JETHRO TULL – Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976, 2015 Chrysalis TV Special edition 2CD/2DVD)
I foresee a future time, when every man woman and child will be able to buy deluxe multi-disc box sets of just about every album ever made. While old geezers with greying beards will sit back in a rocking chair (a hovering one, no doubt) listening to multi-track backing tapes for every single Poison CD, our children will be able to do the same with a comprehensive book-box version of the NSync debut album. It’s going to happen eventually, so we may as well get good albums like Tull’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! in box set form while the concept still has validity.
Of course this isn’t the first Jethro Tull album to get this kind of treatment. A super deluxe Aqualung was a fairly recent release, and I received Benefit myself for Christmas last year. The bold four-colour album cover for Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll makes for a splendid book-form box with plastic CD trays inside. An absolutely massive (80 page) full colour booklet awaits you inside. Rare photos are the norm of course, but a features such as “From Carmen to Tullman” about the late John Glascock are valuable reads. Detailed liner notes will help you make sense of the track listing, and the multiple versions of each song included. Almost all of this material is rare, previously unreleased, or newly mixed material by studio wizard Steve Wilson.
First of all, I was not aware that all of Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll was re-recorded for a UK television special, included here on DVD. Anderson had a theatrical presentation in mind, so playing live wasn’t of interest to him. But, apparently due to British law, the LP Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll could not be used for backing music on a “live” TV special. Anderson’s vision seemed to involve the band miming to the album while pulling amusing faces and occasionally acting out the lyrics. In order to mime and do it legally, brand new recordings of every song had to be made! In fact the band painstakingly took great care in recreating the album, although there are also obvious differences. For the DVD and CD, these tracks been newly mixed and are available for the first time. CD 1 contains the standard stereo mix of the re-recorded album. DVD 1 has the special in both stereo and 5.1 surround.
The original album was also meant to be remixed top to bottom in 5.1 by Wilson. This was not possible, because the original multi-track tapes survived for only five songs, almost the whole second side: “From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser”, “Bad Eyed and Loveless”, “Big Dipper”, “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and “The Chequered Flag”. Tull’s semi-acoustic nature lends itself well to a good 5.1 mix. The audio field is filled out, but not to excess. It’s a good balance and the tracks included in 5.1 shine with fresh light. Do not be surprised to hear parts you didn’t hear before.
The bonus associated tracks are a light collection of rare Tull. The two bonus tracks from the prior 2002 remaster, “One Brown Mouse” and “A Small Cigar” are included here unaltered on CD 2, or on lossless 96/24 stereo PCM on DVD 2. The unreleased tracks are excellent. “Salamander’s Rag Time” sounds like the Jethro Tull collaborating with the Beatles via “A Day in the Life”. Meanwhile, “Commercial Traveller” is a lushly arranged and recorded ode to the road with full strings and Martin Barre guitar blazes. “Strip Cartoon” also has quaint Beatles-isms though it is really just a bright Tull acoustic jaunt. An incredible instrumental take of “Salamander” is pure delight, hearing it ring in live perfection. There is also a bare acoustic version of “A Small Cigar”, and earlier versions of “Quiz Kid” and the title track. As always, these are available on both the CDs and DVDs. Four of these (“Salamander’s Rag Time”, “Commercial Traveller”, “Strip Cartoon” and the acoustic “Small Cigar”) can be heard in 5.1, again mixed by Wilson. Expect the same level of lushness and quality as the album tracks, although with the acoustic arrangements, it’s more about the spaces between.
One of the great advantages of the DVD format is the ability to re-release classic Quadrophonic mixes for modern audio systems. Like many rock bands (and especially progressive rock bands) of the early 1970’s, Jethro Tull released Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll in Quad. That long unavailable version is right here in 4.0, on DVD 2. It’s certainly an interesting animal. Where Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mixes envelope the listener in clouds of Tull music, the Quad mixes things hard into individual channels. It’s an interesting experience. The vocals are mostly on the right, the flute behind, and the other instruments tucked into their corners. If you want to hear it as if the music is coming from four separate corners of the room, then this Quad mix is that exactly. There is something to be said for this, because you can clearly hear each instrument isolated, and easy to study. You can easily lose yourself in a particular part of the mix, which is the benefit and weakness of the format. Regardless, the classic 1976 Quad mix has parts you won’t hear elsewhere, and it’s available again, and that is a good thing.
With all this talk of extras and remixes and surround sound, the original album is almost overlooked! Fear not. A bit like an afterthought, the original, stereo, classic Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! is here, as the final 11 songs on CD 2. Even the Benefit super deluxe box set didn’t include the original album on CD. If you prefer lossless stereo, it’s there on DVD, too.
What of the original album, then? Well, I reviewed that in 2012, and you can read all about it here. A brief summary:
Like many Tull albums from the mid-70’s, there’s plenty of acoustics to go around accompanied by lovely flute passages and complex drum patterns. There’s also some horns and orchestration courtesy of David Palmer (not yet a full member of the band). Personal highlights:
- “Salamander”, a folksy number with intricate acoustics.
- The harmonica riffing of “Taxi Grab”, reminiscent of an earlier bluesier Jethro Tull. The guitar soloing (both electric and acoustic) is also divine.
- “Big Dipper”, a playful yet complex number with plenty of flute and a fun chorus.
- The masterpiece title track (obviously), lush with ochestration.
- “Pied Piper”, one of the most obviously catchy songs on the whole album, albeit still complex with multiple parts and section.
- The final track of the album, a slow but dramatic grandiose number called “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”.
Too old to rock ‘n’ roll? Never. Buy this for the grandpa on your lists.