Last time we discussed the second side of the Jethro Tull album Aqualung, and a fine album that was. It was critically and commercially well received, but many of the critics expressed the opinion that it was a concept album, with which Ian Anderson strongly disagreed.
There are various accounts of the reason behind Thick as a Brick, and Anderson has been quoted as saying that he wanted to record it to be a parody of “serious” concept albums. However, in an interview he mentioned some bands that had yet to release a concept album before Thick as a Brick hit the stores.
My personal feeling after reading quite a bit about this is that Anderson did indeed want to write a parody of concept albums, probably because Aqualung was perceived to be one and Anderson had not intended it, and Anderson’s huge ego made him misremember certain facts about just what albums he was parodying.
Thick as a Brick was recorded in late 1971 and released on Chrysalis in the UK and Reprise in the US. Anderson produced it, of course. There was a considerable change in the personnel in the band, so here is a comparison of the personnel from Thick as a Brick versus Aqualung:
TAAB Ian Anderson: lead vocals, acoustic guitar, flute, violin, trumpet, saxophone
AQ Ian Anderson: vocals, acoustic guitar, flute
TAAB Martin Barre: electric guitar, lute
AQ Martin Barre: electric guitar, descant recorder
TAAB John Evan: piano, organ, harpsichord
AQ John Evan: piano, organ, mellotron
TAAB Jeffrey Hammond (as “Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond”): bass guitar, vocals
AQ Jeffrey Hammond (as “Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond”): bass guitar, alto recorder
TAAB Barriemore Barlow: drums, percussion, timpani
AQ Clive Bunker: drums and percussion
TAAB David Palmer: brass and string arrangements
AQ No such position
So the band lost Clive Bunker and added Barriemore Barlow as his replacement on drums, and added David Palmer for previously unfilled positions. In the process, they went from a five member band to a six member band.
The story behind Thick as a Brick ostensibly is the writings of one Gerald Bostock, an eight year old prodigy. Of course, the material was all actually written by Anderson, since that Gerald Bostock was entirely fictional.
The album charted at #1 in the US, but strangely I have not been able to find any record anywhere that it charted in the UK. Perhaps I am just overlooking something, but even the official website does not mention it charting in the UK.
One of the most remarkable feature of this album was the extraordinarily elaborate (and expensive) album cover. I am not sure how Anderson talked the record companies into going with it, because even double covers are expensive compared to just a sleeve. Back when Keith Moon was ready to release Two Sides of the Moon, his only solo album, he had to threaten a record company executive’s antique wooden desk with a fire axe just to get a cover with an insert that could be reversed to change the front cover from a picture of him and Annette to a picture of his bare butt. Here is a picture of the first page:
The album cover appears to be a weekly, small town newspaper like the one that I knew from western Arkansas, The Greenwood Democrat. They are chatty, carry little world or national news, and are in large part a gossip medium. There are lots of Briticisms that are not readily understood by US readers, and I hope that some of our Commonwealth readers can assist us in deciphering them.
I had thought this before, and on the official web site for the album it explicitly says that the newspaper was written in the Monty Python style. You have to look at it for a long time to connect the dots, but they are there. These 12 pages are full of humor, some of it not understandable without having read other parts of the paper first. References to penguins, stuffed or other, and a non-rabbit occur often, and the crossword puzzle is wonderful. So is the connect the dot drawing called “Children’s Corner”. Here it is before filling it out:
And here it is afterwards:
Now we see why Fluffy the Duck’s mouth was watering! I wonder how many original albums have this left pristine? I can not find my copy, but as I remember I did not fill it out, because I have never been one to disfigure books and the like.
Most of you have never seen the original cover, and in the later releases it was not complete. Fortunately, someone went to a lot of trouble to digitize the entire original cover in a user friendly way. I proudly give this link, with each page available as a thumbnail, a full screen, and even having each article magnified so that you can read it easily.
The album cover is what makes this piece really hard to write. Instead of getting into the music tonight, I have a homework assignment for everyone. Take the time to go to the link and read some of it. It is not a fast read, so let us make a date to discuss it next time, then the time after than we shall get into the music itself.
For now, however, I shall put a couple of my favorites in here. Well. I would have but for some reason they will not upload to Photobucket any more. It is on Photobucket’s end, because pictures that I have taken myself of gardening stuff will not upload either. I shall wait a little while and see if they get it fixed.
Photobucket is still not allowing me to upload, so we will have to do this manually. Go to the link and click the Page 1 thumbnail, then zoom in on the top story. That is the story of “Little Milton” and pretty much the concept of the album. After you read that, then close and go to the bottom of the page about the schoolgirl pregnancy row. It is hilarious. The next one that I think is funny in in the middle of page 11, “Up the Garden Path”. In a very Python style, what starts out seeming to be a standard gardening piece becomes directions for disposing of a dead body! The names of the plants to be grown are also hilarious, such as Pastit”, “Funeralum”, and, my favorite, “Creeping_Downunderum.”
Also to get you started, here are the lyrics for the first side of the album and we will probably take up at least a little of it next time.
“Thick As A Brick (Part 1)”
Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.
My words but a whisper your deafness a SHOUT.
I may make you feel but I can’t make you think.
Your sperm’s in the gutter your love’s in the sink.
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.
And the sand-castle virtues are all swept away
in the tidal destruction the moral melee.
The elastic retreat rings the close of play
as the last wave uncovers the newfangled way.
But your new shoes are worn at the heels
and your suntan does rapidly peel
and your wise men don’t know how it feels
to be thick as a brick.
And the love that I feel is so far away:
I’m a bad dream that I just had today
and you shake your head and say it’s a shame.
Spin me back down the years and the days of my youth.
Draw the lace and black curtains and shut out the whole truth.
Spin me down the long ages: let them sing the song.
See there! A son is born and we pronounce him fit to fight.
There are black-heads on his shoulders, and he pees himself in the night.
We’ll make a man of him, put him to trade
teach him to play Monopoly and how to sing in the rain.
The Poet and the Painter casting shadows on the water
as the sun plays on the infantry returning from the sea.
The do-er and the thinker: no allowance for the other
as the failing light illuminates the mercenary’s creed.
The home fire burning: the kettle almost boiling
but the master of the house is far away.
The horses stamping, their warm breath clouding
in the sharp and frosty morning of the day.
And the poet lifts his pen while the soldier sheaths his sword.
And the youngest of the family is moving with authority.
Building castles by the sea, he dares the tardy tide to wash them all aside.
The cattle quietly grazing at the grass down by the river
where the swelling mountain water moves onward to the sea:
the builder of the castles renews the age-old purpose
and contemplates the milking girl whose offer is his need.
The young men of the household have all gone into service
and are not to be expected for a year.
The innocent young master - thoughts moving ever faster -
has formed the plan to change the man he seems.
And the poet sheaths his pen while the soldier lifts his sword.
And the oldest of the family is moving with authority.
Coming from across the sea, he challenges the son who puts him to the run.
What do you do when the old man’s gone - do you want to be him?
And your real self sings the song. Do you want to free him?
No one to help you get up steam
and the whirlpool turns you `way off-beam.
I’ve come down from the upper class to mend your rotten ways.
My father was a man-of-power whom everyone obeyed.
So come on all you criminals! I’ve got to put you straight
just like I did with my old man twenty years too late.
Your bread and water’s going cold.
Your hair is too short and neat.
I’ll judge you all and make damn sure that no-one judges me.
You curl your toes in fun as you smile at everyone,
you meet the stares, you’re unaware that your doings aren’t done.
And you laugh most ruthlessly as you tell us what not to be.
But how are we supposed to see where we should run?
I see you shuffle in the courtroom with
your rings upon your fingers
and your downy little sidies
and your silver-buckle shoes.
Playing at the hard case,
you follow the example of the comic-paper idol
who lets you bend the rules.
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.
You put your bet on number one and it comes up every time.
The other kids have all backed down and they put you first in line.
And so you finally ask yourself just how big you are
and take your place in a wiser world of bigger motor cars.
And you wonder who to call on.
So! Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you though?
They’re all resting down in Cornwall
writing up their memoirs for a paper-back edition
of the Boy Scout Manual.
Ponder on these over the week, as I shall, and we will have a discussion next time. This is a complex work, and will take some time to contemplate. I am having a bit of trouble concentrating tonight because I am distracted by a number of things, so do not want to get too deep into explanations of things right now.
I should be around for comments, although I have not left a lot of material on which to comment. It is possible that I might get an offer to visit, and if so you will know because I do not respond. I should be back before end of evening, though.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith