JETHRO TULL-TOO OLD TO ROCK ’N’ ROLL: TO YOUNG TO DIE!
JETHRO TULL-TOO OLD TO ROCK ’N’ ROLL: TO YOUNG TO DIE!
By December 1975, Ian Anderson was only twenty-eight, and was the lead singer of one of the most successful progressive rock bands in the world, Jethro Tull. British music magazine Melody Maker went further. They asked in February 1975; “Jethro Tull–Now The World’s Biggest Band?” No wonder. Jethro Tull had just sold out five nights at the 20,000 seater Los Angeles Forum. This was regarded as a remarkable achievement. However, it wasn’t surprising.
Jethro Tull’s first eight albums had sold over six million copies in America alone. This resulted in six gold discs; while 1971s Aqualung was certified triple-platinum. Back home in Britain, two of Jethro Tull’s albums had been certified silver. Jethro Tull were now regarded as progressive rock royalty. Despite that, bassist Jeffrey Hammond left Jethro Tull in 1975, after touring the Minstrels In The Gallery album.
The four years Jeffrey Hammond spent with Jethro Tull were some of their most successful. Glenn Cornick had left Jethro Tull in 1971. Into the breach stepped Jeffrey Hammond. He made his debut on Aqualung, which was released on 19th March 1971. This was the first of five albums Jeffrey Hammond played on. It was a glittering career, and by the time he left in 1975, gold and platinum discs adorned the walls of Jeffrey Hammond’s house. However, this came at a cost.
By the end of the Minstrels In The Gallery tour, Jeffrey Hammond was exhausted. Life with Jethro Tull seemed to be a schedule of record an album, then tour the album. It was non-stop. Jeffrey Hammond wanted to slow down. So, after the Minstrels In The Gallery tour, he announced he was leaving to become an artist. For Jethro Tull, this presented a problem. They were about to release their ninth album, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, which has recently been reissued by PTG.
After the the Minstrels In The Gallery tour ended, Jethro Tull set about recording their ninth album, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die. It was another concept album, where Jethro Tull told the story of an ageing rock star, who found fame when musical tastes changed. The ten tracks on Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die had been written by Ian Anderson. He was Jethro Tull’s songwriter-in-chief. These ten songs were recorded during December 1975.
The recording took place at Radio Monte Carlo, using the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio. This wasn’t the first time Jethro Tull had used the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio. It had been used to record Minstrels In The Gallery. For Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, the Maison Rouge Mobile Studio was situated in the Principality of Monaco.
Radio Monte Carlo provided the soundtrack to the Principality of Monaco. It also housed a recording studio. This should’ve proved an attractive location for groups recording albums in the seventies. Monte Carlo was a tax haven, where many of the wealthiest British people were living. They weren’t will to pay 75% income tax and 83% on earned income. As a result, many groups, including the Rolling Stones became tax exiles.
This meant, they could only spend a limited amount of days in Britain. If they exceeded that amount of days, they became liable for taxation at the highest amount. So it wasn’t unusual for British groups to record albums in unusual locations. Often, their tax rates were much lower in Britain. Whether that’s why Jethro Tull chose to record in Monte Carlo in December 1975, is mere speculation?
When the recording of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die began, there were a change in the lineup. Bassist John Glascock had replaced Jeffrey Hammond. John Glascock had been a member of flamenco rock band Carmen. They opened for Jethro Tull on their Minstrels In The Gallery tour. Now, John Glascock found himself slotting into Jethro Tull’s rhythm section alongside drummer and percussionist Barriemore Barlow and guitarist Martin Barre. John Evans who had been a member of Jethro Tull since 1970, played piano. Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull’s charismatic frontman played flute, acoustic guitar and sang lead vocals. He occasionally switched to eclectic guitar and added percussion. Augmenting Jethro Tull was the man many regarded as the band’s sixth man, David Palmer.
He had long been part of the Jethro Tull success story, orchestrating albums and concerts. However, from the Minstrels In The Gallery tour onwards, David Palmer officially joined the Jethro Tull’s stage show, playing keyboards and synths. However, on Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, David Palmer played saxophone, piano and took charge of orchestrations and conducted the orchestral. Meanwhile, Jethro Tull drafted in another well known name for the recording of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, Maddy Prior.
The title-track, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die required someone to add backing vocalists. Ian Anderson decided that the Steeleye Span vocalist fitted the bill. However, Angela Allen was chosen to add backing vocals on Crazed Institution and Big Dipper. Once the two backing vocalists laid down their parts, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, which Ian Anderson produced, was completed. It would another four months before Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die was released.
Before that, critics had their say on Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die. Before that, Ian Anderson tried to explain the album’s concept. Music Ian Anderson felt, was like fashion it cyclical. Progressive rock had been popular since the seventies dawned. There was nothing to say that progressive rock wouldn’t fall from favour. However, if Jethro Tull stuck with progressive rock, despite it falling out of favour, it may rise like a phoenix from the ashes. This proved prophetic.
The rise of punk, which was the antithesis to progressive rock, resulted in groups like Jethro Tull being labelled musical dinosaurs. They were perceived by the punks as remnants of the musical past. This resulted in a backlash against the musical establishment, including Jethro Tull. Their albums still sold well, but progressive rock was no longer as popular. However, in the eighties, there was a resurgence in progressive rock, with groups like Marillion enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. Meanwhile, many of the embittered punks were now returned to the sink estates where they had come from. By April 1976, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die was just about to be released, and the public introduced to Ray Lomas.
Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die told the story of Ray Lomas. He was ageing rock star, who had retired from music, when the music he played fell out of fashion. Still, Ray Lomas was a greaser. He wasn’t going to have a makeover. Not even when he went onto the “Quizz” show, where won the jackpot. Money however, didn’t bring Ray Lomas happiness.
After winning the money, Ray Lomas tries to commit suicide. Like the Sleeping Beauty, he falls into a deep sleep. When Ray Lomas wakes up, the greaser fashion is back in style, and he makes a comeback. Never did he loose faith that his style would come back into fashion. The story of Ray Lomas was told in a series of cartoons printed in Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die’s sleeves. This was meant to guide critics and listeners through Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die’s plot.
Or some Jethro Tull thought. Some critics couldn’t quite understand Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die. This resulted in mixed reviews of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die. Unsurprisingly, the contrarian Rolling Stone magazine. slated Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die. They called the plot “muddled,” and telling Ian Anderson to “stick to music, because he most definitely is not a storyteller.” Other reviews were mixed.
Melody Maker magazine, who up until then, had been a Jethro Tull loyalist, gave Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die a mixed review. On the plus side, were Ian Anderson’s songwriting skills and Martin Barre’s stunning guitar solos. However, they felt the rhythm section were subdued, and longed for them to kick loose. What critics were forgetting, was that Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die was John Glascock’s debut. He had made the step up from flamenco rockers Carmen, to progressive rock royalty Jethro Tull, who usually, sold 500,000 albums in America.
Not this time around. Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and fifteen in Britain. Elsewhere, Jethro Tull’s ninth album reached number ten in Austria, and number twenty-seven in Sweden. This time there were no gold, silver or platinum discs. It was the first time a Jethro Tull album had failed to achieve silver, gold or platinum status. Since then, Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die is regarded as a hidden gem in Jethro Tull’s back-catolgue.
Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die, was Jethro Tull’s final concept album. It opened with Quizz Kid. Just a strummed guitar accompanies Ian Anderson’s wistful vocal, before strings sweep in and the rhythm section provide an understated heartbeat. Meanwhile, Ian paints a picture of yesterday’s man, the greaser Ray Lomas. Then when Ray wins the Quizz, the arrangement explodes into life. A searing guitar is unleashed, and Ian’s vocal grows in power. Soon, the tempo changes, and Ian briefly plays his flute. When his vocal returns, Jethro Tull the arrangement becomes rocky. The rhythm section are augmented by acoustic guitar, percussion and pizzicato strings. There’s constant changes in tempo and style. From progressive rock, folk rock and classic rock influences can be heard. Later, Ian vamps, while a freewheeling Jethro Tull provide the perfect backdrop, as the story of Ray Lomas begins to unfold.
An urgently strummed guitar and a subtle burst of flute usher in Ian’s vocal on Crazed Institution. Ian embraces the role of Ray Lomas. Winning the Quizz wasn’t the answer to his problems. All the money means, is he’s able to shop at the “Crazed Institution of the stars,” which he calls Horrids. Revulsion fills his voice as he delivers the lyrics. Meanwhile, the arrangement gradually builds. For a while the rhythm section are almost restrained. Eventually, they’re allowed to step out of the shadows. However, it’s flourishes of piano add an element flamboyance and drama. Backing vocals accompany Ian, as the arrangement sweeps along. That’s until the bass signals it’s all change. A braying saxophone, stabs of piano and acoustic guitar accompany Ian, his flute and percussion. By now, Ian’s delivery is impassioned, as Jethro Tull in full flight, on what later became a staple and favourite of Jethro Tull concerts.
Just a lone Spanish guitar plays on Salamander. It’s joined by another guitar. Both are played and picked with a degree of urgency. Eventually, Ian’s vocal enters after midway through the track. His vocal manages to be heartfelt and rueful as he becomes Ray. Suddenly, Ray remembers the first time he saw her: “on the sun kissed lane.” All the time, backing vocals accompany him, as the lyrics take on a cinematic quality. Later, Ian switches to flute on what’s an understated, beautiful hidden gem from the Jethro Tull back-catalogue.
As Ian calls “Taxi,” Taxi Grab begins. A blistering guitar and pounding drum combine with the bass. Ian is like Pied Piper, delivering a jaunty vocal. He observes how each night, London “evacuates” and the “Taxi Grab” begins. Meanwhile, machine gun guitars are panned left. They’re joined by the rest of the rhythm section, and later, a bluesy harmonica. Briefly, Martin Barre unleashes a searing guitar solo. Mostly, his playing is restrained, just like drummer Barriemore Barlow. Technically, it’s hard to fault Jethro Tull’s musicianship. Similarly, Ian’s lyrics and delivery can’t be criticised. However, what some listeners will wonder, is what has this to do with Ray Lomas? They’ll be left to assume this is Ray’s observations, as he watches on, as London evolves as night falls.
Slowly, and gently, an acoustic guitar plays on From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser. It accompanies Ian’s vocal, which are accompanied by rueful harmonies and wistful strings, as he reminisces: “when bombs were bombed every Sunday, and The Shadows played F.B.I.” Later, Ian sings: “Jack Kerouac, Rene Magritte, to name a few of the heroes…who were too wise for their own good left the young brood to go on living without them.” When the vocal drops out, the sultriest of saxophone is dropped in. It’s an inspired choice, and knits the song together. By then, Jethro Tull sound like another member of progressive rock royalty, Pink Floyd, on what’s without doubt, one of Too Old To Rock ’N’ Roll: To Young To Die’s highlights.
Bad-Eyed and Loveless has a bluesy introduction. Just a guitar accompanies Ian’s gravelly vocal as he sings: “Yes an’ she’s bad-eyed and she’s loveless, a young man’s fancy and an old man’s dream.” His vocal veers between heartfelt and rueful, realising he’s being used. Without the money, she wouldn’t look twice at an old greaser like Ray Lomas.
An airy flute opens Big Dipper, which seems to have been inspired by the town where Ian grew up, Blackpool. The references to the Pleasure Beach and Tower Ballroom are clues. They add to the cinematic quality of the song, which tells of weekends away in Blackpool for the” “weekend happiness seekers.” Fun and frolics are the order of the day. Meanwhile, Ian’s flute and Barriemore Barlow drums and percussion play leading roles. So does Martin’s searing guitar. Although’s he still not let off the leash, the song wouldn’t be the same without it. Jethro Tull are roiling back the years, as Ray Lomas remembers pre-fame, hedonistic weekends where he sough escape from the drudgery of modern life.
A crystalline guitar run joins with the rhythm section and pizzicato strings on Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die. There’s sadness in Ian’s voice as he realises that Ray’s career is at a crossroads. He’s been cast out into the wilderness, and is: “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die.” Behind him, the arrangement has grown, and is one of the best on the album. David Palmer’s strings sweep and swell, adding drama and a wistful quality. The rhythm section add to this drama. Later, Maddy Prior adds a melancholy backing vocal. Even bassist John Glascock stamps his authority on the song. So does a pounding piano, growling saxophone and Martin Barre’s piano. From there, the arrangement reaches a wistful, symphonic crescendo. It’s a fitting finale to this progressive rock epic.
Having reached a crossroads in his life on Pied Piper, Ray can see no way out, and tries to commit suicide. This becomes apparent as Ian sings: “now if you think Ray blew it, there was nothing to it, they patched him up as good as new.” All isn’t well with him though. “You can see him every day riding down the Queen’s highway, handing out his small cigars to the kids from school.” Accompanying Ian, are dark harmonies, sweeping, then pizzicato strings. By then, genres melt into one, becoming part of this musical tapestry. Progressive rock, folk, jazz classical have been combined by Jethro Tull. Similarly, the tempo changes, adding to the drama, as Ray seems to unravel. He’s referred to as the: “Pied Piper, the mad biker.”
The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive) closes Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die, which was Jethro Tull’s final concept album. It’s a poignant song to close the album, and features some of Ian’s best lyrics. There’s triumph and sadness throughout the song. However, that’s still to come.
Just a Fender Rhodes join a chiming guitar. Then Ian sings:“the disc brakes drag, the chequered flag sweeps across the oil-slick track, he young man’s home; dry as a bone, his helmet off, he waves: the crowd waves back.” Swathes of strings sweep, and the rhythm section provide a slow, melancholy backdrop. This is fitting as Ian sings: “he hard road’s end, the white god’s sendis nearer everyday, in dying the old man says, isn’t it grand to be playing to the stand, dead or alive.” Ian Anderson seems to have kept his best vocal until last. With harmonies, and David Palmer’s beautiful orchestrated arrangement, it’s a beautiful, melancholy and poignant song, which features Jethro Tull at their best. It’s a fitting way to end an era.
Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die was the last concept album Jethro Tull released. By then, they were masters of the concept album. That’s why, in 1976, Jethro Tull were one of the biggest progressive rock bands in the world. However, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die had failed to sell in the same quantities as their previous albums. That’s despite the undoubtable quality of music on Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die.
It’s one of the most underrated albums in Jethro Tull’s illustrious back-catalogue. However, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die had the misfortune to be released just as punk was born. It came kicking and screaming into the world, kicking out at the musical establishment. Suddenly, progressive rock groups were seen as dinosaurs, and remnants of music’s past by the new breed of gunslinger critics.
Many of these new critics were blinkered. They believed music began in 1976. This was music’s year zero. These new critics slated albums by the musical establishment. Progressive rock groups never stood a chance. However, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die is a much better album than many reviews would’ve record buyers believe.
Those that bought Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die, found a cohesive, cerebral concept album that told the story of ageing greaser, Ray Lomas. He was the retired rocker whose music had fallen out of fashion. However, he believed that one day, his music would become fashionable again. When it did, Ray Lomas would be back where he belonged. That was prophetic.
Following Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die, Jethro Tull’s fortunes improved. There was a reason for this. Jethro Tull reinvented themselves musically. They had always been musical pioneers, and weren’t content to stand still. Instead, they experimented musically, and pushed musical boundaries to their limit over the next few years. This just happened to coincide with an upturn in Jethro Tull’s fortunes.
Jethro Tull’s tenth album, Songs From The Wood was certified gold in America and Canada. Then 1978s Heavy Wood was certified gold in America and Canada, and silver in Britain. The seventies finished for Jethro Tull with 1979s Stormwatch being certified gold in America and Canada. This meant that Jethro Tull had sold over seven million albums in America alone. The only album of the seventies that wasn’t certified gold or silver, was Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die. It’s a hidden gem in Jethro Tull’s glorious back catalogue. Sadly, it marked the end of en era for Jethro Tull.
Following Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die, Jethro Tull’s music continued to evolve. Their music moved towards a folk rock sound. Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die had been their progressive rock swan-song. Sadly, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die was Jethro Tull’s swan-song, when it came to concept albums.
That was great shame. Jethro Tull were one of the finest purveyors of progressive rock. Some of Jethro Tull’s finest albums had been concept albums, including their Magnus Opus Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. While, Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die may not match the quality of Jethro Tull’s classic, Aqualung, it’s a far superior album to A Passion Play, and even Thick As A Brick and would make a worthy inclusion into any self-respecting record collection.
JETHRO TULL-TOO OLD TO ROCK ’N’ ROLL: TO YOUNG TO DIE!