Your wise men don't know how it feels
April 11, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Thick As A Brick (Google Video, YouTube) is Jethro Tull's 1972 album/song of epic proportions. The lyrics are lengthy and confusing. But they are not incomprehensible! You can learn to play the whole thing. It also had very extensive packaging. [presented here in nice clickable-article format]
posted by hippybear (56 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout (BAM!)
posted by jmccw at 10:41 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I inherited a big big love of Tull from my dad. There was a period of about a year where I made it a point to listen to TasB at least once a week. I haven't spun it in a while, but I could probably still sing along to most of it. And I still know how to play the opening verse/chorus on guitar.

I love how this album was their rebuttal to critics who called Aqualung a concept record. They basically said "Okay, let's actually do a concept album...and make it effing ridiculous!" The back story of the lyrics being written by a precocious and scandalous young boy is pretty funny.
posted by Maaik at 10:41 AM on April 11, 2011

TAAB makes for great driving music.
posted by kenko at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2011

Still one of my all time favourite albums/songs.
posted by ts;dr at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2011

I laugh every time I hear Jethro Tull, thinking of Ian Anderson getting told off by his daughter about how to play the flute correctly:

When my daughter, Gael, was coerced (as little girls often are) into taking up an instrument at school, I suggested boldly that the Tuba was too big; Violin and Cello too difficult; Saxophone too expensive and that I might just have a perfectly acceptable old flute which she could borrow, quite cheaply, for the year or two required.

A month or so later, on hearing the customary struggle to play some perfectly easy passage of infantile musical mediocrity, I offered with benign and lordly patience, a few tips on how to perform the said novice piece.

"Oh no, Daddy," came the swift and deflating response: "That's not how you play an E. You have to have your little finger there on that funny key down at the bottom at the same time. And you don't put your first finger on the left hand down for that D in the second octave. Oh, Daddy! Get a life. Or a second job." (Actually, I'm making that last bit up, but you get the drift).

I would listen to this man read the phone book or random words and be completely charmed and entertained by his lovely voice. Yet he'd never make it in today's looks-obsessed world, which is pretty stupid.
posted by theredpen at 10:44 AM on April 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm always a little ashamed of the fact that I went through most of my life assuming that Jethro Tull was the name of the band's lead singer...

For the record, Jethro Tull was indeed a real person, although it is unlikely that he was a fan of the band's music, or even aware of their existence.

The origin of the band's name is pretty funny too -- they were so awful in their early days that clubs would refuse to book them for more than one show. To work their way around this issue, their booking agent would change the name of the band after each show. This particular booking agent was a huge history nerd, and typically used obscure historical figures. The name Jethro Tull stuck, because it was used during their first show that actually received a positive response from the audience and club owner.

If at first you don't succeed.....defraud the industry until you hit mainstream success, and repeatedly fire every single member of your band whenever times get tough.

Disclaimer: I actually do like Jethro Tull's music. I'd love to have been a fly on their booking agent's wall, because I imagine that his job was exactly like the fictional band manager from the Flight of the Conchords' TV series.

posted by schmod at 10:45 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't thought about this album in a long time and I think I'll put it on now. (This is the reason I love the big old iPod Classics. Everything stays on it.)

I saw Jethro Tull (or, more accurately, Ian Anderson and others) about three years ago. Sad to report the concert was just embarassing.
posted by rtimmel at 10:52 AM on April 11, 2011

TaaB was intended as a parody of prog rock concept albums.

Considering this—and Porcupine Tree, and The Rutles, and Spinal Tap—I've developed a Law of Musical Satire which (quickly summed up) predicts that any intended parody of a musical form, skilfully-executed, can be mistaken for an above-average or even exemplary representative of what it was trying to make fun of.
posted by AugieAugustus at 10:52 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

This was quite popular among my 9th grade peers when it came out. Our parents, on the other hand, didn't quite see it the same way.
posted by tommasz at 10:54 AM on April 11, 2011

Had I a time machine, I'd probably just use it to go to concerts I never would have otherwise been able to attend. Seeing Tull touring for this album would definitely be one I'd hit. I've seen them several times in the last ten or fifteen years and while they're still pretty neat to see live, I'd have loved to see them in Anderson's full-on crazy jumping codpiece-wearing Renaissance hobo period.
posted by Maaik at 10:55 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

The problem with music today is that there just aren't enough full-on crazy codpiece-wearing Renaissance hobo flautist lead singers.

Showing up to the Grammys riding in an egg? Psh. Lame. Let's see you play the flute while you sing.
posted by The World Famous at 11:01 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I used to have the original vinyl cover with the newspaper inside -- it was pretty amazing. I gave it & my copy of Stand Up, with the pop-up foldout, away years ago to a friend who liked Tull more than me.

Do not see me rabbit!
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2011

I have a secondhand copy of TaaB from my parents, the connect the dots thing was filled out, in crayon.

I have to assume it was me who did this, at a very early age. I credit this album as well as Roxy Music, for shaping myself. Hooray boobies.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Okay, this is creepy. I just posted the Youtube vid on Facebook for the 30 Day Song Challenge about an hour before you posted it here. Get out of my head, hippybear.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2011

The legends (worded in
the ancient tribal hymn)
lie cradled in the seagull's call.
And all the promises they made are ground beneath the sadist's fall.

The poet and the wise man stand behind the gun,
and signal for the crack of dawn.
Light the sun.

posted by treepour at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2011

but can you learn it IN SPACE?
posted by HumanComplex at 11:31 AM on April 11, 2011

Hey, so I clicked on that Veoh video and one of the recommendations in the sidebar is a how-to on installing a feminine catheter. Thanks, Internet!
posted by word_virus at 11:32 AM on April 11, 2011

Hey, so I clicked on that Veoh video and one of the recommendations in the sidebar is a how-to on installing a feminine catheter.

...your wise men don't know how it feels...
posted by hippybear at 11:36 AM on April 11, 2011 [12 favorites]

When I was thirteen (in 1972), my older brother got Thick As A Brick for his birthday. He listened to it maybe twice, decided that a 45 minute song was a stupid concept and promptly re-gifted it to me for Christmas.

As I owned maybe three albums at the time, I inevitably found myself listening to it A LOT. And thus was born a young boy's fascination for all things epic in the context of so-called rock'n'roll. And what a damned fine place to start!

My favorite piece of the amazingly dense packaging, a lukewarm review of the album itself (found on page 7 next to the Horoscopes):

One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme through the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable. Poor or perhaps naive taste is is responsible for some of the ugly changes of time signature and banal instrumental passages linking the main sections but ability in this direction should come with maturity.

hippybear, I look forward with considerable anticipation to your Passion Play post. Coming soon, I hope.
posted by philip-random at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ian Anderson as might be expected has slightly different cats.
posted by adamvasco at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2011

posted by philip-random at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2011

Ian Anderson on Letterman, 1982.

and now I really gotta go to work
posted by philip-random at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2011

Okay, this is creepy. I just posted the Youtube vid on Facebook for the 30 Day Song Challenge about an hour before you posted it here. Get out of my head, hippybear.

Dude, even creepier is that I just heard this album for the first time LAST NIGHT. My SO was playing it in the car after quasi-excitedly explaining that despite already being a fan of Jethro Tull, he'd just learned of this album's existence from a documentary. At one point I said, "You know I really like Jethro Tull, but all of these songs sound the same."
posted by eunoia at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2011

I can't get over how I spent my study halls in high school puzzling over Tull's lyrics. I wrote them out over and over in my notebooks and wondered what deep mysteries they concealed only to later read that Ian Anderson made them up on the way to the studio. Fool me once, can't be fooled again or something like that.
posted by Tashtego at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2011

In my high school band (1969-1973), one of my best friends was the First Chair Flute (and the band's only flautist to stay in the band all four years) who helped get me into Progressive Rock, although with an appropriate sense of absurdity. Together, we wrote lyrics for a parody of The Who's "Tommy" (which we titled, obviously "Dummy"), with our version of "Pinball Wizard" as "Gumball Wizard". Sadly we never performed or recorded any of it, and somebody else did a "Gumball Wizard" song that got Dr. Demento play years later. But I digress.

As a ProgRock fan and flautist, he immediately idolized Ian Anderson when the band became popular and emulated his breathy style every time we got a marching band version of a rock song to play (our band director was a pioneer in 'contemporizing' the band, and "In A Gadda De Vida" actually sounds better played by brass). Oddly, considering his further interest in musical spoofs, he was kinda cool toward "Brick" but both he and I much preferred Jethro Tull's year-later "A Passion Play".
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who stopped jamming with one of his lifelong jamming buddies because all the one guy wanted to do was play Tull.

I still sing this song pretty much every time I'm on the phone with the former because the latter's name always comes up. It's been at least 10 years of fun, and I love the song!
posted by Max Power at 12:17 PM on April 11, 2011

Excellent post! My flute teacher was a huge Tull fan. I learned how to flutter tongue before I learned how to count. I've been a fan for years. Ian Anderson's energy during a live performance is spell-binding!
posted by DizzyLeaf at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2011

The problem with music today is that there just aren't enough full-on crazy codpiece-wearing Renaissance hobo flautist lead singers.

Absolutely. I was too young to see the Aqualung tour, but I've read a description of it that makes me wish I could go back in time:

Picture a big arena stage. All of a sudden, all of the lights in the building go out except for a single spotlight. Ian Anderson walks out into the light, bent over like an old man and using his flute as a cane, slowly tapping his way out to center stage.

When he reaches the center, he abruptly straightens up and flings the flute straight up in the air. The spotlight follows it as it spins end over end, then reaches the top of its arc and drops back into Ian Anderson's waiting palm--

--and at that very instant, all the lights flare on and the opening notes of "Aqualung" ring out.

Man, I wish I could have seen that.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


Just like to point out that the See there! A son is born . . . section is in 10/8 (4-4-2 pattern), one of my favourites. Anderson must've dug it, too: he'd earlier used it (the 3-3-2-2 pattern more familiar from the Mission Impossible theme for Living in the Past.
Anderson plays trumpet and sax in this section, and doesn't pull the flute out again until the "poet and the painter casting shadows on the water. . ." section, well into the first side.

Live, the flute part in the intro was played on glockenspiel by Barrie Barlow. The flute didn't come out until they got to the "poet and the painter" section. The band would vamp for a long time while Anderson theatrically (often obscenely) brandished the flute before getting down to playing.

Anderson also plays a bit of fiddle during "I've come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways."
posted by Herodios at 12:39 PM on April 11, 2011

Yes, but is it crescent fresh?
posted by jetsetsc at 1:03 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw Jethro Tull (or, more accurately, Ian Anderson and others) about three years ago. Sad to report the concert was just embarassing.

When I saw them it was Anderson, Martin Barre, and whocaresbecausethat'sJethroTullrightthere.
(not ryhtm-sectionist)
posted by rocket88 at 1:09 PM on April 11, 2011

I have a reissue CD that included a small-sized reprint of the St Cleve Times. It was fun to read. I wondered how long it took them to come up with the filler content for the whole thing.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:17 PM on April 11, 2011

When he reaches the center, he abruptly straightens up and flings the flute straight up in the air. The spotlight follows it as it spins end over end, then reaches the top of its arc and drops back into Ian Anderson's waiting palm--

--and at that very instant, all the lights flare on and the opening notes of "Aqualung" ring out.

That's odd. Because there's no flute on Aqualung.
posted by Herodios at 1:19 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm amazed that they churned out a newspaper's worth of content for the album on top of writing and recording it. Most bands can barely be arsed to show up for practice.
posted by Maaik at 1:19 PM on April 11, 2011

The annotations for this song are fascinating, I had no idea it was actually something of value. Curiously, the FPP made a few days ago about the German Wehrmacht's lack of morality/sympathy seen in secretly taped conversations, is basically the same theme of the song:
The morality that shapes the actions of people is not rooted in the people themselves, but in the structures that surround them. If they change, everything is basically possible -- even absolute evil.
Sand castles.
posted by stbalbach at 1:24 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Although I was late to the party in 1974 TaaB was my intro to Tull. Around the same time I was getting geared up on early Genesis, Yes, ELP, and Floyd. I get teased for being a Tull fan...Flute Rock!... and all that, but nearly every one of the more than 20 albums has some gems on them. People just need to listen to more than Aqualung.
Unfortunately Ian had some vocal nodules about 25 years ago, and hasn't been able to do justice to the old songs since. However the post nodule songs were written for his new vocal range and, well "One Night in Budapest" off of the Crest of a Knave album has Ian playing the dirty old man to a T.
I was fortunate enough to meet Ian and Martin a few years ago. 40 years of life as a Rock and Roller has taken its toll. Ian was only concerned with getting into the van ( yes van, not limo) and back to the hotel with his wife, while Martin was all flustered trying to find the charger for his Blackberry.
posted by Gungho at 2:01 PM on April 11, 2011

I had this album on cassette when I was a kid. Played it so many times I could sing along with the entire album - I don't think that I could remember all of the words today.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:46 PM on April 11, 2011

Hope you don't mind if I sit this thread out.
posted by Eideteker at 2:46 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm always a little ashamed of the fact that I went through most of my life assuming that Jethro Tull was the name of the band's lead singer...

Don't feel bad. I knew someone who thought the name of the band was also the name of the lead singer. However, they thought the name was Jethro Toe.

I saw Tull back around 1980 for the A album, a very memorable concert. I always like the guitar player, Martin Barre. Just really solid, no nonsense stuff and just did his damn job. He could play the really fast solos like in Aqualung to impress the teenage boys in the audience, but I just like his fat chords he plays at other time. I'm not a musician, so I don't how to describe it. His guitar always sounded so thick and full.
posted by marxchivist at 2:51 PM on April 11, 2011

In college my coterie of fellow sci-fi-&-music-geeks went to see JT on the "Catfish Rising" Tour in Burlington, VT. Late 80s. There was a banner contest and the balconies were hung with all manner of cool entries (including my buddy's that got stolen).

We were all under 21 at the time and astounded by all the chairs in neat rows at a rock concert. We're also the youngest people at the show by ~15 years. First notes of Cross-Eyed Mary ring out, seven college students rise, fists-a-wavin' from their seats crying "YEAH!"... and promptly sit back down when none of our elders join us.

We spent the entire concert in our seats. Kinda surreal. But they had a mini-pub on stage with a working tap that one of the roadies worked. Band members would walk over and get a pint while one of the others was noodling on with a solo or Ian was addressing the crowd.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:08 PM on April 11, 2011

they thought the name was Jethro Toe

Wouldn't Jethro Toe be the name of a prog rock band popular with the Thumb Thumbs?
posted by hippybear at 3:16 PM on April 11, 2011

Tull's been a favorite for me since high school. My TaaB story: back in the mists of the 90s, I got on board with this MP3 thing, ripping most of my CD collection to MP3 and then burning that to MP3 CDROMs that played on a special portable MP3 CDROM player that had just become available at that time (10 hours of music on one CD was great as I began working in a cubicle environment!).

But the album version of Thick as a Brick slipped through the proverbial cracks. Hard drive space was dear enough in those days that with my collection of already-ripped MP3s (and of course the jpegs from usenet alt.binaries!) I never managed to find the space to hold an entire not-yet-encoded CD, which was a requirement for the ripper software I used.

So it was as recently as last year that I dug the CD out of the closet (yes, with the cd-sized ersatz newspaper inside) and finally added it to my mp3 collection.

Now all I need is the "reggae version of Too Old to Rock and Roll" that Anderson back-announces on A Little Live Music at the start of a different track that is actually on the album. I have spent all these years wondering if it was awesome, cringe-inducing, or some of both…
posted by jepler at 3:49 PM on April 11, 2011

thank you for this, hippybear. nice walk down memory lane.

and, it gives me an excuse to post one of my favorite (among many) Tull songs: Summerday Sands

in their prime, they made wonderful & deeply satisfying music - brimming over with lyrical potency.
posted by jammy at 4:33 PM on April 11, 2011

oh man, and Locomotive Breath - damn!

thank you again! so nice to be reminded of such amazing music - totally made my night.
posted by jammy at 4:42 PM on April 11, 2011

but can you learn it IN SPACE?

More on that extraterrestrial duet
posted by philip-random at 5:57 PM on April 11, 2011

I loved it back in the day and thank you for this :-)
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:33 PM on April 11, 2011

...Really don't mind if you sit this one out...

It was 1975 and Tull was on tour promoting the Songs from the Woods album. I was a mere slip of a girl, full of blistering pre-pubescent prog-rock joy and the progeny of land-mine parents. Unlike helicopter parents who hover about, land-mine parents just sit there and let you go on your merry way until some mis-step sets them off.

For those of you who know old Melbourne, the concert was at Festival Hall - an old boxing stadium in a rough part of the city. My 'date' for the night was another 12 yr old, a school friend called Fat Albert. We took a bus from our out-skirts suburb and made the 50min trip into town, arriving just as darkness fell.

We found our seats in the big drafty stadium and watched as the roadies did their last set-up. Finally the stage cleared, the lights hushed and a lone musician stepped onto the stage. He introduced himself as George or something and said he was the opening act.

A spot light came on and tight-clothed George produced a flute. He played a few notes, had a little chat, played a bit more, chatted a bit more and then launched into a full-blown stage-jumping flute solo.

I was the sort of kid who was easily embarrassed by people kissing on TV. But that shame was nothing compared to what I was seeing now - a man wearing no underwear with what looked like an extra flute in his pants writhing and bucking around the stage riding that flute in a hip thrusting way like he was at a Bacchanalia.

I was red hot in the face but I couldn't look away. It was a 'moment' an exquisite moment of maturing, of realising that I was on the cusp and I couldn't back out now.

I, of course, was waiting for them to launch into Taab so I could sing along to every word. I had memorised not only the lyrics but the whole damn album cover as well. But they never did. And that's when I learned another hard but important adult fact: bands tour to sell their latest albums, not to replay old ones. It was a night for growing up.

Across the Tasman my 18-years-in-the-future-husband-to-be caught a concert on the same tour. He was in the second row with a girlfriend and thus in the sights of Ian Anderson himself. At the end of the gig Anderson reached down to the girlfriend and helped her up on the stage. Apparently she smiled and shrugged at my husband-to-be and that was the last he saw of her, Anderson stole her for the rest of the tour.
posted by Kerasia at 7:46 PM on April 11, 2011

Gungho: nearly every one of the more than 20 albums has some gems on them. People just need to listen to more than Aqualung.

Absolutely! Minstrel In The Gallery is really good, and I'm quite partial to side B of Heavy Horses. Even the shit-tastic '80s albums have some gems: "Dun Ringill," "Rock Island," about half of Crest of a Knave (my dad got his name in the thank yous of that one for attending one of their listening parties). My favorite of their later stuff is the performance of "Rocks on the Road" on A Little Light Music. That cassette and that song accompanied us on so many family trips through the swampy wastes of Mississippi and Central Louisiana.

Tired plumbing wakes me in the morning
shower runs hot, runs cold, playing with me
I'm up for the downside
"Life's a bitch" and all that stuff
So come and shake some apples off my tree.

That song made ten year old me more able to deal with driving til dawn through the middle of nowhere and kind of made me feel like I was living the rock n' roll life to boot--all out of the backseat of Dad's conversion van. Christ, that song kills.
posted by Maaik at 8:16 PM on April 11, 2011

Tony Iommi in Jethro Tull
posted by Liquidwolf at 4:32 AM on April 12, 2011

The history of Jethro Toe The band almost had to take the name when it was printed on the label of their first 45, "Aeroplane"
posted by Gungho at 6:20 AM on April 12, 2011

Here's my TaaB story:

In 1978 I took a course called “Oral Interpretation,” which was basically a guide to dramatic public reading. As part of the class we had to adapt excerpts from various works of memoir, fiction, and poetry for performance. Being a Tull fan, and not wanting to bother trying to find a real poet to use, I selected a chunk of lyrics from Thick as a Brick. After three minutes of solemnly intoning such classic lines as “I may make you feel but I can’t make you think. Your sperm’s in the gutter, your love’s in the sink,” my instructor heartily applauded and asked the name of the poet. Without missing a beat I replied, ”Gerald Bostock. He’s new.” The instructor dutifully noted the name as the class snickered.
posted by mkhall at 8:02 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Song for Jeffrey from the Stones' Rock & Roll Circus.
Just because.
posted by rocket88 at 4:13 PM on April 12, 2011

Oh lordy....huge Tullhead here. I get giddy whenever anyone gives them a nod. They are my go-to favorite band, and I happily take much shit about that. But no matter.... Even their worst albums are terrific in their own way and all have a gem or two (or more) that SOARS. But Benefit through Heavy Horses (coinciding, not incidentally, with the presence of Barriemore Barlow in the band) are a phenomenal run of albums.

Ian "full-on crazy codpiece-wearing Renaissance hobo flautist lead singer" (thanks, TWF) Anderson was revered in my tiny circle of friends who would unveil each new album solemnly and nod knowingly at the winking lyrics.
(Another Christmas Song from Rock Island is entirely about an old man preparing for a visit from his family...his children, and we all looked around, recognizing that Ian, his voice worn, was summoning us.....and then, during the bridge, he sings:

Sharp ears are tuned in to the drones and chanters warming.
Mist blowing round some headland, somewhere in your memory.
Everyone is from somewhere ---
even if you've never been there.
So take a minute to remember the part of you
that might be the old man calling me.

Mind blown.)

Ian seemed to me to me the iconic minstrel in the gallery. You can practically see him in old paintings.

Neatest Tull moment: when I hung with a group who always managed to score frontrow seats and/or backstage passes, they also always seemed to know which hotel the band stayed at after the show. Hang in the hotel lounge in those days & the boys would wander down for a drink or four. During the Catfish Rising tour, we did just that. We beat the van to the hotel. The band, especially Ian, gestured in acknowledgement (recognizing my friends from numerous concerts/lounges/backstage visits) as they exited the van and headed into the hotel. We entered the hotel only to find the lounge was was a Sunday. In Florida. Gah!
As we stood there, an English-accented voice from behind us said something to the effect of "So which one of you is going on a [beer] run?" It was Martin Allcock, a keyboardist from the Fairport Convention, a band Ian cannibalized for his tours from time to time.

We partied in Martin's hotel room until about 4:30 in the morning. The highlight of the night (aside from meeting the incredibly nice Allcock) was when the local rock station played Thick as a Brick (edit, natch). Martin positioned a lamp on the floor (for lighting drama) and "performed" the entire song as played on the radio, to our whoops and cheers.

"Do you believe in the day? Do you? Believe in the day!"
posted by Jezebella at 5:36 PM on April 12, 2011

Sorry, that was the Rock Island tour, not Catfish. Cheers!
posted by Jezebella at 5:38 PM on April 12, 2011

Hit Scene: Jethro Tull 1972
posted by philip-random at 12:10 AM on April 13, 2011

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