A Passion Play

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A Passion Play
Studio album by Jethro Tull
Released 6 July 1973 (UK)
23 July 1973 (US)
Recorded March 1973, Morgan Studios, London
Genre Progressive rock, art rock[1]
Length 45:05
Label Chrysalis
Producer Ian Anderson
Jethro Tull chronology
Living in the Past
A Passion Play
War Child
Singles from
A Passion Play
  1. "A Passion Play [Edit #8]"
    Released: 1973
  2. "A Passion Play [Edit #6]"
    Released: 1973
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3/5 stars[1]
Melody Maker (unfavourable)[2]
New Musical Express (unfavourable)[3]
Rolling Stone (unfavourable)[4]

A Passion Play is the sixth studio album by Jethro Tull, released in 1973. Like its predecessor, Thick as a Brick (1972), it is a concept album with a single song (which was split into two parts on the original vinyl LP release). The theme of the concept is apparently the spiritual journey of one man in the afterlife, organized as a "play", in which it would be performed in a fictional theatre by fictional actors (the band members where the actors).

Upon its original release, it received generally negative reviews. Nevertheless, it sold well enough to reach No. 1 on the charts in the United States.[5] In the United Kingdom it reached only No. 13.[6] The album received a world tour to support it, and its one of the high points of the band's theatrical performance, with dancers in the stage, and the famous video for the spoken part "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles".

Production and Musical Style[edit]

The production is intricated with the style, since A Passion Play derives much from the troubles they have recording. The album development began as a real concept album, after the previous genre satire, Thick as a Brick. Work began in Switzerland, then studios in France (mostly to escape high British tax rates). Enough tracks to fill three sides of a double album were developed when technical problems in the studio, and band members’ longing for home, caused all but four tracks to be scrapped (some of this material, like “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day,” would appear on War Child). The dreadful experience lead Ian to dub the Château d'Hérouville studio as the “Chateau D’Isaster.”

With only seventeen days left before the American tour, Ian wrote new material and vastly restructured some of the “Chateau d’Isaster” ideas and the band recorded the 45-minute album.

The long, nine-month supporting tour (even beginning before the album’s release) featured the entire album, supporting film (later to appear on the 25th Anniversary video), and perhaps Tull’s high water mark for elaborate stage productions.[7]

In the words of Ian Anderson: "With Thick As A Brick, we took the idea of the concept album and had some fun with it. Now we thought it was time to do something a bit more serious and make an album that wasn't a spoof and wasn't meant to be fun. We ended up going to record the album at Chateau D'Herouville, in France, where people like Elton John and Cat Stevens had made records. Our original plan was not to make another concept album. The project started off as a collection of songs, including two that ended up going onto our next album, War Child: 'Bungle in the Jungle' and 'Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day).' A certain theme had begun to emerge among the songs — how the animal life is mirrored in the dog-eat-dog world of human society — but the project just wasn't working out. So we abandoned what we'd done and went back to England. Back home, I ended up almost completely rewriting all of the material we'd worked on in France, and this became A Passion Play. The concept grew out of wondering about the possible choices one might face after death."[8]



A Passion Play is described in the album's liner notes as though it were a "play" in four acts over the span of a single, continuous song (which is split into two album tracks). Of this album, "the lyrics themselves are extremely complicated, the story is often unclear, and much is left to the individual's interpretation."[9] Such obscurity is demonstrated, for example, by the fact that, in the entirety of the lyrics, only one of the characters (Lucifer) is ever actually mentioned by name. There are also many purely instrumental segments of the album, in which the tone or style of the music alone implies possible action of the "play". Because of this vagueness, most of the knowledge of the characters and setting actually comes less from the music itself and more from the few brief words in the satirical, six-page Linwell Theatre "programme" included in the original album, which names Rena Sanderone (an anagram of "Eean Anderrson") as the author of A Passion Play, which will be performed by the actors Mark Ridley (Ian Anderson) as Peter Dejour, John Tetrad (Barrie Barlow) as Magus Perdè, Derek Small (Martin Barre) as The Projectionist, Max Quad (Jeffery Hammond) as Ronnie Pilgrim and Ben Rossington (John Evan) as G. Oddie Snr. Another three characters are listed with actors to portray it, The Angel (by Lilly Schnaeffer), G. Oddie Jr. (by Lou Purcell) and Lucy (by Ronald Pleasant). These actors don't have any photos nor does the album's art give any clues of who are they.[10]

A Passion Play borrows its title from a tradition type of play depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ, though the title is evidently ironic.


A Passion Play begins with the everyman protagonist Ronnie Pilgrim's recognition of his own death and unnoticed, ghost-like presence at his own funeral. Pilgrim next finds himself traversing a purgatorial land of "icy wastes", where he is visited by a guiding angel who smiles sympathetically (Act 1). Pilgrim is soon admitted into a video viewing room by a Peter Dejour. Here, events of Pilgrim's life are replayed before him by a projectionist and he is questioned before an anonymous, demanding jury. After a bizarre and long-winded evaluation process, the sardonic jury concludes that Pilgrim has led a mostly decent life. The implication, ultimately, is that he will be admitted into Heaven, which corresponds with the sudden start of a cheerful, instrumental "Forest Dance" tune (Act 2).

The main plot is interrupted at this point by an unrelated, spoken-word comedic interlude backed by instrumentation. Presented as an absurd fable, the interlude details (with much wordplay) the failure of a group of anthropomorphic animals to help a hare find his missing eyeglasses.

The "Forest Dance" melody resumes and Ronnie Pilgrim now appears, two days after his judgment at the viewing room, in Heaven. Here, Pilgrim's unexpected alarm and discontent are communicated by two figures of speech: "I'll go to the foot of our stairs" (an expression of surprise) and "pie in the sky" (an expression of scepticism about the fulfilment of a reward). Pilgrim's discontent with Heaven appears to be linked to Heaven's mundane atmosphere: most of its other residents endlessly reminisce, chronically obsessing over the living. Therefore unable to adapt, Pilgrim goes to G. Oddie & Son to frankly request a relocation to Hell, which is passively granted to Pilgrim. Instantly, descending into Hell, Pilgrim is confronted by Lucifer (named "Lucy" in the album's fictitious Linwell Theatre programme). Lucifer asserts his utterly cold control over his subjects and his own submission to no authority (Act 3). Having left Heaven to seek excitement, Pilgrim immediately finds Hell even worse with his loss of autonomy. Fleeing from Lucifer's clutches, Pilgrim now understands himself as suitable for neither domain, because he is neither completely good nor evil. He talks to Magus Perdé (a character whose role is never quite made clear) about his desire to go back to where he came from. Having sampled and rejected both extremes of his afterlife options, Pilgrim invents a third option: he now stands on a Stygian shore, apparently prepared to return to the realm of the living, as a "voyager into life". On this beach, other people and animals, who "breathe the ever-burning fire", also wait to "renew the pledge of life's long song". The play ends thus, with a heavy suggestion of eternal rebirth (Act 4).[11]

Critical Reception[edit]

About the critics, Anderson was straight: "The critics savaged us. Chris Welch of Melody Maker and Bob Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times wrote really negative reviews that everybody jumped on and reprinted or based their own reviews on. It really snowballed from there, and we got a fair old pasting for that one."[8]

So was, Chris Welch writes about the album and concert in the support tour: "One and a half hours solid good music by Jethro Tull at the Empire Pool, Wembley, would have been sufficient to send home many more contented fans. Instead, an over-long over-produced marathon seriously impaired their impact — and their reputation.

The Passion Play which constituted the first part of the concert, and is the basis of their next album, was a disappointment. And time-wasting tactical errors like the back-projection spun-out proceedings to such length that final items like 'My God' and 'Locomotive Breath' became a test of endurance for those glued by duty to the hard seating of the Pool, instead of a rewarding musical experience.

As a fan of Jethro Tull, I had hoped not to fall into the general clamour of critical abuse that has been heaped on them in recent months. Tull are a band who always set themselves high levels of achievement. They spend such long hours in perfecting stage presentation, great chunks of arranged music, and volumes of words, that it seems almost churlish to raise a voice of protest and criticism."[12]

The Rolling Stone also rewied: "A Passion Play is the artiest artefact yet to issue from the maddeningly eccentric mind of Ian Anderson. Conceived for live performance as much as for disk, its ultimate presentation incorporates a short film, written, directed and edited by Anderson, in addition to the madcap hysteria of the stage show. Having not seen the play, I can only comment on the disk, which is a pop potpourri of Paradise Lost and Winnie The Pooh, among many other literary resources, not to mention a vast array of musical ideas derivative of influences as far-flung as Purcell, flamenco and modern jazz.[...] The only positive aspect of the album is the performance of the music itself. The Jethro Tull band (same alignment as in Brick) is truly virtuosic in the manner of a polished chamber ensemble. The high points are those interludes that feature Anderson's extraordinary flute playing, some of it seemingly multi-tracked. Two short pastoral sections that precede and follow the abominable 'Pooh perplex' are especially lovely. The overall impact of this music, however, is very slight. Not a single leitmotif sticks in the mind. What blues figurations there are are constipated and redundant. As a whole, the score is far less substantial than Thick As A Brick, itself a suffocatingly fey concoction. Finally, one leaves A Passion Play with the feeling of having been subjected to 45 minutes of vapid twittering and futzing about, all play and no passion – expensive, tedious nonsense."[13]

Another low point occurred when Tull’s business manager Terry Ellis announced the band would cease live performances, in response to negative critical reviews of the album and concerts. It was not true, and seriously hurt the band’s image. To this day, Ian gets questions about why the group disbanded in the 1970s [7]


Subsequent to the original 1973 release, the album was released on CD. Later, in March 1998 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab released a CD, which indexed tracks along the lines of, but not quite matching, the radio-station promo (see below) and in 2003 a remastered CD version with an additional video track was released.[1]

  • On the original release of this album, as well as the original CD release, side one of the album ends in the middle of "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles". The sound at the end of side one was a nod to children storytelling records which signaled the child or parent to flip the record over. Side two begins where it left off. However, on the 2003 remastered CD, the second part begins with the full story so that it doesn't get cut off in the middle.

The album is going to be re-released under the title "A Passion Play (An Extended Performance)" featuring new Steven Wilson mixes (stereo and 5.1) of the album, alongside Steven Wilson mixes of the infamous 'Chateau Disaster' recordings that preceded it. Also, there will be a packaged with an 80-page book detailing the album, the band's 1973 tour and the Chateau recordings, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album.[14]

Track listing[edit]

These titles were provided by Anderson for the 1973 DJ pressing of the LP, though they were not included for the standard pressing. The gold Ultradisc Original Master Recording CD of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (1998) contains cueable tracks for each title, but the standard CD releases contain only one or two tracks, depending on the version.

All songs written by Anderson unless stated otherwise.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "A Passion Play, Part I"

Act 1 – Ronnie Pilgrim's funeral – a winter's morning in the cemetery.

  • I.  "Lifebeats"   (instrumental)  – 1:14
  • II.  "Prelude"   (instrumental)  – 2:14
  • III. "The Silver Cord"  – 4:29
  • IV.  "Re-Assuring Tune"   (instrumental)  – 1:11

Act 2 – The Memory Bank – a small but comfortable theatre with a cinema-screen (the next morning).

  • V.  "Memory Bank"  – 4:20
  • VI.  "Best Friends"  – 1:58
  • VII.  "Critique Oblique"  – 4:38
  • VIII.  "Forest Dance #1"  (instrumental)  – 1:35"  
Side two
No. Title Length
2. "A Passion Play, Part II"

Interlude – The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.

  • IX.  "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles"  – 4:18   (Anderson, Hammond, Evan)

Act 3 – The business office of G. Oddie & Son (two days later).

  • X.  "Forest Dance #2"  (instrumental)  – 1:12
  • XI.  "The Foot of Our Stairs"  – 4:18
  • XII.  "Overseer Overture"  – 4:00

Act 4 – Magus Perdé's drawing room at midnight.

  • XIII.  "Flight from Lucifer"  – 3:58
  • XIV.  "10:08 to Paddington"  (instrumental)  – 1:04
  • XV.  "Magus Perdé"  – 3:55
  • XVI.  "Epilogue"  – 0:43"  

Chart positions[edit]

Year Chart Position
1973 Billboard Pop Albums 1[5]
1973 UK album charts 13[6]
Preceded by
Chicago VI by Chicago
Billboard 200 number-one album
18–24 August 1973
Succeeded by
Brothers and Sisters by The Allman Brothers Band


Additional personnel


  1. ^ a b c d Eder, Bruce. Album review – A Passion Play (bonus tracks) at AllMusic. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  2. ^ Welch, Chris (21 July 1973). A Passion Play, Melody Maker
  3. ^ Clarke, Steve (21 July 1973). A Passion Play, New Musical Express
  4. ^ Holden, Stephen (30 August 1973). A Passion Play, Rolling Stone
  5. ^ a b Billboard chart info A Passion Play at AllMusic. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  6. ^ a b "UK chart history of Jethro Tull A Passion Play". www.chartstats.com. Retrieved 16 August 2011. 
  7. ^ a b http://jethrotull.com/a-passion-play/
  8. ^ a b http://www.tullpress.com/gwsept99.htm
  9. ^ The Ministry of Information: The core narrative of Jethro Tull's 'A Passion Play'. http://www.ministry-of-information.co.uk/app/story.htm
  10. ^ "A Passion Play – Linwell Theatre Program". www.j-tull.com. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  11. ^ The Ministry of Information. http://www.ministry-of-information.co.uk
  12. ^ http://www.tullpress.com/mm30jun73.htm
  13. ^ http://www.tullpress.com/rs30aug73.htm
  14. ^ http://jethrotull.com/jethro-tulls-a-passion-play-remixed-by-steven-wilson/

External links[edit]