A Passion Play
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[1]
Length 45:05
Label Chrysalis
Producer Ian Anderson
Jethro Tull chronology
Living in the Past
A Passion Play
War Child

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 comprising a single continuous song (which is 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.

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.[2] In the United Kingdom it reached only No. 13.[3]



A Passion Play borrows its title from a traditional type of play depicting the Passion of Jesus Christ, though the title is evidently ironic, since the album appears to reject Christian theological conclusions. A Passion Play is described in its album liner notes as though it were a theatrical "play" in four acts. Of this album, "the lyrics themselves are extremely complicated, the story is often unclear, and much is left to the individual's interpretation."[4] 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 packaging, which names Rena Sanderone (an anagram of "Eean Anderrson") as the author of A Passion Play.[5] A basic narrative plot can be loosely interpreted from the lyrics, liner notes, and "theatre programme" of A Passion Play, centring around everyman protagonist Ronnie Pilgrim, who is named only in the album's programme.

Plot synopsisEdit

Ronnie Pilgrim recognises his own death and, in ghostly form, attends his own funeral, before traversing a purgatorial desert and "icy wastes", where he is visited by a smiling angel guide (Act 1). Pilgrim is next admitted into a video viewing room by a Peter Dejour, and events of Pilgrim's life are replayed by a projectionist before a demanding jury. After a long-winded and bizarre evaluation process, the sardonic jury concludes that they "won't cross [Pilgrim] out", suggesting that he has led a mostly decent life and so will be admitted into Heaven, which corresponds with the sudden start of a cheerful "Forest Dance" melody (Act 2).

At this time, the main plot is interrupted by an unrelated, spoken-word comedic interlude (narrated by [effrey Hammond with an exaggerated Lancashire accent) 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 in Heaven, two days after his judgment at the viewing room, communicating two unexpected thoughts: "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 dissatisfaction with Heaven appears to be linked to its mundane atmosphere where most of its 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, feeling that he has a "right to be wrong". Descending into Hell, Pilgrim is confronted by Lucifer (named "Lucy" in the album's fictitious programme), who asserts his cold authority as Pilgrim's "overseer" (Act 3). Pilgrim immediately finds Hell even worse than Heaven and flees, understanding himself now as neither completely good nor evil, wishing that he could trade his "halo for a horn and the horn for the hat I once had". He speaks with a Magus Perdé about his dilemma and, having sampled and rejected both extremes of his afterlife options, he finally stands on a Stygian shore as a "voyager into life". On this beach, other people and animals also prepare to "renew the pledge of life's long song". The final lyrics include the phrases "ever-burning fire", "ever-door", and "ever-life", as well as moving "away from the dark into ever-day", so that the play triumphantly concludes with a strong implication of eternal rebirth (Act 4).[6]


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.

Track listingEdit

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"  (1:35)"  

Side two
No. Title Length
2. "A Passion Play, Part II"
Interlude – The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.
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)"  


Additional personnel


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Eder, Bruce. Album review – A Passion Play (bonus tracks) at AllMusic. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  2. Billboard chart info A Passion Play at AllMusic. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  3. UK chart history of Jethro Tull A Passion Play. Retrieved on August 16, 2011.
  4. The Ministry of Information: The core narrative of Jethro Tull's 'A Passion Play'.
  5. A Passion Play – Linwell Theatre Program. Retrieved on March 8, 2012.
  6. The Ministry of Information.

External linksEdit

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