Jethro Tull's fourth album, Aqualung
Jethro Tull is a progressive rock band that was formed in Birmingham in the 1960s. Their music is marked by the quirky vocal style and unique lead flute work of frontman Ian Anderson, and by unusual and often complex song construction. Their music has incorporated elements of classical and celtic folk music, as well as the art rock and alternative rock phases of rock music. Despite this, it is difficult to point to specific artists who have directly influenced or been influenced by Jethro Tull. More than most other rock bands, their music stands apart from the rest of rock music.
The early days
Jethro Tull "paid their dues" in clubs in the mid-to-late 1960s with a revolving line-up which eventually crystallized into Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, acoustic guitar, and later many other instruments), Mick Abrahams (electric guitar), Glenn Cornick (bass guitar) and Clive Bunker (drums). The story goes that the band went through a variety of name changes to get repeat bookings, and that Jethro Tull was the name they happened to sport when they scored a record deal (the name comes from an agriculturist Jethro Tull who invented the seed drill). Their management were even suggesting that Abrahams do all the singing and the flute be eliminated, relegating Anderson to rhythm piano. After a couple of minor singles (including their first—an Abrahams-penned pop tune called Sunshine Day—on which the band's name was misspelled "Jethro Toe", now a collector's item), they released the bluesy album This Was in 1968. The music was written by Anderson and Abrahams.
Following this album, Abrahams left (forming his own band, Blodwyn Pig ), due to what was mainly a musical difference (Abrahams preferred to stick with the blues, which Anderson came to regard as a stylistically narrow and restrictive vocabulary for white "middle class" Englishmen). After a series of auditions (contrary to a rock rumour, not including Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi; who actually agreed to appear on the Rolling Stones' Rock 'n' Roll Circus , to perform A Song For Jeffrey), former Motivation, Penny Peeps and Gethsemane member Martin Barre was hired as the new guitarist. Barre would become the second longest-standing member of the band after Anderson.
This new line-up released Stand Up in 1969. Written entirely by Anderson—with the exception of the jazzy rearrangement of J. S. Bach's Bourrée—it largely abandoned the blues in favour of the up-and-coming style of progressive rock being developed at the time by groups such as King Crimson, The Nice and Yes. Stand Up feels not entirely unlike a jazz-tinged early Led Zeppelin album, with a heavy and slightly dark sound. In 1970 they added keyboardist John Evan although technically he was only a guest musician at this stage and released the album Benefit.
Bassist Cornick left following Benefit, replaced by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, and this line-up released Tull's best-known work, Aqualung in 1971. The album is a combination of heavy rock music focusing on themes such as social outcasts and organised religion, and some lighter acoustic fare about the mundanity of everyday life. Aqualung is adored and reviled in equal amounts, although the title track and "Locomotive Breath" feature on most classic rock stations.
Drummer Bunker departed next, replaced by Barriemore Barlow, and the band's 1972 album was Thick as a Brick. This was a concept album consisting of a single very long track split over the two sides of the LP, with a number of movements melded together and some repeating themes. This album's quintet—Anderson, Barre, Evan, Hammond-Hammond and Barlow—was one of Tull's longest-standing line-ups, enduring until 1975.
1972 also saw the release of Living in the Past, a double-album compilation of singles, B-sides and outtakes, with a single side recorded live in 1970. The live tracks excepted, it is regarded by many Tull fans as their best overall release. The title track is one of their more enduring singles.
In 1973, the band attempted to record a double album in tax exile at Chateau d'Herouville (something the Rolling Stones and Elton John among others were doing at the time), but supposedly they were unhappy with the quality of the recording studio and abandoned the effort. Instead they quickly recorded and released A Passion Play, another single-track concept album with very allegorical lyrics. After several years of increasing popularity, A Passion Play sold relatively well but received generally poor reviews. Up until this point, Ian Anderson had a friendly relationship with the rock press, but this album marked a turning point for the band. They had passed the peak of their popularity with the critics, and a decline in popularity with the public followed. 1974's War Child received some critical acclaim, though, and produced the radio mainstay "Bungle in the Jungle". It also included a song, "Only Solitaire", allegedly aimed at a music writer who was one of Anderson's harsher critics.
In 1975 the band released Minstrel in the Gallery, an album which resembled Aqualung in that it contrasted softer, acoustic guitar-based pieces with lengthier, more bombastic works headlined by Barre's electric guitar. Critics gave it mixed reviews. Following this album, bassist Hammond-Hammond left the band, replaced by Censored page.
1976's Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! was another concept album, this time about the life of an aging rocker. Anderson, stung by critical reviews (particularly of A Passion Play), responded with more sharply-barbed lyrics. The press seemed oblivious to the ploy, and instead asked if the title track was autobiographical—a charge Anderson hotly denied.
The band closed the decade with a trio of folk rock albums, Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch. Songs from the Wood was the first Tull album to receive unambiguously positive reviews since the time of Benefit and Living in the Past.
The band had long had ties to the folk-rockers Steeleye Span. Although not formally considered a part of the folk-rock movement (which had actually begun nearly a decade earlier with the advent of Fairport Convention), there was clearly a lot of exchanging of musical ideas between Tull and the folk-rockers. During this time, David Palmer, who had orchestrated some strings for earlier Tull albums, formally joined the band, mainly on keyboards.
Bassist Glascock died in 1979 following heart surgery, and Stormwatch was completed without him (Anderson contributed bass on a few tracks). Anderson decided to record his first solo album.
For whatever reason, though, Anderson released his solo album as a Tull album in 1980. Entitled A, it featured Barre on electric guitar, Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention on bass, and Mark Craney on drums. But the album had a heavy electronic feel, contributed by guest keyboardist Eddie Jobson. It had a sound and feel completely unlike anything Tull had exhibited before.
Craney departed following the A tour and Tull entered a period of revolving drummers (primarily Gerry Conway and Doane Perry ). Peter-John Vettese replaced Jobson on keyboards, and the band returned to a folkier sound—albeit with synthesizers—for 1982's The Broadsword and the Beast . 1981 marked the first year in their album career that the band did not release an album.
In 1984 Tull released Under Wraps, a heavily electronic album. Although the band was reportedly proud of the sound the album was not well-received, and as a result of either that or the throat problems Anderson developed singing the demanding Under Wraps material on tour (or both), Tull went on a three-year hiatus during which Anderson began a highly successful salmon-farming business.
The modern era
Tull returned stronger than anyone might have expected with 1987's Crest of a Knave. Vettese absent (Anderson contributed the synth programming) and relying more heavily on Barre's electric guitar than the band had since the early 1970s, the album was a critical and commercial success. They went on to win a 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, beating odds-on favorites Metallica. The award was particularly controversial as many did not consider Jethro Tull hard rock, much less heavy metal. The fact that it was the first time a Grammy geared towards metal was presented it was seen as a particularly hard blow and insult for heavy metal fans (after this, and perhaps because of this, separate Grammys were awarded for hard rock and heavy metal the following years). In response to the criticism they received over the award, the band then reportedly took out an advert in a British music periodical with the line, "The flute is a heavy metal instrument!". The style of Crest has been compared to that of Dire Straits, in part because Anderson seemed to no longer have the vocal range he once possessed.
1988 was also notable for the release of 20 Years of Jethro Tull , a 5-LP themed set (also released as an unthemed 3-CD set and as a truncated single CD version) consisting largely of outtakes from throughout the band's history as well as a variety of live and digitally remastered tracks. It also included a booklet outlining the band's history in detail.
Since then the band has released a variety of albums in a style similar to Crest but also incorporating more folky influences. Of particular note is 1992's A Little Light Music , a mostly-acoustic live album which was well received by fans due to its different takes on many past compositions.
Anderson has released several solo albums since the early 1980s, and in the 1990s Barre also began releasing solo work. Anderson and Barre have remained the core of the band (Pegg finally leaving in 1995, being replaced by Jonathan Noyce). In 1996, an assemblage of progressive rock artists released a tribute to Tull, To Cry You a Song , which included contributions from several former Tull members, as well as artists including Keith Emerson, Tempest , and Wolfstone .
The band has endured into the 21st century and continue to release new albums every few years. In the early 2000s, Anderson's voice seems to be regaining some of its previous range.
- Jethro Tull official site http://www.j-tull.com
- Cup of Wonder - The annotated Jethro Tull Lyrics Page http://www.cupofwonder.com
- Jethro Tull Tour History http://www.ministry-of-information.co.uk
Last updated: 02-07-2005 12:33:11
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55