Aqualung – Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull are a British rock group formed in 1967. Their music is characterised by the lyrics, vocals and flute work of Ian Anderson, who has led the band since its founding, and guitarist Martin Barre, who has been with the band since 1969.

During the early 1970s Jethro Tull went from a progressive blues band to one of the largest concert draws in the world. In concert, the band was known for theatricality and long medleys with brief instrumental interludes. While early Jethro Tull shows featured a manic Anderson with bushy hair and beard dressed in tattered overcoats and ragged clothes, as the band became bigger he moved towards varied costumes. This culminated with the War Child tour’s oversized codpiece and colourful costume.

Other band members joined in the dress-up and developed stage personae. Bassist Glenn Cornick always appeared in vest and headband, while his successor Jeffrey Hammond eventually adopted a black-and-white diagonally-striped suit (and similarly striped bass guitar, electric guitar, and string bass). It was a ‘zebra look’, and at one point a two-manned zebra came out excreting ping pong balls into the audience while both performers moved forcefully around their stage areas. John Evan dressed in an all-white suit with a neck-scarf of scarlet with white polka-dots; described as a “sad clown” type with extremely oversized shoes, he joined in the theatrics by galumphing back and forth between Hammond Organ and grand piano (placed on opposite sides of the stage in the Thick as a Brick tour) or by such sight-gags as pulling out a flask and pretending to drink from it during a rest in the music. Barriemore Barlow’s stage attire was a crimson tank-top and matching runner’s shorts with rugby footgear, and his solos were marked by smoke-machines and enormous drumsticks. Martin Barre was the island of calm amongst the madmen, with Anderson (and sometimes Evan) crowding him and making faces during his solos.

The band’s stage theatrics peaked during the Thick As A Brick tour, a performance distinguished by stage hands wearing the tan trench-coat/madras cap ensemble from the album art, extras in rabbit suits running across stage and an extended interlude during which Barre and Barlow entered a beach-tent onstage and swapped pants.

The name, Jethro Tull

Ian explains: “I was not the author of the Jethro Tull name. The original Jethro Tull was an 18th century agriculturalist… he was also something of an inventor. He invented the seed drill. He built his first prototype seed drill from the foot pedals of his local church organ… when it was suggested as one of our weekly names for our band in its early days by our agent we said ‘ok, we’ll be Jethro Tull this week.’ The reason for all that was that we were not a terribly good group when we first started, and the only way we could get re-booked into the clubs we played at was to pretend to be somebody different every week… often we didn’t know who we were– the agent forgot to tell us– so we would arrive at some club, and we’d look down the list of bands playing… whichever one we’d never heard of before, we knew that must be us. The time we got asked back to the Marquee club we had to stick with the name we had that week, which happened to be Jethro Tull. It’s not a name I feel particularly wonderful about. I feel faintly embarrassed about it because it’s not an original name. It’s somebody else’s name.”

Aqualung

The original recording runs exactly for 6 minutes and 34 seconds, and with one of the most legendary chords in rock history, the first six notes of Aqualung may well demonstrate Anderson’s clear interest in Beethoven and his fifth symphony. Also, the song contains what might well be considered Martin Barre’s most stunning and melodic guitar solo in his entire career. Twenty years later after he laid down that solo, he said:

The only thing I can remember about cutting the solo is that Led Zeppelin was recording next door, and as I was playing it, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and waved to me. How I didn’t stop playing I don’t know, but I carried on somehow.

In an interview with Ian Anderson in the September 1999 Guitar World, he said:

Aqualung wasn’t a concept album, although a lot of people thought so. The idea came about from a photograph my wife at the time took of a tramp in London. I had feelings of guilt about the homeless, as well as fear and insecurity with people like that who seem a little scary. And I suppose all of that was combined with a slightly romanticized picture of the person who is homeless but yet a free spirit, who either won’t or can’t join in society’s prescribed formats.

So from that photograph and those sentiments, I began writing the words to ‘Aqualung.’ I can remember sitting in a hotel room in L.A., working out the chord structure for the verses. It’s quite a tortured tangle of chords, but it was meant to really drag you here and there and then set you down into the more gentle acoustic section of the song.

This is one of Jethro Tull’s most famous songs, but it was not released as a single. Ian Anderson explained why during an interview with Songfacts. He said:

“Because it was too long, it was too episodic, it starts off with a loud guitar riff and then goes into rather more laid back acoustic stuff. Led Zeppelin at the time, you know, they didn’t release any singles. It was album tracks. And radio sharply divided between AM radio, which played the 3-minute pop hits, and FM radio where they played what they called deep cuts. You would go into a album and play the obscure, the longer, the more convoluted songs in that period of more developmental rock music. But that day is not really with us anymore, whether it be classic rock stations that do play some of that music, but they are thin on the ground, and they too know that they’ve got to keep it short and sharp and cheerful, and provide the blue blanket of familiar sounding music and get onto the next set of commercial breaks, because that’s what pays the radio station costs of being on the air. So pragmatic rules apply.”

The Aqualung character is also mentioned in “Cross-Eyed Mary”, the next song on the album, and again in Locomotive Breath.

[flv]http://djallyn.org/media/jethro-tull-aqualung.flv[/flv]

Sitting on a park bench
Eying up little girls with bad intent
Snots running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, hey, Aqualung

Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run, hey, Aqualung
Feeling like a dead duck
Spitting out pieces of his broken luck, oh, Aqualung

Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely
Taking time, the only way he knows
Leg hurting bad as he bends to pick a dog end
He goes down to a bog and warms his feet

Feeling alone, the army’s up the road
Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea
Aqualung, my friend, don’t you start away uneasy
You poor old sod, you see it’s only me

Do you still remember
December’s foggy freeze
When the ice that clings on to your beard
It was screaming agony

Hey and you snatch your rattling last breaths
With deep-sea diver sounds
And the flowers bloom like
Madness in the spring

Sun streaking cold, an old man wandering lonely
Taking time, the only way he knows
Leg hurting bad as he bends to pick a dog end
He goes down to a bog and warms his feet

Feeling alone, the army’s up the road
Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea
Aqualung my friend don’t you start away uneasy
You poor old sod, you see it’s only me

Aqualung my friend don’t you start away uneasy
You poor old sod, you see it’s only me

Sitting on a park bench
Eying up little girls with bad intent
Snots running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, hey Aqualung

Drying in the cold sun
Watching as the frilly panties run, hey Aqualung
Feeling like a dead duck
Spitting out pieces of his broken luck, hey Aqualung

Oh Aqualung

  • Audio from the 1971 album, Aqualung:

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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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