Aqualung forms part of the pantheon of great records of 1971 which we are celebrating on At The Barrier. Jethro Tull’s legendary album gets a 50th anniversary reissue on 26th March.
As part of our celebration of the great musical year of 1971, Howard King writes about his personal memories of seeing Jethro Tull and just how great and unique Aqualung is.
The concept album that wasn’t a concept album.
Why it was seen as one was a mystery to me. Yes, there are some songs with a similar religious theme: Wind Up, My God and Hymn 43. Some of the seedier issues in society were visited on a couple of songs, namely the title track and Cross Eyed Mary. It contains one of the loveliest love songs ever written in Wond’ring Aloud (a sentiment echoed by Rick Pilkington of The Blackheart Orchestra who picked it in his 1971 mixtape…read here).
On top of that, there are four more tracks so diverse from themselves in Cheap Day Return, Mother Goose, Slipstream, and Up To Me. Locomotive Breath, which stands alone as one of the greatest rock songs of all time along with Aqualung, have been included on nearly every Tull live setlist played in their entirety or extended versions.
Allow myself a little self indulgence… When Ian Anderson appeared at Manchester Cathedral I was secretly a stowaway in the organ stalls on a balcony above the stage when a guest organist from the Cathedral played the intro to Locomotive Breath. A special moment, amongst many, in my personal Tull memories.
Martin Barre, had cut his Tull teeth on Stand Up and Benefit but it was on Aqualung that he established himself as one of the best guitarists of all time. His distinctive style is still underrated and when he plays Aqualung tracks with his own band today the love he has for this period of Tull is hugely evident.
Many other Tull band members other than Martin Barre and Ian Anderson have come and gone since 1971 and some like Dave Pegg and Doanne Perry had longer stints in the band in later years. However, during the Aqualung year the line-up was quite transient. Album credits are given to John Evan, Jeffrey Hammond Hammond and Clive Bunker but for contributions on record you can add Glenn Cornick and on live tour Barriemore Barlow.
There are lots of contenders for best rock album of 1971 as we have acknowledged on At The Barrier, but if you wish to put Tull in the Prog bracket, Aqualung is right at the top.
In its 50 year history, it has seen a 25th-year package, a 40th-anniversary version, the obligatory Steven Wilson re-mastering, and now a 50th year celebration with a re-release. As well as its tour during the year of release, the album had its own tour in 2006, Martin Barre has recorded and played his own arrangements of many of the tracks. The cover image has adorned T-shirts and mugs. Aqualung is the album that just keeps on living and giving.
As a vehicle for picking up new generations of Tull fans, it is still motoring and continues to resonate because the issues the album deals with are still relevant today.
Although Ian Anderson and Martin Barre may both consider Aqualung not the best of their musical output, both have high regard for its significance to the future of the group. In terms of what was yet to come, we could still be celebrating 50 years of outstanding Tull albums for the next 10 years! Yet because of their eternal quality, they are not the group you have to wind up every celebratory decade!
Even today, anyone touched by Aqualung, with Ian Anderson’s intricate enchanting flute, the powerful guitar riffs , elaborate bass and subtle drumming, the mysterious, thought provoking, compelling lyrics, the distinctive and many nuanced vocal style, is heartwarmingly welcomed into the Tull family.
And for those of us who were there at the outset did ‘the years treat us well?’ I think all concerned can say a resounding yes! And if you don’t agree you can ‘excommunicate me on my way to…Prog Rock School!’
Aqualung is an album for the ages. Read about our thoughts on other albums of 1971 here.
Listen to Wind-Up from Jethro Tull’s Aqualung below. The 50th Anniversary edition will be available on 26th March.