Fifty Year Friday: March 1972
Jethro Tull: Thick as a Brick
Released on March 3, 1972, those of us that were Aqualung fans were keen to get our hands on this newest Jethro Tull album. It’s pretty rare when the next release after a five star album such as Aqualung not only doesn’t disappoint, but delivers beyond expectation. Such was my own personal experience with Thick as A Brick one day after my next-door neighbor purchased the album as soon as it was available, on a Friday, and brought it over that very next day on Saturday for me to listen to and record on my reel-to-reel.
I was impressed by the sound quality (it was a well-recorded rock album by the standards of those days) but even more impressed by the musical content. Though I immediately fell in love with the album, it was took an additional listen to start to understand the depth and extent of the overall musical coherence — an understanding, that even fifty years later, is furthered by each repeated listening of this fine musical work.
Though author/composer Ian Anderson would later assert that the album was a playful prank — a spoof on the recent rock-genre trend of long and longer tracks and on concept albums in general, and, partly as a reaction to Aqualung being classified as a concept album — with the intent to ironically answer that misperception with a reductio ad absurdum exhibit of the rock concept album.
And though the concept is pure wit, whimsy and clever absurdity, the text of the lyrics is not without serious import, and, the main product, the music, blends infectiousness and focused craftsmanship, placing it in the same league as nineteenth and early twentieth-century concept-based orchestral and ballet works like Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Gershwin’s American in Paris, and Copland’s Rodeo and Appalachian Spring.
Thick as Brick‘s level of craftmanship is impressive, starting with rhythms and meters, which drive the piece forward — from the initial triplet-based march meter (basically 12/8 with shortened 6/8 bars ending phrases to push the music forcefully forward) to the unrelenting 5/4 section (really 3/4 +2/4) to the contrasting calmer and more reflective lengthy, mostly 4/4 section, which still retains some of the march-like character of the previous music, to the overt march material that follows, back in 12/8 again, then continuing in 12/8 with a second section going into the 4/4 “Childhood Heroes” section, also very march-like, into the stabbing 6/4 instrumental passage that bridges the two sides, setting up, very nicely, the 6/4 material for “See There is a Man Born” and so on with this rhythmic cohesiveness and craftsmanship providing the foundation for the connected, related, and partly repeated (“Childhood Heroes”) musical material.
The effect of this coordinated blend of rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic material is that the listener gets a fulfilling, well-crafted work that provides a satisfying unity and a musical narrative independent of any theme or lack of a theme provided in the scattershot, intentionally multi-dimensional lyrics, which, for any qualities of crypticness or shifts in focus, function exceptionally well with the music to make this not only the best Tull album ever, but one of the best rock albums of all time.
Deep Purple: Machine Head
While many rock groups where embracing the newly-named progressive-rock style of music, Deep Purple shifted away from this genre to race full-throttle into an exemplary hard-rock gear that propelled their music onto dance floors and both AM and FM radio waves advancing their brand and pushing their album into the number one spots in the UK, Germany, Canada, Holland, France, Australia, Denmark, and the sixth spot in Japan and the seventh spot on the US Billboards album charts.
Though exemplary and definitive hard rock in form and function, the instrumental passages still are rich in progressive figurations and character with the best track of the album, and the one receiving the most airplay on AM and FM and most performed by dance bands, “Smoke on the Water”, with a classical-music-level repeated riff that is as unescapable and as memorable to the autonomic nervous system as any riff in the history of rock. Though this one track stands above all others on the album, the album is a delight from start to finish, bookended by the notable rocking and also unescapable “Highway Star” and “Space Truckin” with some impressive Ritchie Blackmore guitar and Jon Lord organ throughout..
Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind
Released on March 3, 1972, “Music of My Mind” begins a string of musically and increasingly successful Stevie Wonder albums progressively incorporating soul, rock, jazz into a modern, post-Motown sound. (Though this is Wonder’s second Tamla album, it is the first one over which he had total artistic control.)
Particularly impressive is the longest track, “Superwoman,” which effectively makes the case for Wonder having full responsibility for not only singing, playing keyboards and composing, but the engineering and production aspects of the final product. Also notable is the effective use of both Moog and Tonto synthesizers throughout the album.