Not the Pazz and Jop 1972 – #8

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick

Bands like Jethro Tull force me to confront my limitations as a music fan. I love a perfectly-constructed 3-to-5-minute pop song: within those dimensions can be fit the best that rock music has to offer – “Good Vibrations”, “Anarchy in the U.K.”, “Billie Jean”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Hey Ya”. There are exceptions. I’ll stretch it to 7 or so minutes for “Layla” or “I Like Chopin”, go to 8 or 9 to accommodate “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” or “November Rain” or “Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard”. For the right song – “Marquee Moon” basically – 11 minutes is just fine. Anything beyond that is merely testing my patience.

So WTF am I supposed to do with a song that is 22 minutes long? There’s nothing in my background to prepare me for this. These aren’t really songs, they’re suites, with changes in tempo and theme and style, bound together by – well, what exactly? I expect these types of records reward repeated listens, and by the third time through I was starting to appreciate it more. Side one has a very playful and bouncy opening three minutes that left me thinking “maybe these guys aren’t so bad”, then Anderson is screeching in my ears and I’m ready to call it a day. There’s also a keyboard bit, with a little flute mixed in along the way, that starts around 12:30 that I quite like. 

Then I accidentally hit play on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and was reminded that three and a half minutes is more than enough time to make great art. Sometimes a longer piece of music doesn’t mean it’s more serious or important: maybe it’s just longer. Jethro Tull and their ilk are trying way too hard. Aretha Franklin only needed 2:27 to earn our “Respect”.

(Originally posted on Facebook, June 28, 2021)

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