Jethro Tull: Comparing “A Passion Play” and “Thick as a Brick”

Jethro Tull's two albumsJethro Tull released A Passion Play in 1973 after abandoning efforts to record a different album. Fans were excited to learn that the music would follow a similar structure to the previous hit, the masterful epic Thick as a Brick. But the new album left many fans and critics disappointed. I remember my eagerness for the album’s release, and my own befuddlement after listening to it the first time. It had much of the same inventiveness as Thick as a Brick, and certainly had engaging ideas and tunes. But I had a harder time following it musically, with its frequent changes of material, interruptions, and interwoven themes. Only much later have I come to fully appreciate the album’s charms. Continue reading →

Reevaluating the legacy of progressive rock

The rise and fall of progressive rockIn the introduction to his book “The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock,” David Weigel points out that rock critics have traditionally heaped praise on punk rock while disparaging progressive rock. I’ve noticed this tendency, too, over the years. Yes, prog rock could sometimes be pretentious and bloated. But you could equally criticize punk for being crude and simplistic. Weigel aims to correct this imbalance by telling the story of prog rock. Continue reading →

Discovering an overlooked musical gem

Roots to Branches--an overlooked musical gemSometimes we come across music and are surprised to discover a previously overlooked musical gem. That’s what happened to me with the 1995 Jethro Tull album Roots to Branches. Why is it that we can react so differently to certain music that didn’t impress it before? Maybe it’s the mood we’re in when we first encounter something. It resonates. Or it fails to resonate. Maybe our tastes have changed, or broadened. In this case, the reason may have more to do with the former than with a change in taste. Continue reading →

Ten unlikely hit songs that broke the rules

Few songs that break the rules of pop songwriting ever achieve mainstream success. Deviate from the predictable verse/chorus structure in 4/4 time arranged for a basic grouping of guitar/keyboards, bass and drums, and you can pretty much guarantee being marginalized. During a 20-year period from roughly 1965-1985, however – a period that witnessed a flowering of musical creativity and widespread openness to experimentation – it was possible to break the rules and have a hit record. Here are ten unlikely hits from that period. Continue reading →