51. thick as a brick

“Speaking of songs that aren’t afraid to be long, Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick is by far the longest on this list (clocking in at 43 plus minutes) and it shouldn’t be one second shorter, even if it’s ultimately not really about anything — an in-joke within an in-joke, which is to say, the alleged epic poetry of a pre-teen genius (one Gerald Bostock) taking on everything he sees as hypocritical, absurd, foolish about the world, society, God, his small town … and never really coming to any conclusion short of the wiser you are, the less thick you are, which is a problem when it comes to empathy, because how does a wise man begin to grasp what it is to be … well, about as dumb as a brick? Or something like that. According to Tull main man, Ian Anderson, it was intended as a lark, a piss take on the whole concept album craze of the time. Except once he started writing, things rather took on a life of their own … and the result ended up conquering the world (for a few weeks anyway in late spring, 1972). #1 in Australia, Canada, Denmark, USA. Top five in the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Germany. Apparently, it was even all the rage in Vietnam.

Barely teenage me ate it up, of course, the whole mad and epic stew of folk and rock and classical and pop tangents, the ebb and flow of themes and counter-themes, coming, going, kicking up, burning down. And yes, it really is all one big song, because try as have over the years (and trust me, I’ve tried hard), I’ve never found any piece of it that works better on its own than it does as part of the epic whole. And that includes the cover which is essentially an entire small town newspaper, twelve full-size pages of scandals, non-rabbits, art crimes, comics, even an advance review of the album itself, which probably says it best. One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable.” (Philip Random)

288. Dharma for One [live]

The band known as Jethro Tull blew things wide open in 1972 with a single 43 minute song/concept album that hit #1 everywhere from Denmark to Australia to the Americas, even Vietnam. Which suddenly meant that Ian Anderson and the band could do pretty much anything they wanted career wise, including the release of a double album of (mostly) unreleased stuff from the previous four years and four albums of their career (so far). Living in the Past it was called and full of odd gems it was including a live version of Dharma For One which initially showed up as an instrumental on their first album but come the concert trails of 1970 had picked up some lyrics and otherwise expanded and evolved into a longer, wilder, more progressive beast indeed. The word gobsmacking comes to mind, though the drum solo does go on a bit.

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527. wind up

“It’s Christmas 1972, a party at family friends. I’m thirteen and barely old enough to be hanging with the big kids. Just shut up and sit in the corner. And then they all go outside to smoke a joint. They even invite me along, but no way, not with my parents barely fifty feet away. Which leaves me alone with the record that’s playing – Aqualung by Jethro Tull, getting to the end of Side Two, a song about all the religious bullshit they push on you when you’re a kid, which I had no problem agreeing with, particularly the part about God not being a simple toy. You didn’t just wind Him up once a week, say few stupid prayers and then get on with your everyday lying, cheating, stealing. Nah, if there was a God worth giving a shit about, He or She or It had to be magnitudes more complex and wise than that. I don’t believe you — you’ve got the whole damned thing all wrong.” (Philip Random)

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565. fat man

“From 1969, when Jethro Tull was still the hot new band of the moment, riding the hip edge of the cool underground, here with mandolins, bongos, other things made of wood. The song’s simple enough. A young man expressing his desire to not someday grow old and fat, and just good fun. Easier said than done, of course, but I’m comfortably into my forties now and so far so good. Yes, I’ve failed at pretty much every ambition I ever set for myself but at least I can still see my feet when I look down.” (Philip Random)

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637. A Passion Play

“It seems insane to even think about it now, but in 1972 Jethro Tull conquered the world with a 43-minute-44-second song called Thick as a Brick that comprised the entire album of the same name. Adventurous, dense, continuous, it even half made sense, both musically and lyrically. So what did Ian Anderson (Tull main man) and his talented crew do for a follow-up? Another album long song, this one called A Passion Play, which proved even more dense and adventurous than Thick As A Brick. And I’m still trying to figure it out. Actually, that’s a lie. I gave up a long time ago, because as a friend concluded, ‘Man, you’ve gotta be Ian Anderson’s f***ing brain to know what any of that’s supposed to mean.’ Which doesn’t mean I ever stopped listening to it. I guess I just pretend I’m Ian Anderson’s brain for a while.” (Philip Random)

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1037. Heavy Horses

Jethro Tull main man Ian Anderson was nothing if not level-headed come 1978.  While many of his fellow formerly cool rock star types were scrambling (often pathetically) in attempts to reinvent themselves as somehow edgy and relevant in the face of punk rock etc, he just told it like it was — that he was more concerned about his farm up in Scotland than the state of the zeitgeist, the big horses in particular. The album in question may have seemed a throwback at the time, but over time, its mix of folk and rock elements has come to feel more timeless than anything.

1089. beggars farm

If you considered yourself hip to what was cool in Britain 1968, Jethro Tull were the real deal – heavy duty underground stuff that couldn’t be messed with, even if the main guy did play flute. Beggars Farm goes back to their first album when they were still mostly a blues outfit, though the cover suggested something deeper was going on, the band all got up as old men.  Like they knew something we didn’t – that all the flower power youth stuff was just a passing fad.

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