Thick as a Brick is the fifth studio album by the British rock band Jethro Tull, released in March 1972. The album contains a continuous piece of music, split over two sides of an LP record, and is a parody of the concept album genre. The original packaging, designed like a newspaper, claims the album to be a musical adaptation of an epic poem by fictional eight-year-old genius Gerald Bostock, though the lyrics were actually written by the band’s frontman, Ian Anderson.
The album was recorded in late 1971, featuring music composed by Anderson and arranged with the contribution of all band members. The album was the first to include drummer Barriemore Barlow, replacing the band’s previous drummer Clive Bunker. The live show promoting the album included the playing of the full suite, with various comic interludes. Thick as a Brick is considered by critics to be the first Jethro Tull release to entirely consist of progressive rock music. It received mixed reviews upon its release, but was a commercial success and topped various charts in 1972. Today it is regarded as a classic of progressive rock, and has received several accolades. Anderson produced a follow-up to the album in 2012, focusing on the adult life of the fictional Gerald Bostock.
Jethro Tull’s frontman and songwriter Ian Anderson was surprised when critics called the band’s previous album, Aqualung (1971), a “concept album”. He rejected this, thinking it was simply a collection of songs, so in response decided to “come up with something that really is the mother of all concept albums”. Taking the surreal English humor of Monty Python as an influence, he began to write a piece that would combine complex music with a sense of humour, with the idea it would poke light-hearted fun at the band, the audience, and the music critics. He also intended to satirise the progressive rock genre that was popular at the time. His wife Jennie was also an inspiration, whom he credited to have devised the character and lyrics to “Aqualung”. She had written a letter to Anderson while he was away touring the album, ten lines from which Anderson used as inspiration for the new material.
Anderson has also said that “the album was a spoof to the albums of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, much like what the movie Airplane! had been to Airport” and later remarked that it was a “bit of a satire about the whole concept of grand rock-based concept albums”. Although Anderson wrote all the music and lyrics, he co-credited the writing to a fictional schoolboy named Gerald Bostock. The humour was subtle enough that some fans believed that Bostock was real. Reviewing the 40th anniversary reissue, Noel Murray suggested that many listeners of the original album “missed the joke”.
The group ran through two weeks of rehearsals using the Rolling Stones’ basement studio in Bermondsey. They had not intended to record a single continuous piece; the band came up with individual song segments, then decided to write short pieces of music to link them together.
Recording started in December 1971 at Morgan Studios, London. Unlike previous albums, where Anderson had generally written songs in advance, only the initial section of the album had been worked out when the band went into the studio. The remainder of the suite was written during the recording sessions. To compensate for a lack of material, Anderson got up early each morning to prepare music for the rest of the band to learn during that day’s session. The lyrics were written first, with the music constructed to fit around them. Anderson recalls the album took about two weeks to record and another two or three for overdubs and mixing. The final work spanned the entire length of an LP record, split over two sides.
The group remembered the recording being a happy process, with a strong feeling of camaraderie and fun, with numerous practical jokes. They were fans of Python, and this style of humour influenced the lyrics and overall concept. Guitarist Martin Barre recalls the whole band coming up with various ideas for the music. Some parts were recorded in a single take with every member having an input, including significant contributions from keyboardist John Evan.
Thick as a Brick was viewed by some critics as Jethro Tull’s first progressive rock album. The album has a variety of musical themes, time signature changes and tempo shifts – all of which were features of the progressive rock scene. Although the finished album runs as one continuous piece, it is made up of a medley of individual songs that run into each other, none of which individually lasts more than 3–5 minutes. Parts of the suite blend classical and folk music into the typical rock music framework.
The album prominently features flute, acoustic and electric guitars and Hammond organ, which had been used previously, but the instrumentation includes harpsichord, xylophone, timpani, violin, lute, trumpet, saxophone, and a string section—all uncommon in the band’s earlier blues-inspired rock. Anderson later said that the lyrics were partly derived from his own childhood experiences, though the overall theme was Bostock’s attempt to make sense of life from his point of view.
The original LP cover was designed as a spoof of a 12×16-inch (305×406 mm) 12-page small-town English newspaper, entitled The St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser, with articles, competitions and advertisements lampooning the typical parochial and amateurish journalism of the local English press. The band’s record company, Chrysalis Records, complained that the sleeve would be too expensive to produce, but Anderson countered that if a real newspaper could be produced, a parody of one would also be practical.
The mock newspaper, dated 7 January 1972, also includes the entire lyrics to “Thick as a Brick” (printed on page 7), which is presented as a poem written by Bostock, whose disqualification from a poetry contest is the focus of the front-page story. This article claims that although Bostock initially won the contest, the judges’ decision was repealed after protests and threats concerning the offensive nature of the poem, along with the boy’s suspected psychological instability. The front cover includes a piece where Bostock is accused without foundation of being the father of his 14-year-old friend Julia’s child. The inside of the paper features a mock review by “Julian Stone-Mason BA”, a pseudonym of Anderson.
The contents of the newspaper were written mostly by Anderson, bassist Jeffrey Hammond and keyboardist John Evan. While some of the pieces were obviously silly, such as “Magistrate Fines himself”, there was a lengthy story entitled “Do Not See Me Rabbit” about a pilot in the Battle of Britain being shot down by a Me-109 fighter. The overall layout was designed by Chrysalis’ Roy Eldridge, who had previously worked as a journalist. Most of the characters in the newspaper were members of the band, their management, road crew, or colleagues; for instance, recording engineer Robin Black played a local roller-skating champion. Anderson recalls that the cover took longer to produce than the music.
The satirical newspaper was heavily abridged for conventional CD booklets, but the 25th Anniversary Special Edition CD cover is closer to the original, and the 40th anniversary boxed version contains most of the content from the original newspaper.[
Following the album’s release, the band set out on tour, playing the entire piece with some extra musical additions that extended performances to over an hour. At the start of the show, men wearing capes appeared onstage and began sweeping the floor, counting the audience and studying the venue; after a few minutes, some of them revealed themselves to be members of the band and began to play. During some shows, the entire band stopped mid-performance when a telephone rang on stage, which Anderson would answer, before carrying on performing. News and weather reports were read halfway through the show, and a man in a scuba diver outfit came onstage. The tour’s humour caused problems in Japan, where audiences responded to the changes with bewilderment. Barre recalls these first live performances being “a terrible experience” as there was a lot of complex music with a variety of time signature changes to remember.
Anderson performed the entire album live on tour in 2012, the first complete performances since the original tour. In August 2014, Anderson released the CD/DVD/Blu-ray Thick as a Brick – Live in Iceland. The concert was recorded in Reykjavík, Iceland, on 22 June 2012, and featured complete Thick as a Brick and Thick as a Brick 2 performances by the Ian Anderson Touring Band. Some of the humour and stage antics were maintained—especially the telephone ringing in the middle of a song, which was replaced by a cell phone and a Skype call.
Thick as a Brick was originally scheduled for release on 25 February 1972. Following production problems relating to the 1972 miners’ strike, it was held back a week to 3 March. The album reached the top 5 in the UK charts, and number one in Australia, Canada and the United States, where it was certified Platinum.
Contemporary reviews were mixed. Chris Welch of Melody Maker praised the musicianship of the band and Anderson’s flute playing, writing also that “the joke at the expense of a local newspaper wears thin rather rapidly, but should not detract from the obvious amount of thought and work that has gone into the production of Thick”; he described the music as a creative effort where “the ideas flow in super abundance” but that “needs time to absorb” and “heard out of context of their highly visual stage act … does not have such immediate appeal”. Tony Tyler in his review for New Musical Express generally appreciated the construction of the suites and the arrangements, but he had doubts about the album’s possible success. He called Thick as a Brick “Jethro Tull’s own stand-or-fall epic after the lines of Tommy” and “an assault on the mediocrity and harshness of lower-middle-class existence in ’70s Britain”. Ben Gerson in Rolling Stone magazine called Thick as a Brick “one of rock’s most sophisticated and ground-breaking products”. Going further, the reviewer stated: “Martin Barre’s guitar and John Evan’s keyboards especially shine, and Ian’s singing is no longer abrasive.
Whether or not Thick As A Brick is an isolated experiment, it is nice to know that someone in rock has ambitions beyond the four- or five-minute conventional track, and has the intelligence to carry out his intentions, in all their intricacy, with considerable grace.” Rolling Stone’s Alan Niester gave it 2 out of 5 stars in The Rolling Stone Record Guide, judging it had “relatively undifferentiated movements”. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau disliked the album, calling it “the usual shit” from the band: “rock (getting heavier), folk (getting feyer), classical (getting schlockier), flute (getting better because it has no choice)”.
In 2014, Prog magazine listed Thick as a Brick at number 5 in the list “The 100 Greatest Prog Albums of All Time”, voted for by its readers. Rolling Stone listed the album at number 7 in their “Top 50 Prog Albums of All Time”. Thick as a Brick is ranked number 3 in the user-managed website Prog Archives’s top albums list, with an average rank of 4.64 stars. Rush’s Geddy Lee has said Thick as a Brick is one of his favourite albums, as has Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. (by wikipedia)
Jethro Tull’s first LP-length epic is a masterpiece in the annals of progressive rock, and one of the few works of its kind that still holds up decades later. Mixing hard rock and English folk music with classical influences, set to stream-of-consciousness lyrics so dense with imagery that one might spend weeks pondering their meaning — assuming one feels the need to do so — the group created a dazzling tour de force, at once playful, profound, and challenging, without overwhelming the listener. The original LP was the best-sounding, best-engineered record Tull had ever released, easily capturing the shifting dynamics between the soft all-acoustic passages and the electric rock crescendos surrounding them. (by Bruce Eder)
Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, guitar, flute, violin, trumpet, saxophone)
Barriemore Barlow (drums, percussion, timpani)
Martin Barre (guitar, lute)
John Evan (Keyboards, harpsichord)
Jeffrey Hammond (as “Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond”) (bass, spoken words)
01. Thick As A Brick, Part I 22.40
02. Thick As A Brick, Part II 21.10
03. Thick As A Brick (1978 live version at Madison Square Garden) 11.50
04. Interview with Jethro Tull (Ian Anderson, Martin Barre and Jeffrey Hammond) 16.29
Music: Ian Anderson
Lyrics: “Gerald Bostock” (Ian Anderson)
The downloadable version of the 40th anniversary edition splits the overall suite into eight separate parts:
“Really Don’t Mind” / “See There a Son Is Born” 5.00
“The Poet and the Painter” 5.29
“What Do You Do When the Old Man’s Gone?” / “From the Upper Class” 5.25
“You Curl Your Toes in Fun” / “Childhood Heroes” / “Stabs Instrumental” 6.48
“See There a Man Is Born” / “Clear White Circles” 5.58
“Legends and Believe in the Day” 6.34
“Tales of Your Life” 5.24
“Childhood Heroes Reprise” 2.56
More from Jethro Tull: