Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - 10 records that changed my life

Ian Anderson
(Image credit: Stuart Wood Photography)

Jethro Tull mainman Ian Anderson sat down with Classic Rock to run down his selections for the 10 records that changed his life.

“Obviously, when you’re talking about records that are ‘life changing,’ to use that term, you’re usually talking about pieces of music that you heard in your youth,” Anderson says. “But I’m one of those people who never stops listening to new things, so happily there are some recordings that have had a dramatic impact on me in later years. 

"You never know when something is going to hit you and strike that chord, so to speak. It’s always a wonderful surprise when it happens.”

Glenn Miller and his Orchestra – In the Mood (1939)

“I was seven when I heard some of father’s big band 78s. I particularly liked In the Mood by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, which is a bright, syncopated swing piece. Something about the simplicity hit me – maybe because it’s essentially a three-chord blues. As a child, it got me energised in a way that church music and Scottish folk music didn’t really do.

“In some ways, this was a precursor to rock‘n’roll. My dad wasn’t really a music fan. He didn’t sit around listening to this sort of thing, but I guess before I was born he did. I enjoyed this one – it was a fun piece of music. Perhaps it planted a seed of things to come.”

Johnny Duncan & his Bluegrass Boys – Last Train to San Fernando (1955)

“I was nine of so when I heard some early rock‘n’roll in the form of Bill Haley and his Comets. We were starting to get records from the States because there were still a lot of American service men stationed in the UK. Magazines, fashion and certainly the music helped influence a lot of the British youth at this time.

“Around this time, I heard a song on the radio and I really liked it, and I convinced my parents to let me buy a copy with my pocket money. It was folky and it had something of a skiffle beat, which was becoming the rage in England. It was Last Train to San Fernando, by Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys. It was an incredible piece of Americana music, but interestingly, it’s really a calypso song but done in a skiffle kind of way.”

Muddy Waters – Hoochie Coochie Man (1954)

“This is one of the first songs of Muddy Waters that had a big impact, not only on me but on a whole generation of wannabe R&B and blues artists in Britain. It’s one of his best-ever pieces. Before his death, Muddy even re-recorded it with Johnny Winter and turned in another great version of the tune.

“This was my introduction to the genuine article – Chicago blues. I had heard stuff that was derived from the genre and had various shadings of it, like some of the three-chord swing music I had listened to. But when you hear the real thing, you know it, and Muddy Waters’ Hoochie Coochie Man was inarguably the real thing.

“Real American blues became romanticized to us Brits. Of course, we didn’t know anything of the torture of the slave trade, the tobacco trade and the cotton trade, or the horrors of poverty throughout the Depression years – we didn’t know about that stuff. But we felt this rather heroic form of folk music, and if that’s the way we saw it, it’s better than middle-class white America, which didn’t see it at all. It wasn’t until we Brits sent Jimi Hendrix back to America – rock music that was very feisty and black – that it became revolutionary.”

Graham Bond – Spanish Blues (1965)

“This was the parallel to all of that American music, but in a more eclectic form, taking influences from blues and European jazz but also from classical. Graham Bond was a not terribly successful alto sax player who at some point got a gig with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. After a bit, he stole Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce from that band, and he persuaded them to go off with him when he formed the Graham Bond Organization.

“They played a homegrown amalgam of eclectic jazz and blues, which made a big impact on me as a teenager. I was just starting to play music at this time. The use of the Hammond organ, as played by Bond, was quite forceful and dramatic and wonderful. Of course, as everybody knows, the core of the Graham Bond Organization went on to form Cream, which took it even further.

Spanish Blues wasn’t American blues or jazz; it was, as the title suggests, a rather European kind of track. It’s not exactly flamenco, but it does have an authentic feel to it. Hearing saxophone and Hammond organ along with bass and drums really clicked with me. It made me realize that you could do something with this kind of line-up. It didn’t have to be black American music; you could take things from classical music and use them. In some ways, it was the beginning of what became classic rock.”

Pink Floyd – The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)

There were two seminal albums in 1967 that carved a path for people like me in the progressive pop context. One was The BeatlesSgt. Pepper, of course, and the other was an altogether more surreal and proggy affair, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Both albums took elements from lots of different sources and used them in colorful, creative ways.

“For me, the Pink Floyd album had more meaning. The Beatles were a pop group, so I thought their stuff was a bit contrived, a bit twee. I liked the singer-songwriter element to Floyd more. Syd Barrett’s songs were strange and funny, and they perfectly complemented the radical, druggy instrumental stuff the band did. You saw pictures and presented them with words and sound, rather than as paintings.”

Roy Harper - Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith (1968)

“A year later, when I first moved down to London, I heard a folk singer who was making a bit of a name for himself. I scraped together some coins and bought this album, which spoke to my interest in the solitary singer-songwriter way of making music. The song Another Day really resonated with me. Many people, in addition to me, regard it as a cult classic. Kate Bush covered it the tune.

“Living alone by myself during the summer of ’68, this album meant a lot to me. In fact, I got to know Roy Harper a bit because we ended up playing a couple of shows together, including the first concert at Hyde Park, which was Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Roy Harper and Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

Jethro Tull – Aqualung (1971)

“The one piece of music that really changed my life, certainly in a material way, was Aqualung. We’d had a little success prior to it, but this album established us right across the world. However, It was a gradual process – it didn’t spread the message in 1971 or ’72. It was a steady seller for years and years.

“The album took us into Soviet Russia, the Eastern Bloc of Europe, the fascist regimes of Latin America and elsewhere. We went far and wide. It was the most life-changing piece of music for me personally. It afforded me the opportunity to release even more adventurous albums, and just as importantly, I could go to all of these places to play live.”

Herbert von Karajan/ Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra – Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (1963)

“After the Aqualung album, I saw A Clockwork Orange, and the music of Walter Carlos – who later became Wendy Carlos – really sparked my interest in classical music. He had already made a name for himself by taking classical pieces and performing them on synthesisers. I thought his treatment of Beethoven for the soundtrack of Clockwork Orange was magnificent.

“I had been exposed to classical music in my teenage years, and a bit when we made the Stand Up album – there’s a Bach piece on that – but I started to really explore it more having seen the Stanley Kubrick film. In particular, I developed an interest in Beethoven. I’m sure many other people were introduced to his work having seen Clockwork Orange. It led to my interest in orchestration.

“In my opinion, the greatest version of Beethoven’s 9th, the never-to-be-beaten recording, is by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in the early days of stereo.”

Värttinä – Aitara (1994)

“With this album, I discovered that the folk music of Europe could live alongside modern progressive rock. This is a Finnish band based in Western Helsinki, comprised of three female folk singers and a band of jazz and folk musicians from the Institute of Music.

“It’s a wonderful piece of music, particularly the title track, but I have absolutely no idea what they’re singing about. It could be something very mundane and dreary – I suppose I’ll never know. But that doesn’t matter, because the sound of their voices and the music of the band is quite beautiful.”

A.R. Rahman – Bombay Theme (1995)

“This set me off on the track of learning to understand a little bit more about Indian music, and even to write for some of those classical Indian performers. This particular track begins very conspicuously with the sound of an Indian bamboo flute.

“It’s written and arranged by A.R. Rahman, who is, to a large extent, the musical force behind Bollywood. He’s the leading practitioner of Indian music in the commercial sense – certainly for his movie work. I first heard Bombay Theme, which is sometimes called Mombay Theme, on a crossover album, and so it led me to investigate things further. I think it’s pretty extraordinary piece of music.”

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.