Oxfam Jams #3

by Liam Hill

Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick

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For this edition, I picked an album that I’d never listened to and a band I knew very little about. The way I approached my choice this week is similar to how I have previously bought vinyl in other shops, which for me it involves two things. Firstly, recommendations from someone working in the shop - this time shop-manager Jane suggested that I give this album a listen. Secondly, the presentation of the album; here, a mock newspaper.

In my last edition, I primarily focused on the ‘overall package’ of Tommy by The Who, and for this edition, I largely wanted to avoid focusing on the same content. However, seeing as my approach to selection this week largely focused on the appearance, it would be unfitting to omit it. As a side note, it’s also quite fitting that, somewhat by chance, the focus is on an album sometimes regarded as Jethro Tull’s Tommy.

Originally formed in 1967, Jehtro Tull released their debut album in ’68, with Thick As A Brick being released in 1972. The continuous album hit the shelves during the pinnacle of the concept album, with Dark Side of The Moon, The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Desperado all being released around the same time. However, lead singer Ian Anderson has also stated how Thick As A Brick in fact was a satirical take on similar albums released by Yes and Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Nonetheless, the musical result is certainly not a joke.

But firstly, to address the packaging ‘issue’: the original and available version in the Oxfam Music shop consists of a spoof newspaper. This to me, as previously with Tommy, exemplifies the beauty of vinyl, with the expansion of music as a sole art form to a complete experience. By opening the gatefold sleeve and folding town the interior, a full sized newspaper is placed inside full of puns, cartoons, competitions, and most importantly, all of the lyrics, on page seven. This, as I’ve suggested before, is the sheer brilliant advantage of presenting music through a tangible ‘object’: the time, effort and energy Jethro Tull put into this release is not isolated to the music, but the overall piece.

However, what I found unusual with this release was the lack of detail on the centre of the vinyl. Typically, this would contain a track list with song lengths and writers, catalogue codes, and sometimes other seemingly random codes and identifiers. But Thick As A Brick is almost bare, with all credits going to Jethro Tull collectively and featuring no track titles at all. Though this may seem a futile thing to pick up on, these little details would typically tell you the history of the album: what country it comes from, what year it was released, individuals that contributed to the songs, what edition it is etc. Hopefully, the next edition of this column will be more ‘normal’ in this sense, and will feature more explanation on the importance of this feature.

The album is split into only two tracks, though it is essentially one extended song split in the middle: Thick As A Brick (Part One) and (Part Two). The album is more or less a continuous piece, with the only real interval being the time it takes to turn the record over; though this could be seen as a deliberate marking point to have the pause. Whilst I generally have nothing against longer tracks, my biggest issue with this piece is there is no leeway to listen to a snippet of the album, just to get a taste or memory of it; it’s 21 minutes or nothing.

But that aside, the music itself is rather good, and proof in the pudding that recommendations are a sensible way to approach new music. Not only is it a great way to find out about artists you might not have listened to, it’s also a great way of engaging in sharing your favourites too. Whilst the music is largely typical of the genre and era, there is something impalpably different about Thick As A Brick which leads me to feel it is foundational and near essential to the developments of prog rock as a genre – perhaps it’s the flute solo.

Finally, what’s often central to the eventual yes or no in purchasing vinyl, of course is condition. Whilst it is incredibly difficult to find anything in near mint condition dating back to the 70s, this copy of Thick As A Brick is nonetheless in excellent condition (notably the sleeve is of impeccable quality) and is worth every penny.

As well as Thick As A Brick, the store currently has some other fantastic vinyl on offer, including Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin III, and Exile On Maine Street - the list really is endless.

With exams coming to an end, why not go and reward yourselves with some fantastic new music, and if you haven’t listened to Jethro Tull before, why not take this as my recommendation to you.