I know what you’re thinking: “What is an article about a progressive rock album doing in this book blog series?” Well, as you could probably tell from how it has featured poetry and plays in the past, this is not a book blog series; it’s a literary analysis and review series. And in any situation where poetry, which most would feel very comfortable labeling as literature, is a candidate for study—songwriting is eligible as well. Now, on to the topic at hand.
Fans of musicians like Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground, and Arlo Guthrie are no doubt familiar with songs stretching above the ten-minute mark. And fans of bands like The Who, Rush, and Pink Floyd are familiar with entire albums built around one narrative or theme. But fans of Jethro Tull’s fifth album, Thick as a Brick, are automatically familiar with both.
This strange album from 1972 contains just one album-length song, also called “Thick as a Brick,” which was cut into two parts that filled both sides of the record on which it was originally distributed. But even when ignoring the song’s gargantuan duration, Thick as a Brick is an odd album; it was produced with the intention of poking fun at the pretentiousness of the long, thematic, narrative format of music (often called concept albums), and especially of progressive rock, which it also is.
This makes the album a prime example of parody which is seemingly undercut by the album’s success, with many missing the mockery and the album masquerading as a sincere expression for most listeners for decades. Much like how there are people like Nabra Nelson that see the novel Brave New World as a utopia rather than a dystopia, an artist’s intention might be distant from how people ultimately interpret or accept their art. Thick as a Brick even hit the number one spot on the American, Canadian, and Australian charts shortly after its release. But after all, is the song really just one big joke, or are people right to be taking it so seriously?
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