Thick as a Brick is a concept album, and the fifth studio album, by the English progressive rock band Jethro Tull released in 1972. Its lyrics are based on a poem written by a fictitious boy, Gerald Bostock, said to have been adapted to music by Jethro Tull—although the band's Ian Anderson in fact wrote the lyrics himself. The album features only one song, lasting nearly 45 minutes. To accommodate the album on LP vinyl and cassette, the seamless track was split on both sides of the record.
The epic is notable for numerous time signature and tempo changes (which is not uncommon in the then-emerging progressive rocksubgenre of rock), as well as a large number of themes throughout the piece, resembling a typical classical symphony in this regard, rather than a typical rock song. Released in 1972, Thick as a Brick was Jethro Tull's first deep progressive rock offering, four years after the release of their first album. Not only was the musical structure complex, but many instruments uncommon in rock music were added. Whereas in prior numbers the band were content with guitars, drums, piano, Hammond organ, and Ian Anderson's signature flute, Thick as a Brick included harpsichord, xylophone, timpani, violin, lute, trumpet, saxophone, and a string section.
Band leader Ian Anderson was surprised by the critical reaction to the previous album, Aqualung, as a "concept album", a label he has firmly rejected to this day. In an interview on In the Studio with Redbeard (which spotlighted Thick as a Brick), Anderson's response to the critics was: "If the critics want a concept album we'll give the mother of all concept albums and we'll make it so bombastic and so over the top." Ian Anderson has been quoted as stating that Thick as a Brick was written "because everyone was saying we were a progressive rock band, so we decided to live up to the reputation and write a progressive album, but done as a parody of the genre." With Thick as a Brick, the band created an album deliberately integrated around one concept: a poem by an intelligent English boy (named Gerald) about the trials of growing up. Beyond this, the album was a send-up of all pretentious "concept albums". (The simile "Thick as a brick", in English, is an expression signifying someone who is "stupid; slow to learn or understand".)
Anderson also stated in that interview that "the album was a spoof to the albums of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer much like what the movie Airplane! had been to Airport". The formula was successful, and the album reached number one on the charts in the United States.
Beginning in March 1972, and continuing for about a year, the band performed an upwards of 70-minute-long version of the album. The performance grew in length from 60 minutes in March to about 70 minutes later. Side one of the official album was expanded in concert to about 45 minutes in length with the inclusion of flute, bass and organ, and other instrumental interludes, as well as the instrumentals "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Bouree". At the conclusion of side one a 5-minute "news and weather" comedy routine gave the band (and the audience) a break from the intense music. At concerts in Germany and Italy, the news and weather section was done in those native languages. After the "news and weather" side two of the album was played. It began as the official album did but then became much more improvisatory and included a long drum solo (sometimes almost 10 minutes long). The side two section lasted about 25 minutes and concluded, as did the official album, with the coda. The remainder of the 1972 live show consisted of (with only minor variances throughout the year) "Cross-Eyed Mary", "A New Day Yesterday", "Aqualung", "Wind-Up", "Martin's Guitar Solo", "Locomotive Breath", and "Wind-Up (Reprise)".
There are no known official video or film recordings of the tour and Ian Anderson denies the existence of any soundboard recordings of any of those performances. There are, however, at least 30 recordings from the audience that circulate among collectors, so this has been well documented.
Later live performances feature a shortened version of the first side, such as the 12 minutes and 30 seconds version on the live albumBursting Out.
The original LP cover was a spoof of a twelve-by-sixteen inch (305 by 406 mm) multipage local newspaper, entitled The St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser, with articles, competitions, adverts, etc., lampooning the parochial and amateurish local journalism that still exists in many places today, as well as certain classical album covers. Jethro Tull's official website states about the mock-newspaper, "There are a lot of inside puns, cleverly hidden continuing jokes (such as the experimental non-rabbit), a surprisingly frank review of the album itself, and even a little naughty connect-the-dots children's activity." The "newspaper", dated 7 January 1972, also includes the entire lyrics to the poem "Thick as a Brick" (and, thus, to the album of the same name -- printed on page 7) as written by a fictional 8-year-old literary prodigy, Gerald "Little Milton" Bostock, whose disqualification from a poetry contest is the focus of the front page story. This article claims that although Bostock initially won the contest with "Thick as a Brick", the judges' decision was repealed after a multitude of protests and threats concerning the offensive nature of the poem, furthered by allegations of the boy's psychological instability. Subtly scattered throughout the articles are references to the lyrics, to Bostock and Jethro Tull, and to other peculiar parts of the newspaper itself. The spoof newspaper had to be heavily abridged for conventional CD covers, but the 25th Anniversary Special Edition CD includes a partial facsimile; some content is missing, such as a part of the "front page;" however, the picture was restored to its full size including the entire image of "Gerald's chum", 14-year-old Julia Fealey, who in the article below the main one blames her recent pregnancy on Bostock.