This is the only song on the album. Side 1 is "part 1," running 22:31, and Side 2 was "part 2," clocking in at 21:05. Each side is over 20 minutes long.
A radio edit, running just 3:01, was sent to radio stations and is the version used on most compilation albums. Speaking with Songfacts in 2013, Ian Anderson explained: "Back in 1972, you had to be aware of what was then called AOR radio - it was a delicate beast. It could only in most cases manage to play music that was in bite size portions. So we had to think about giving the option to American radio playing little edited sections of 'Thick As A Brick,' so they didn't have to delicately drop the needle into the middle of a long track or lift it off after the three and a half minutes. So we did that specially for American radio.
It was never released publicly in that form, but in limited editions which were sent out to radio stations in the US, which is the only place where the record got played, anyway. It never got played in the UK or anywhere in Europe, it was just not that kind of music."
"Thick as a brick" is a phrase meaning stubbornly dumb, as one's head is so thick that no new thoughts can enter it. The song starts with Ian Anderson expressing his low expectations for his target ("I may make you feel but I can't make you think") before singing about class structures, conformity, and the rigid moralistic beliefs of the establishment that perpetuates it.
The song follows a young boy who sees two career paths: soldier and artist. He chooses the life of a soldier, just like his father. We see him assimilate into the society he once rebelled against, becoming just like his dad.
With minimal meddling, the album took only two weeks to record, and was written in less than a month. The packaging was designed to look like a small-town newspaper called the St. Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser. When opened, the album revealed 12 pages of newspaper stories, making innovative use of the square foot of sleeve space with a fold-out so the Chronicle measured 12"x16".
Under the headline "Thick As A Brick," we learn that an 8-year-old boy genius named Gerald Bostock wrote the lyrics for a poetry competition, but was disqualified on moral grounds by the governing body, The Society for Literary Advancement and Gestation (SLAG). According to the story, Ian Anderson of the "Major Beat Group" Jethro Tull read the poem and wrote 45 minutes of "pop music" to accompany it.
The newspaper also contained ads, recipes, TV listings, a crossword puzzle, and a review of the album. Jethro Tull wasn't the first to use the newspaper theme for album art: The Four Seasons 1969 album Genuine Imitation Life Gazette was made to look like a newspaper with lyrics to the songs appearing as stories. It even had a comics-section insert.
In 2012, Ian Anderson released a sequel called Thick As A Brick 2 - Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? The album presents various outcomes for the now 48-year-old Bostock, including banker, preacher, soldier, and shop owner. Anderson says the album examines how "our own lives develop, change direction and ultimately conclude through chance encounters and interventions, however tiny and insignificant they might seem at the time."
Anderson had never performed the original Thick As A Brick in its entirety, but later in 2012, he began a tour where he played the entire album and its sequel.
This continued an experimental phase for Jethro Tull. Their previous album, Aqualung, was considered a "concept" album, with characters and themes continuing from one song to the next. This was considered "progressive" rock, with very obtuse lyrics and a great deal of production. This song seems to be a commentary on modern society and the human condition.
In 2001, this was used in a Hyundai commercial
. Group leader Ian Anderson recorded a new version for the spot to avoid having other musicians butcher his song, as is often the case in commercials. He improvised an outro which he felt was the best part, but it was edited out. Anderson does not drive a Hyundai. He calls himself a "professional passenger."
This appears in an episode of The Simpsons
where Lisa goes to the "Boy's School."
Jimmy - Upton, MA
In the digital age, an album containing just one song doesn't fit the download model. When the 40th Anniversary Special Edition was released in 2012, Ian Anderson divided the album into eight different pieces that could be sold individually on iTunes and Amazon as $1.29 songs with titles like "The Poet and the Painter" and "See There a Man Is Born/Clear White Circles." "Some artists choose not to do that - famously Pink Floyd - and don't want to have their music unbundled to offer it in song length pieces," Anderson told us. "But I accept that that's the musical appetite of most folks these days. They don't really have the time or the concentration to listen to a whole album in one go. They want it in manageable pieces."
Thick As a Brick was born out of Ian Anderson's annoyance at critics referring to Jethro Tull's previous longplayer, Aqualung, as a "concept album." Anderson maintained it was simply a collection of songs, so in response he came up with this 43:46-long single piece of music. Split over two sides of an LP record, it was designed to spoof the concept album genre.