Skip to main content

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.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

The Stars Hollow Gazette,

Docudharma, and


Originally posted to Translator on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 05:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by An Ear for Music, DKOMA, and Protest Music.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and recs for (35+ / 0-)

    a strange but good album?

    Warmest regards,


    I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

    by Translator on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 04:45:29 PM PDT

  •  TULL!!! (7+ / 0-)

    Only had the two hits albums, so can't comment on the TaaB album.
    But here is a stellar performance on the Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, for everybody:

    "A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and me?" - Don Van Vliet

    by AlyoshaKaramazov on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 06:24:59 PM PDT

  •  So, so many echoes of the idea- (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, nellgwen, SherwoodB

    'Your wise men don't know how it feels/
    To be thick as a brick...

    Like in that Be Here Now book, it has a lot of quotes of 'Gurdjieff and Ouspensky', and one says:

    people must be DISAPPOINTED, first of all in themselves, that is to say, in their powers, and secondly in all the old ways...

    Dylan: 'All my senses have been stripped... wait only for my                               boot heels to be wandering...

    Dead: Walk in to splintered sunlight/
               Inch your way through dead dreams to a new land

    Moodies: Take a free ride/
                    Take my place

    Zep: When the Levee breaks....

    Joanna Newsom: We sailed away on a Winter's day...

    Natalie Merchant: When the thunderclouds sound/
                                  Ants all scatter to high ground...

    Or how about Ringo's disappointment in his life, would he have seen the Yellow Submarine otherwise?

    "Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night... and today's only Wednesday."

    Now here's my favorite, this idea of pouring yourself out on the barren sand of life- the life of attachment- then shucking that old skin, giving it all away; it's that idea too in the other Tull line,

     'And you press on God's waiter your last dime/
    As he hands you the bill

    Or how about that Clash line from the song 'Lose this Skin'

    Do not turn, I hate to see/
    All the things you think we've got

    Do not turn, I hate to see/
    What happened to the wife of Lot

    See, this is why to me there's really just one band.

  •  Excellent (4+ / 0-)

    The first album I ever bought and I remember the connect the dots.  Excellent album.    

    •  Next time we shall get into some (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mookins, SherwoodB, Wreck Smurfy

      of the music and even more of the newspaper.  Before I started the research for this piece I had forgotten just how fucking great this album is.

      Warmest regards,


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:40:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Concert (4+ / 0-)

    My dad introduced me to this when I was a teen.  It's really good music, and I was always astounded that a rock song could be three quarters of an hour long.  He recalled going to a concert that opened with Thick as a Brick... the full version.  Everyone was into the music, and the song ended, Ian Anderson announcing, "And now, for our second song..."  The crowd erupted in laughter.

    •  You literally are correct! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mookins, SherwoodB, KenBee

      There were only two proper songs on the album, but lots of variations in each.  You father was cool.  I took my family to see The Who before Entwistle died (no kids old enough in 1978).  All of them still are happy that they got to see them.

      Warmest regards,


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 07:43:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What about the music? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wreck Smurfy, Translator, mookins

    Why should the lyrics be given such importance here? It's Anderson's music and arrangements/production that make this a great album. In summer 1973 I purchased the Warner Bros. 8-track version - the only bright-chartreuse 8-track cartridge I've ever seen. Twenty years later I found the LP with newspaper intact at a yard sale, and later still a sibling made me a CD copy.

    The music for the last major segment of side 1 is probably my favorite of the whole album, starting "I see you shuffle in the courtroom..." But to me the most characteristic parts are those in 12/8 (12/16?) meter, such as the opening.

    If I could write all that, words and music, and produce the album as well, I'd have a "huge ego" myself. In a way Thick as a Brick is Ian Anderson's version of his contemporary Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, a True Star but a year early; they're both amazingly ambitious undertakings, especially considering all the (analog) individual tracks involved.

    [Has any one person in the past 30 years - since Prince made 1999 - been able to focus at length on one album's worth of material and refine it over a period of months to produce a result whose workmanship is so obvious? Or has that ability - or the need for it - gone the way of the analog recording studio?]

  •  I can't wait a week, or even a day to post this (5+ / 0-)

    "Thick as a Brick" is perhaps one of the greatest records ever made.  I have listened to it so many times, I feel as though I have it memorized.  I love the entire Tull canon, and I love most 70's rock, but this one really stands out to me.

    It's so clever, and artistic, and so close to being TOO MUCH, and yet it never quite is.  Ian is a musical genius.  He knows how to rock you, and hit you over the head, and yet, so often he uses a gentle, light touch to let an acoustic guitar and that plaintive voice to weave sophisticated, and simultaneously crude poetry that is often sweet, sometimes mocking, and always thoughtful.

    I saw them live at Red Rocks in Colorado in about '86 or '87.  They had some young, studly kid in a trench coat on lead guitar, and they OWNED the crowd.  The tour was "Oh no! Not another Twenty Years of Jethro Tull!"

    They played a fairly long version of "Thick as a Brick" at that show, and I was so happy they did.  I want to say, maybe 15 minutes or so?  I've heard it as short as 3, (far too short,) and give my approval to any version over about 8.  I would love to hear the whole thing live, though.

    I never even thought about whether "Thick as a Brick," or "Aqualung" were concept albums, simply because all of Jethro Tull's work together is more or less a "Concept Portfolio."  Every album connects to every other.  What a truly inspiring band!

    We are the change we have been waiting for.

    by mellowinman on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:00:49 PM PDT

  •  Hey Doc, not a good Friday for me. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wreck Smurfy, Translator, KenBee, mookins

    My father died today, so I'm way off focus.  

    Thanks for the reprieve. I might read the paper this time, can't remember it well from the original time.  Mary J has that effect I've been told.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:04:26 PM PDT

    •  I am so, so sorry for your (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      markdd, KenBee, mookins

      loss, my dear friend!  Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts, and those thoughts are for for everyone to remember fond memories that will make each and every of you smile.

      Warmest regards,


      I would rather die from the acute effects of a broken heart than from the chronic effects of an empty heart. Copyright, Dr. David W. Smith, 2011

      by Translator on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:25:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love this album musically, enjoy it here (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Translator, Wreck Smurfy, KenBee, mookins

    You could be listening to Netroots Radio. "We are but temporary visitors on this planet. The microbes own this place" <- Me

    by yuriwho on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:07:14 PM PDT

  •  I was 10 years old when this album came out. (2+ / 0-)

    I saw it many times in department store record sections, and I was always fascinated by the cover. But I didn't have the money for an album in those days, so I didn't buy it (and my Mom and Dad would probably have had heart attacks if I had).

    Later, in high school, my buddy Chris introduced me to Tull, with this album, and I was hooked immediately. As Python fans, we both had great fun with the cover, although I don't think we ever did the connect-the-dots.

    About two years later, I started dating a young lady who played the flute, so I got heavier into Tull, including Heavy Horses, her fave. Somewhere in there I bought TAAB on cassette, and nearly wore it out over the next 10 years or so.

    About 4 years ago I downloaded it from iTunes, and listen to it regularly. The download includes excerpts from a live performance, and separate interviews from Ian and the rest of the band on the making of the album and the first live performances. Highly recommended.

    In short, this is one of my favorite albums of all time, and will always be so. But I must admit that I now know the lyrics a bit better than before, thanks to this diary.

    -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

    by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 08:08:48 PM PDT

  •  One of the all-time greats (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I can recite those lyrics without a glance at the words on the screen! :)

    Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set... -- Gandalf

    by dnta on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 11:57:47 PM PDT

  •  Please tell me (0+ / 0-)'ll take up "Songs from the Wood" at some point.

  •  A small tribute (0+ / 0-)

    ... from last year's evening of Tull covers in L.A., which I arranged and for which I served as primary vocalist: The 11-minute (or so) version of TAAB.

    Winning elections is great, but building movements is better.

    by Alvin K on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 12:48:35 AM PDT

  •  I'm in a fairly small minority (0+ / 0-)

    I much prefer "A Passion Play" to "Thick As A Brick".

    Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað

    by milkbone on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 03:28:39 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site