give its students, according to chairman Sir Robert Sidcastle, “a sense of academic equality and a group identity which would relieve the crushing burden of individual aspiration and frustration during school life.” Sir Sidcastle further states that the academic standard would be “geared toward the average rather than the exceptional.” Anderson elaborates on this:
The phrase “thick as a brick” is a North English colloquial term meaning “stupid.” Like the religious themes on Aqualung, the theme of Thick as a Brick came out of my adolescent feelings about society and how it tries to bend you away from your will and toward its will, as if you’re not bright enough to make your own choices. I wasn’t a precocious child, but I knew how it felt to be one of the more academically gifted people; I knew what it felt like to be ostracized, despised and feared by the rank and file, who weren’t terribly bright. Nobody likes the clever kids. So the album came to represent the gulf between growing up clever and the social discrepancy that results from that: the fact that you were really disliked by some of the kids.
Anderson expresses a similar sentiment in “Too Many Too,” an outtake from The Broadsword and the Beast sessions: “Too many equal and average children who will all grow up the same.” Roger Waters of Pink Floyd also addresses this topic in “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” from the 1979 album The Wall, and conveys it powerfully in the 1982 movie with schoolchildren on a conveyor belt falling into a meat grinder.
3.3. Article on p. 8 of the St. Cleve Chronicle
Along the same lines, the lyrics and newspaper express the importance of individuality and free thinking and address how those with political power can stifle the voice of the poor and undereducated. Anderson says:
In the case of Thick as a Brick, it started off from one line. The concept, or concepts, expressed in the music, or in the lyrics, is that everyone’s right. And the necessity, I think, should be apparent for everyone to decide, to make their own judgment on things in their own way, regardless of age or experience, or even intelligence. We have at one end of the scale … the intellectual society … who are necessarily making judgments on people on the other end of the scale who may be … thick as a brick. “Your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.” How the hell can they decide for the man in the street what he should want?
John Covach points out that this theme of individualism is reiterated and championed in the article titled “Visiting Prof. Gives Talk” on page 5 of the St. Cleve Chronicle. The article reports that the visiting professor to St. Cleve, Andrew Jorgensen, believes that “man must learn to assume individual identity as opposed to the collective super-society style of life” and “man must learn to function as an independent observer of mass-behavior and develop the right of each individual to intellectual freedom on the particular level he is personally capable.”
The last theme worth noting is the lampooning of the British upper class that comes through in many places in the lyrics, especially in Vocal 7 (“I see you shuffle in the courtroom”). These satirical passages, along with the absurd stories in the newspaper, deflate the serious tone of the weightier themes in the lyrics and exhibit Anderson’s biting wit and eye for caricature. Although the lyrics to Thick as a Brick are oblique and obscure, a clearer view of what the album is “about” can be obtained when they are considered in conjunction with Anderson’s interviews and certain sections of the St. Cleve Chronicle.
GRAMMATICAL TRANSGRESSIONS IN THE LYRICS
The lyrics to Thick as a Brick break several basic rules of English grammar and composition. While this is common in rock lyrics, and actually laudable, this is rarely the case with Anderson, who is one of the more sophisticated lyricists from the rock era. If one were to judge Anderson’s lyric writing ability on Thick as a Brick alone, one could well criticize him as being a pretentious writer who is meddling with literary genres beyond his capacity. Yet with a songwriting career that has spanned forty-five years and three hundred songs, he deserves more than that, and Thick as a Brick deserves more than just a cursory critique of its adherence to the established rules of grammar and storytelling. Anderson breaks these rules on purpose. This is alluded to in the article “Judges Disqualify ‘Little Milton’ in Last Minute Rumpus” on the front page of the St. Cleve Chronicle. The article notes that some viewers who watched Gerald Bostock recite his poem on a BBC 2 program “felt that it was not one poem but a series of separate poems put together merely to appear impressive.” Since Anderson conceived of the lyrics as being the musings of an eight-year-old boy, it’s only natural that they would have some grammatical inconsistencies.
The first problem in understanding the lyrics is their shifting narrative mode. It is difficult to grasp who is addressing whom throughout much of the lyrics, because the viewpoint shifts arbitrarily between the first-, second-, and third-person point of view, both singular and plural. For example, Vocal 1 is in the first-person singular (“I,” “my”) and addresses the second-person plural (“you,” “your,” “yourselves”). Suddenly in Vocal 2 the music switches from a folk style to a rock style, and the viewpoint switches to first-person plural (“we”) and addresses the third-person singular (“a son,” “him”). Then in Vocal 3 the first and second persons are abandoned in favor of just the third person. This section is simply the description of characters (“Poet,” “painter,” “soldier”) in a setting from the vantage point of an omniscient observer, and the lyrics have little connection with the first two vocal sections. These shifts in narrative mode give the lyrics a fragmented point of view and contribute to their obliqueness.
A second difficulty is the introduction of many characters throughout the course of the lyrics, but there is confusion as to who the characters really are. Vocal 1 seems to be addressing modern society at large and accuses the “wise men” of being unsympathetic to those who are “thick as a brick” (the lower classes and the undereducated). Vocal 2 presents a child (“a son is born”) who will be socially engineered into one of these unfeeling wise men. Vocal 3 describes a setting with a host of characters: the poet, the painter, the infantry, the do-er, the thinker, the master of the house, the soldier. The “youngest of the family” mentioned here may be the son from Vocal 2, but this is unclear. Some of these characters are mentioned later in the lyrics and some are not. It appears that many of the characters in the text are not treated as characters in a story line, but are used simply to create imagery or to portray a setting. Thus, it is difficult to get engrossed with, or invested in, the lyrics because of the lack of a central protagonist (such as Ray Lomas, Tommy, Rael, or Pink).
Third, like the music, some sections of the lyrics are well formed and can stand alone, while other sections seem fragmentary and transitory. For instance, when one reads sections like Vocals 1, 3, and 7 out of the context of the lyrics as a whole, they still retain some degree of coherency. But the majority of the vocal sections make little sense at all when considered by themselves. Again, this gives the lyrics an overall feeling of obliqueness and fragmentation.
Fourth, as mentioned earlier, the lyrics do not adhere to a linear story line and have abrupt narrative shifts that seem to have no apparent purpose or meaning. The word “LATER” appears in three places in capital letters to show there is an obvious break in time and place in the narrative. In addition, the lyrics are printed in the newspaper as if they were an article, obscuring the overall form, scansion, and rhyme schemes. Also, the lyrics are broken up into twenty-three separate paragraphs that do not correspond with the fourteen vocal sections (see figure 3.4). All of these factors make the lyrics cryptic and mysterious, and cajole the listener into delving more deeply into them to find their meaning. Undoubtedly this was part of the spoof: a search for profundity when there is none. To try to resolve the problems in the lyrics would be a tedious task indeed and would take away from the enjoyment of the piece as a spoof of concept albums. As cited in a previous quote, Anderson and the band deliberately sought to conjure up a “mind-boggler” to “send up ourselves, the music critics and the audience.”
3.4. (left and facing) Lyrics to Thick as a Brick from the St. Cleve Chronicle
The narrative transgressions in the lyrics are disconcerting only when one divorces the lyrics from the music and tries to analyze them as if they were poetry, prose, or a short story. The music provides the continuity, structure, and unity that is lacking in the lyrics in two ways. First, the instrumental passages give the lyrics continuity by smoothing out the abrupt shifts in the narrative. Second, the repetition of music and text grants the piece a tighter structure and greater unity. (Both of these elements are examined below and also in the section on the instrumental passages in chapter 5.)
The instrumental passages in Thick as a Brick effectively smooth out the abrupt shifts in the narrative. If the lyrics were sung straight through, the disjointed flow of images and shifts in narrative voice would render them incoherent. The instrumental passages, with their forays into virtuosic soloing and ensemble playing, temporarily shift the listener’s attention away from the lyrics. In some instances they function as scenery changes do between acts in a play, transporting the listener from the setting of one vocal section to the setting of the next. The nineteen instrumental passages in Thick as a Brick allow the listener to forgive the “transgressions” that the narrative commits and to follow the lyrics as if they were meant to convey a story, even though they don’t. This interdependence between the lyrics and music is reflected in Anderson’s organic writing style. When I asked Anderson the proverbial question, “Which came first, the lyrics or the music?” he responded:
With Thick as a Brick, the lyrics and music were largely growing organically together. The lyrics were coming at the same time, or just before, the music. I don’t usually write the words first and the music second. I try to get them both together. Writing words is a musical experience, because as soon as you write words, you imply rhythm, you imply some form. You have a cadence just speaking the words. Melodies will begin to suggest themselves as soon as you read those words off a piece of paper, or these days, off a computer screen. The music comes very quickly. I never have a problem writing music. The lyrics are more thoughtful. If I can get on a roll with writing lyrics, the music can follow on right away and it seems to write itself.
TEXTUAL REPETITION IN THICK AS A BRICK
The second way that the music of Thick as a Brick provides the unity that is lacking in the lyrics is repetition. The manner in which a piece of music uses repetition, in either its words or its music, largely determines its shape and scope. In most popular and rock music it is common to find whole blocks of lyrics repeated verbatim at regular intervals. This is the case with verse-chorus form, where the chorus repeats the same lyrics each time it comes around. Thick as a Brick uses repetition, but in unorthodox ways. There are five sections in the piece where lyrics are repeated, but mostly in fragments or with variations, and the repetitions occur at irregular intervals. A perusal of the form of the lyrics (shown in appendix 1) will aid the reader in seeing these instances of repetition.
First, lines 5–8 from Vocal 1 (0:38 side 1) are repeated verbatim at the end in Vocal 14 (20:32 side 2). This repetition gives the piece an arch form, ending it with the same material with which it began. Anderson sings the lines in Vocal 14 with a world-weariness in his voice, expressing his disappointment that nothing has come of his critique of society.
So you ride yourselves over the fields
And you make all your animal deals
And your wise men don’t know how it feels
To be thick as a brick.
Second, the lyrics in Vocal 2 and Vocal 8 are linked thematically and contrast a child with the man he becomes. Vocal 2 occurs near the beginning of side 1 (3:01), and Vocal 8 occurs at the beginning of side 2 (0:48), giving these sections an introductory function.
See there! A son is born –
See there! A man is born
And we pronounce him fit to fight.
And we pronounce him fit for peace.
There are black-heads on his shoulders,
There’s a load lifted from his shoulders
And he pees himself in the night.
With the discovery of his disease.
We’ll make a man of him
We’ll take the child from him
Put him to a trade
Put it to the test
Teach him to play Monopoly
Teach it to be a wise man
And how to sing in the rain.
How to fool the rest.
Third, in Vocal 3 Parts 1 and 2 (6:08 and 9:20 side 1), there is a contrast made between the poet and the soldier and their respective “weapons” (pen and sword), and a contrast between a son (“the youngest of the family”) and a father (“the oldest of the family”).
Vocal 3 Part 1
Vocal 3 Part 2
And the poet lifts his pen
And the poet sheaths his pen
While the soldier sheaths his sword.
While the soldier lifts his sword.
And the youngest of the family
And the oldest of the family
Is moving with authority.
Is moving with authority.
Building castles by the sea,
Coming from across the sea,
He dares the tardy tide
He challenges the son
To wash them all aside.
Who puts him to the run
Fourth, the lyrics of Vocal 7 Part 2 (“So! Come on ye childhood heroes!” 18:39 side 1) and Vocal 7 Part 4 (“So! Where the hell was Biggles” 20:00 side 1) are repeated verbatim in Vocal 13 Parts 1 and 2 (18:08 and 18:52 side 2). These sections appear near the ends of sides 1 and 2, giving them a concluding function.
Vocal 7 Part 2 and Vocal 13 Part 1
So! Come on ye childhood heroes!
Won’t you rise up from the pages
Of your comic-books? your super-crooks
And show us all the way.
Well! Make your will and testament.
Won’t you? Join your local government.
We’ll have superman for president
Let Robin save the day.
Vocal 7 Part 4 and Vocal 13 Part 2
So! Where the hell was Biggles
When you needed Him last Saturday?
And where are all the Sportsmen
Who always pulled you through?
They’re all resting down in Cornwall
Writing up their memoirs
For a paper-back edition
Of the Boy Scout Manual.
Fifth and last, the lyrics of Vocal 12 Part 2 (“So come all ye young men” 14:49 side 2) are repeated in Vocal 12 Part 4 (17:13 side 2). These sections function as a chorus would in verse-chorus form.
So come all ye young men who are building castles!
Kindly state the time of the year
And join your voices in a hellish chorus.
Mark the precise nature of your fear.
While one can find plenty of loose thematic connections throughout the lyrics, these five occurrences are the most obvious use of textual repetition in Thick as a Brick.
POSTSCRIPT: THE ECCENTRIC JETHRO TULL
Although the lyrics, music, and packaging of Thick as a Brick can be confusing, the album does possess a peculiar charm. One might regard the album as bizarre and eccentric, but this adds to its appeal. Stephen Akey writes of the lyrics to Thick as a Brick: “The sheer Englishness of it fascinates. Its references to ‘downy little sidies’ and ‘queueing for sarnies’ and ‘coughing up tenners’ constitute a poetry of the exotic. Given the homogeneity of so much Anglo-American rock (not to mention Jethro Tull’s immense popularity in the United States at the time), I can only admire the otherness of Thick as a Brick, the sense it gives of being a report from a unique culture.” Indeed, the lyrics – as well as the music, the album packaging, and the live show – mark Jethro Tull as quintessential English eccentrics. The late 1960s and early 1970s can be called the great age of the English rock eccentrics. John Lennon of the Beatles, Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, and Robert Fripp of King Crimson had the mystique of alchemists as they used the recording studio as their laboratory to shape psychedelic visions into other-worldly sounds. Glam rock was born in the United Kingdom in this period, and David Bowie and Freddie Mercury defined the image of the outlandish, mercurial rock icon. Speaking of Peter Gabriel of Genesis, Kari Kallioniemi writes, “the new English rock-star attacked the puritan side of Victorian tradition but embraced its eccentric Englishness.” Jethro Tull began fostering their own brand of eccentricity as early as their first album, This Was: the cover shows the band members – then in their early twenties – dressed as rickety old codgers. Like Peter Gabriel of Genesis, Anderson relished in creating images of English eccentricity in his lyrics and in his appearance onstage. His stage garb, especially from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, shows him scouring British society for caricature:
Tramp in a ragged greatcoat
Mad minstrel flutist or court jester
Woodsman or lumberjack
It was not only Anderson who embodied the eccentric; keyboardist John Evans dressed in a clown suit, bassist Jeffrey Hammond wore a black-and-white zebra suit (with matching bass guitar), drummer Barrie Barlow wore a kilt, and guitarist Martin Barre wore a glittering silver suit. Chris Riley, who played guitar in the John Evan Band (the band that later would become Jethro Tull), told Tull biographer Martin Webb: “Ian, John, and Jeffrey suffered from varying forms of eccentricity. Ian was later always described as eccentric, but in my view the eccentric was Jeff – a true eccentric. I think Ian nurtured his and worked on it a bit, it was an image thing, whereas Jeff was genuine. In tiers of eccentricity I would have put it Jeffrey, John, and Ian. This eccentricity is germane to the lyrical ideas in Thick as a Brick, which stress the importance of individual expression as a foil against the homogeny and hegemony of mass society. Writing in 1859, John Stuart Mill cautions, “In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.” Jethro Tull responds to the danger of normalcy in dress, lyrics, musicality, and performance. Warning against hegemony, the band is clearly geared toward the exceptional rather than the average.