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Ian Anderson Admits Prog Was ‘A Little Bit Overblown’

Ian Anderson
Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images

Given that Jethro Tull‘s ‘Thick as a Brick’ was written as a sort of musically hyper-literate parody of the concept-album format favored by prog rock acts like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, it probably shouldn’t come as any surprise that Tull frontman Ian Anderson is well aware of prog’s reputation for musical bloat.

As he explained during a recent conversation with Something Else!, that reputation isn’t entirely undeserved, even if it does stem from a certain amount of misunderstanding. “I still like the original term that comes from 1969: progressive rock — but that was with a small ‘p’ and a small ‘r.’ Prog Rock, on the other hand, has different connotations — of grandeur and pomposity,” he argued. “Back then, when we were doing ‘Thick as a Brick,’ bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer were already gaining a reputation for being a little pompous and showing off with their music. I think that was OK. The reality is that certain members of Yes were quite humorous about it; they could laugh at themselves — as, indeed, Emerson Lake and Palmer privately laughed amongst themselves about themselves.”

Lest anyone interpret Anderson’s remarks as being a slam against his proggish brethren, he quickly added, “I personally think the world is a better place for having Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes, because their music was quite elevated — great tunes, and some innovative playing. But, of course, it was to many people a bit excessive. I think some writers and some musicians found it pompous, because they were displaying their technical skills as musicians sometimes in a way that made them seem like party showoffs.”

Recalling Tull’s days touring with Yes, Anderson related his memories of watching Yes guitarist Steve Howe show off with what Anderson calls “party-piece” bits of music. “I have a couple of things that I blatantly refer to as party pieces, because they are just a bit of fun — something you play when you are called upon to be the circus clown,” he laughed. “Clearly, we all — Steve Howe, Ian Anderson — we have other things that we do in which we’re not showing off. But that’s part of what was going on back then, and I think looking back on it that most of it was a pretty good experience for musicians and listeners alike. Some of it was a little bit overblown, but in the case of much of the music, it was absolutely spot on.”

Next: Top 10 Jethro Tull Songs

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