Wednesday, June 28, 2006

100 Greats in 100 Days # 009: Jethro Tull: Songs from the Wood

I don’t really understand why the rock critics hate(d) Jethro Tull. I mean, if you wanted to accuse them of pomposity, surely E.L.P. was more pompous? If you wanted to accuse them of empty flash, surely Yes was more show-offy? If you wanted to accuse them of scungy cynicism, surely Alice Cooper was a better target?

I think the rock critics hated Tull and frontman Ian Anderson for some of the same reasons that the same critics hated Frank Zappa—because it was obvious from both artists’ interviews as well as records that said artists were smarter than said critics. And there’s nothing that a critic hates worse than having his mental/creative limitations exposed: just ask David Horowitz.

Tull was one of the few rock bands I actually knew about as a child because they were one of the few rock bands that my elder brother was interested in. I remember Blood, Sweat and Tears records, Bill Cosby and Firesign Theater records, one or two FZ discs, and Tull records. My beloved and admired elder brother can sort of carry a tune in a bucket but he knew these records inside and out, and so Living in the Past, Aqualung, and Stand Up were records I also knew very well.

When I went off to school here I took only a few records with me and I didn’t know much about popular music, as I mentioned in “100 Greats” entry # 003. But I did know Jethro Tull, and I did know enough to look for new releases. Just before the release of this LP, I found a limited-edition promotional EP (7” rotating at 33 1/3 RPM) in a Greenwich Village record shop, which included Ring out Solstice Bells on one side, so I was primed for Songs from the Wood when it came out. I basically instantly liked everything about this record, from the beautiful hand-colored photo of Ian at his campfire on the cover, to the stunning vocal and instrumental virtuosity of the title track, to the Green Man, pagan, and Gaia references in Jack-in-the-Green (“I saw some grass growing through the pavement today”), to the stunning love song Fire at Midnight. I didn’t really understand, at age 17, what went into this music, but I knew

I mean I KNEW

that the Greil Marcuses and Robert Christgaus of the world (Lester Bangs gets a pass for getting this one wrong, because he got so much else right) were jealous and intimidated, and that’s why they didn’t like the record. A lovely synthesis of Brit-blues, poetry, odd-meters, and the influence of Renaissance broken-consort and (especially) Tudor music.

I thought it was beautiful, still do. No "guilt" about this pleasure.

Vaughan Williams would have loved and approved of this record.


Banjosnake said...

Hey man, neat project, 100 great recordings in as many days... I'm almost inspired to post my own, but alas, time and energy are equal to yours, my busy friend... I also appreciated your shout-out to Confederates In The Attic a few blogs back... keep it up my tireless friend! i'm eager to see the other 92 "best of-s"!

Banjosnake said...

oops... meant to say my time and energy AREN'T equal to yours...