It was repealed in the early 80s, so it’s lost to history, but in 1970, the U.K. Parliament passed what was colloquially known as the Prog Long Song Act.
Said Act stated that, in order to qualify for the Official U.K. Progressive Rock Artiste Registry, a “Progressive-English” artist had to release an album containing one song that either took up a whole side of an album, or was separated into “parts” or “movements” or “impressions” that when totaled together, were longer than 20 minutes.
Well, as you can imagine, the British prog rock aristocracy went crazy complying with this: Emerson, Lake & Palmer released “Tarkus” and later “Karn Evil 9,” while Yes responded with “Close to the Edge” and later on, “Gates of Delirium.” Pink Floyd dazzled with both “Echoes” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” Genesis weighed in with “Supper’s Ready” and starting with “Tubular Bells” (a small excerpt of which was a hit single here in the U.S., thanks to its use in The Exorcist), Mike Oldfield did nothing but albums that were one long song for the entire decade.
And while Rush’s “2112” was disqualified for being “too Canadian” (in other words, Canadian), that didn’t stop Neal Peart from writing a long impassioned letter saying that in a capitalist world, the concept of “country” was outmoded, outdated and should have no bearing on, well, anything.
And of course, Ian Anderson had to weigh in, so Jethro Tull came out with their mega magnum opus, Thick as a Brick, a one-song-spread-over-two-sides beast that was equal parts utter sincerity and absolute parody, as it came with a high-concept fold-out newspaper centered around the 8-year-old winner of a poetry contest, whose poem supposedly comprised the lyrics.
Anyways, I will admit that I was a sucker for a lot of this tomfoolerly back when I was younger, and once again now that I’m older, I have a renewed appreciation for it.
As ever, something that is 45-minutes long is going to have parts that just don’t work, so when “Thick as a Brick” goes too deep into the acoustic guitar and flute or free jazz sections, I start wondering if I should punch my 14-year-old self for even getting me into this in the first place, but those are always followed by a pretty boss guitar solo or a particularly gorgeous melody line, and it’s come home teenage Jim, all is forgiven!
So while I like the first part of “Thick as a Brick” more so than the second part, all in all, it’s pretty a essential and fun piece of prog, and Tull took their rightful place on the Official U.K. Progressive Rock Artiste Registry.
“Thick as a Brick (part 1)”
“Thick as a Brick” performed live at Madison Square Garden, 1978
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