Random Access Vinyl: Passion Play

Passion Play

Good evening everyone, hope you all had a good week. Mine wasn’t horrible but it could have been better I guess, just working a lot of hours. Anyways, welcome to another Random Access Vinyl, where tonight I am going to be talking about Jethro Tull’s Passion Play. Tonight I am going to keep it kind of short because I am exhausted but I wanted to talk about this album because it and this band are well worth it.

Jethro Tull is a progressive rock band that was formed in Luton, England in 1967, fronted by Ian Anderson who provides the vocals as well as much of the direction of the band. Along with Anderson, Jethro Tull consists of Martin Barre on guitar, Doane Perry on drums, and David Goodier on bass. Although Anderson has been with the band from the beginning the other three members came in after the fact.

Jethro Tull started as a blues rock band where Anderson played the harmonica, he also tried his hand at guitar but quite soon after because he felt he would never sound like Eric Clapton. The band had many different names playing the local clubs of England until one of the hired hands who was also a history buff came up with the name Jethro Tull, who was an 18th Century agriculturist. Soon after picking the name Anderson picked up the flute which would then become his signature instrument. He claims that every time the band took the stage in the early years that is was like having a  practice session. Even still, just a year later the band put out its first studio album “This Was” in 1968 on Island Records.

Passion Play is the bands 6th studio album and was released in 1973 on Chrysalis Records. It like their album before(Thick As A Brick) is a concept album that tells the story of a man who journeys through the different stages of the afterlife. Because this plays like an actual play there are many tracks that don’t have any lyrics but the music gives the listener and idea of what is taking place. There is one line that gets repeated four times throughout the album, “there was a rush along the Fulhan Road” once close to the beginning and another time at the close of the record where it is the last line spoken.

Passion Play for me is like listening to “The Divine Comedy” had it been made in to a musical. Act One starts with Ronnie Pilgrim who dies at the start of the album and watches his own funeral as a ghost. He then reflects on his own life and hears how others who knew him felt about him. After the funeral, Pilgrim then explores a frozen wasteland that is purgatory. He comes across an angel with a beautiful smile who leads him into a movie theater with a giant screen.

Act Two begins as Pilgrims life story begins playing on the screen, Pilgrim finds his life being judged by two unknown characters. After some deliberation the two characters decide that Pilgrim should be allowed in to Heaven. At this point there is an instrumental song known as the “Forest Dance” that gives the listener a feeling of happiness. I imagine it is how Pilgrim feels being allowed in to Heaven.

Now what play would be complete with out an interlude, well this play has one. After the “Forest Dance” a comical story is told about some animals helping a hare who has lost his glasses. All the animals think they know what happened to the hare’s glasses, some think he ate them thinking they were a carrot, others think they were stolen, and some feel they were lost by the hare. After debating what the hare should do to fix this problem, the hare decides it is none of the other animals business and remembers he has another pair.

At the start of Act Three, Pilgrim is in Heaven with all the other people but finds himself feeling bored and annoyed. All the spirits do is talk about the living and the lives they use to have. Pilgrim searches out help at the office of  G. Oddie and Son(get it). There he asks if he can be reassigned to Hell instead. Agreeing to Pilgrim’s terms he is sent to hell to meet Lucy(Lucifer) and discovers that Hell is an even worse place then heaven. Pilgrim runs for his life and avoids Lucy’s grasp.

Act Four finds Pilgrim asking for help once again, but this time from a character believed to be a magician named Magus Perde’. Pilgrim explains that neither Heaven or Hell is a suitable place for him because he is neither good nor evil and asks to be returned to the land of the living. Granting Pilgrims wish, Magus sends him to Stygian shore where he finds himself surrounded by other people and animals awaiting to return to Earth. During this part there is a song that talks about how Pilgrim doesn’t care what he comes back long as he gets to come back. The play ends with the line “there was a rush along the Fulhan Road” where you get the sense that Pilgrim is returned to the living and the listener is left with this feeling of eternal rebirth or resurrection.

I have to admit I have never been one for concept albums, other than Pink
Floyd’s “The Wall” and maybe one or two more I just don’t care for them. I would rather have an album full of really good songs then one that are all centered around a single story. When I heard this the first time I didn’t really care for it, sure it kind of had the signature Jethro Tull sound but it was no “Aqualung”. After listening to it a few more times and really understanding whats happening throughout the whole album, I have to say I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a cool idea and the way it was written was really good. I also liked all the characters and the way Anderson chose to name them(G.Oddie and Son and Lucy).  My copy has the original program in it that not only has all the lyrics but also gives an in-depth description of the actors and the director. In it it shows that the author of Passion play is Rena Sanderson which is an anagram for Eean Anderson. This and other little things in the album made it very enjoyable for me. Now after realizing how good it actually is I feel I need to find a better copy since mine skips a lot towards the end of side two. If you are a Jethro Tull fan or just like a good concept record, give this one a listen I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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