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Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs (Profiles in Popular Music) [Paperback]

Tim Smolko
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Nov 2013 Profiles in Popular Music
Since the 1960s, British progressive rock band Jethro Tull has pushed the technical and compositional boundaries of rock music by infusing its musical output with traditions drawn from classical, folk, jazz, and world music. The release of Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973) won the group legions of new followers and topped the Billboard charts in the United States, among the most unusual albums ever to do so. Tim Smolko explores the large-scale form, expansive instrumentation, and complex arrangements that characterize these two albums, each composed of one continuous song. Featuring insights from Ian Anderson and in-depth musical analysis, Smolko discusses the band's influence on popular culture and why many consider Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play to be two of the greatest concept albums in rock history.

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Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play: Inside Two Long Songs (Profiles in Popular Music) + A Passion Play: The Story of Ian Anderson & Jethro Tull + Around The World Live [DVD] [2013] [NTSC]
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Product details

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (25 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253010314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253010315
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.5 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 290,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"Tim Smolko's book makes a significant contribution to the literature in popular music studies and musicology. Furthermore, it is an important addition to the available literature on Jethro Tull, which - despite their commercial success and longevity - has not been rewarded as of yet with sustained analytical study." - Kevin Holm-Hudson, author of Genesis and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway "[R]ather than offering yet another biography, Smolko takes a musicological - as well as a cultural - approach to just two of Tull's albums [...] an endorsement from such a notebale authority [as Adrian Stone-Mason] surely makes this worth reading for those of a scholarly bent." - Rock n' Reel

About the Author

Tim Smolko holds master s degrees in Musicology and in Library Science and is monographs original cataloger at the University of Georgia."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My God as Ian Anderson might say...... 31 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
..........this was a very interesting book to read and extremely well researched. It is an intellectual book for sure and expect to devote some time and effort to get the most from it. What I particularly liked was that the author avoided letting his own interpretations intrude and kept to the basics evaluating the albums extremely well. Another plus I liked, is that the complete lyrics to both albums are included at the back. Until I read this book I didn't know that Anderson played a violin on TAAB, or that Barre played the lute! The author clearly details where you can hear these being played and in fact all the different instruments - seventeen different types in all - what a great touch! There is some very interesting stuff too on the Chateau d'Isaster tapes with some very insightful points being made. I totally agree for example, that these tapes had a freshness that was later missing on APP, which at times does suffer for sounding a little over-worked. Listening again to the albums with this book as a guide has been a revelation, a bit like hearing all those interesting musical treats you hear in the remastered versions, which you missed the first time around.

I've knocked a point off because it isn't easy to read too much of the text in one go and at times it does get a tad heavy, especially for me during the musical analysis. So a chapter at a time is more than enough to reflect on the key points being made. On the other hand, you will certainly become well informed about two of the best known concept albums of the seventies. TAAB for me is one of the best progressive rock records ever made and APP equally enigmatic, but in different ways, isn't far behind.

There is a strong argument that this book is definitive : I'd be extremely surprised if Ian Anderson wasn't a supporter, being the deep thinker that he is. Occasionally then the intellectualism gets in the way a little, but overall this is a must-read for the Tull addict.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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I have little to add to previous reviewers. The people who buy this book will already know that these are two of the greatest rock albums ever made, and fully merit the detailed academic analysis presented here. But this book is nonetheless long overdue, and hopefully a welcome sign that the world is once again starting to appreciate the spirit of ambition and adventure that characterised the great British progressive rock bands of the 1970s. Tull weren't the only British band to make truly great music during this period - Yes and Pink Floyd were also stong contenders for the 'prog' crown - but there is something mysterious about Ian Anderson's approach to the creative process that approaches the level of genius. His best music - contained on these two majestic albums - assimilates so many influences, from rock, folk, jazz, blues, baroque and elizabethan music, but transforms them into something totally unique and compelling.

I don't agree with everything the author has to say about Tull or Anderson. He is far too dismissive about 'Warchild', for example. Yes, it was a much more commercial album, but it contains some great music ('Back door angels', for example). Conversely, he lavishes excessive praise on last year's Thick as a Brick 2 (which is inspired in places but in no way comparable to the original). He also over-states the extent to which the concept album was an invention of progressive rock. In fact, the first true concept albums were the LPs Frank Sinatra and Julie London made in the late 1950s and early 1960s on the themes of loneliness and relationship break up.
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5.0 out of 5 stars the ultimate book on the one-track Tull albums 21 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a must-have for the dedicated Tull fans. It's an in-depth study of the two famous "one-track" albums of Jethro Tull.
A thorough analysis of both albums and their history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 4 Nov 2013
By spud - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Smolko provides a "scholarly" analysis of TAAB and APP - he is, after all, in academia - that is a worthy treatment of these great pieces of rock music. If, like me, you've listened to each of these albums hundreds of times, and know each measure note for note, you will find Smolko's musical knowledge - and how he applies it to the great music of Ian and the band - very enjoyable. There is less lyrical analysis than I expected, but Smolko mentions up front that it isn't his intent to try to decipher every wordplay Ian makes. I think APP is far and away the greatest rock album ever created; however, Smolko is convincing in his arguments about how TAAB's flow and re-creation of familiar themes make for a more enjoyable listening experience. If nothing else, reading this book will make you want to bring out the old LPs and listen to them soup-to-nuts.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Way Over My Head, But Interesting Analysis/Comparison 30 Oct 2013
By Paul Wetor - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick" in 1972 was my first rock concert. I knew little about the group, but I enjoyed the show. A few days later, at a high school graduation party, somebody played TAAB. Kind of catchy, I thought, hearing it the second time. (Rock concerts had awful sound in those days). Thus, I became a Jethro Tull fanatic for 40+ years.

It's great that somebody took the time to look deeply into TAAB and "A Passion Play". The history behind the music and the recording is fascinating. The analysis of the music itself is over my head, but I appreciate the effort. The author is honest about both albums. APP is enjoyable in small doses, but gets dreary after a while. This book explains why. TAAB has always been Tull's masterpiece, and this book gives it the credit it deserves.

He even writes about the original tours of the albums. Yes, I remember the band posing as roadies in white jumpsuits. And the phone ringing. And John Evan looking like a deranged ice cream man at the keyboards. And the APP intro film, when Ian Anderson jumped through a cut in the screen to take the stage.

The music of Jethro Tull has always been more interesting than most rock/pop music. Now I finally understand why.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic for Tull geeks 15 Mar 2014
By Jason from Iowa - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When you love music and music books and you want to read about your favorite artists, often the actual musical content is glossed over - with the exception of descriptions "and now the heavy reversed drums enter" - and judgments - "the last three songs on this record were INCREDIBLE!". What is left is gossip about the band, portrait-styles, etc. Not many music writers have the knowledge to talk about the actual music content and what is going on, why the music works the way it does on a technical level. However, when you do get someone who knows their stuff, they will put a cerebral framework on rock music that the writers never intended and make themselves look ridiculous - think of the classic line about the Beatles "Aeolian Cadences", leaving John Lennon to wonder what the hell those were. This book really is the best of all possible worlds. The author says very soon in the beginning that while Ian Anderson certainly didn't impose any classical structure on these long works but being written and set in stone they do have a structure and he gamely seeks it out. He does speak technically, about modes and key changes, and never seemed to be 'reaching' at all. He has quite a lot to say about the instrumentation on the albums that was full of insight and interest to me - like, how A Passion Play has the least flute of Jethro Tull's albums due to Ian working on the saxes more. He pulls out interviews for how each record was conceived, recorded, and then performed. He even has a bit on the Thick As A Brick 2 record. I found this to be a great book and I have re-read it already a couple times. Highly recommended if you're a Tull geek with a bit of music knowledge!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare rock music book that is actually about MUSIC! 7 Jan 2014
By Matthew Schwarz - Published on
I'm really into music (both listening/collecting and writing/performing), and I've read quite a few band and musician biographies, as well as books on particular genres (especially progressive rock). One thing I've noticed is that music seems to get rather little attention in books about rock music! (They tend to focus on the band members as people, the scene, clothes, commercial success and the business aspects of the band, and - for the more mainstream bands - drugs, groupies, etc.)
Thus, it's very exciting that Smolko has written a book about two of the great masterpieces of progressive rock that really gets into the music. The author really digs into what makes Thick as a Brick tick as a single, 40+ minute piece of music - the mix of repeated and varied ideas in both music and lyrics, as well as the reuse and variation of musical themes and ideas. (I haven't gotten to the Passion Play chapters yet, but the TAAB part is enlightening). For someone with little understanding of musical theory, a lot of it will be over your head, but if you're really into the music there should still be plenty of interest. For someone with a working knowledge of music and interest in this style, this book is a rare and fantastic insight that really shows you what a genius Ian Anderson is, and how this music really has a depth behind it to justify how great it sounds!
A previous reviewer comments that he doesn't think Ian Anderson was planning the piece as formally as Smolko implies, but the beauty of Smolko's writing is that he doesn't give the impression that he's trying to attribute ideas to Anderson that aren't there - in fact, there are plenty of old and new quotes from Ian Anderson in the book helping to clarify the writing process - pointing out that Anderson didn't have a formal, set plan but was going by feel. Yet, the musical analysis of how musical themes were reused and adapted shows that Anderson had an inherent understanding of and feel for the kind of composition used by classical composers that was applied to Tull's music, although he didn't have a formal musical education. It was rather interesting to get an insight into the music writing techniques of one of the greatest and most original musicians of our era. I have read several books and seen documentaries on Tull, but this one still had much to offer.
One thing that would've been nice is a more detailed analysis of the lyrics and their meanings, with input from Ian Anderson (who is, after all, still alive and well and able to explain this stuff so we don't have to guess!), but maybe Ian prefers to keep the lyrical meaning open to interpretation? Nonetheless, the analysis of these two albums as music and works of art is plenty value enough for this book.
Hopefully Ian Anderson (who seems to be drifting back towards progressive rock music with his recent Thick As A Brick II and upcoming new album in 2014) reads this and remembers some of his old tricks. (For instance - in the afterword about TAAB2 - Smolko mentions that it's much more vocal oriented, while TAAB and Passion Play had a LOT of instrumental sections. Considering Ian's decreased vocal abilities, while he can still write and play wonderfully, wouldn't newer works benefit by a higher ratio of music to singing.)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After about 40 years, the academic world is noticing. 28 Nov 2013
By J-man - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is as good of a book as will ever be written on this arcane subject. Clearly not for most readers, but if you have a certian facination with these two long songs by Jethro Tull, this is for you. Recorded in the early 70's with arguably their best line-up of musicians, these 2 "songs" or perhaps song cycles, are unique in prog rock. Also, there is some satisfaction in seeing works like these taken seriously in some small part of the academic world.
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