10 amazing rock tracks featuring the flute but only one's by Jethro Tull

Ian Anderson with a flute
(Image credit: Rob Monk)

Until the relatively recent arrival of multiple Grammy-winning singer and rap star Lizzo, it's very likely that the best-known flautist in popular music was Jethro Tull leader and lynchpin Ian Anderson, a man who's been enthusiastically blowing the instrument for more than 50 years. 

"There are of course many great rock musicians,” he told Classic Rock in 2014, “but a lot of them are boring, repetitive, mindless and imitative. Nine-tenths of the iceberg is pretty sordid stuff, really. I’m glad to be a flute player in rock because there aren’t very many of us, so I can surface for air with a sense of dignity."

There might not be many flute players in rock, but it would be remiss is not to celebrate some of the others. So here's 10 amazing rock tracks featuring the flute... but only one's by Jethro Tull.


Jethro Tull - Living In The Past
Lord of the lyrical prog-flute, Ian Anderson’s whimsical lines give this Tull classic its melodic skip and also acts as a breaker for Martin Barre’s rockist guitar. 

The Moody Blues - Legend Of A Mind
Ray Thomas’s bucolic solo, arriving midway through the Moodies’ epic paean to acid guru Timothy Leary, accentuates the trippiness of its subject. So popular was it that Thomas received standing ovations at live shows. 

Canned Heat - Goin’ Up The Country
The quintessential flute-rock riff for the quintessential Woodstock anthem. Flautist Jim Horn leads the charge, approximating the pan-pipe quills of old bluesman Henry Thomas, who acted as the song’s inspiration. 

Eric Burdon & War - Spill The Wine
Burdon’s spoken rap may be the ideal counterpoint to War’s Latino funk, but Charles Miller’s ecstatic flute provides the perfect setting for the dream-like passages in the hall of the Mountain King. 

Traffic - Freedom Rider
Great as Steve Winwood’s vocal and piano are, Chris Wood is the unsung hero of this pastoral epic. His folksy riffs heighten the sense of Englishness, culminating in a bright summery crescendo.

Van Morrison - Moondance
Soft in the verses and high in the chorus, Collin Tilton’s piping flute both echoes and punctuates Van Morrison’s agile vocal lines on this soft-jazz favourite. Fantastic fade out, too. 

Focus - Hocus Pocus
The Dutch prog rockers’ instrumental fantasia never lets up from the off, with Thijs van Leer’s scurrying flute runs mirroring the frantic pace of the entire shebang. 

David Bowie - Moonage Daydream
Just when he’s about to go all space-freak rock‘n’roll on us, Bowie dishes out a penny whistle (okay, so it’s not quite a flute but it sounds like one) break that sounds like a playful send-up of the whole Ziggy persona. 

Joe Walsh - Days Gone By
The mood of Walsh’s wistful ode to happier times is set by songwriter Joe Vitale’s easy flute intro, after which it goes on to serve as soothing balm for the pained vocals. 

Heart - Sing Child
Ann Wilson’s flute break and Roger Fisher’s hard-edged guitar provide the light and shade of this evergreen rocker, the pair continuing to trade licks into an animated climax.

Nick Hasted

Nick Hasted writes about film, music, books and comics for Classic Rock, The Independent, Uncut, Jazzwise and The Arts Desk. He has published three books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), and Jack White: How He Built An Empire From The Blues (2016).