Jethro Tull are a unique band. I was introduced to them in the 70s, and I’m probably one of the only people that you’ll speak to nowadays that’s old enough to remember some of this stuff first-hand.
Everything from the production to the musicianship and the songwriting of all those guys – not just Ian Anderson, but Martin Barre [guitar] and Clive Bunker [drums] as well – I’ve always thought was amazing. Together, they wrote such brilliant rock pieces, which were almost classical in a sense. Then they had the woodwind and the flute and everything else. There’s no one else like them. It’s a signature sound. You add Ian Anderson’s vocals on top, and you just know it’s them. It can’t be anyone else.
My top two Tull albums are Benefit  and Aqualung .
I used to listen to Benefit before I even had my driver’s license. I can remember driving around in my friend’s car, and car stereos had just come in. Before everyone just had an AM radio, and now all of a sudden everyone had an 8-track with these big speakers in the back. I remember just floating around, smoking doobies in the back seat and just thinking, ‘What is this? This is off the charts dude!’
But I’ll come back to that. Let’s start with the first Tull song that I ever heard…
BOUREE (Stand Up, 1969)
This was the instrumental track on Stand Up, and it reeks of classic Jethro Tull. Even though there’s no vocal on it you know it’s them, because it can’t possibly be anyone else.
LIVING IN THE PAST (Living in the Past, 1972)
This was a hit here in the States, and that’s the reason I know it and remember it fondly. Towards the end of the ‘70s, I started getting more into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Tull kind of went on the backburner, but I was still always interested whenever I heard them. This song always caught my attention whenever it came on the radio. It still does.
HYMN 43 (Aqualung, 1971)
This is classic Ian Anderson. He’s got a thing about religion, man. I don’t know what it is, or whether he’s pro, con, or somewhere in the middle. But he does not like hypocrites, and he doesn’t like heretics. Hymn 43 is lyrically brilliant, and it’s a great rock song too. The piano work on it is also quite something, and this was another big hit for them here in the States.
TEACHER (Benefit, 1970)
I know Ian Anderson didn’t really care for this song. It was written as a b-side and to begin with it didn’t have any flute on it, but they added the flute because the record company over here in the States wanted to have some sort of a radio hit for them that had the flute on it. And Teacher indeed became a huge hit. But I always just liked the lyrics and the groove.
WITH YOU THERE TO HELP ME (Benefit, 1970)
This was the first track on Benefit. It’s a dark, lonely tune, and those harmonies and the lyrical content just takes you to another place. It’s so brilliantly sung, and it takes you out to that dark, lonely spot. Then all of a sudden it gets to the chorus and kind of brings you back a little bit, only to bring you back down with that dark verse. It’s a really cool, spooky song.
MY GOD (Aqualung, 1971)
This is another one of those Ian Anderson songs where you’re not quite sure whether is pro- or anti-religion, but the lyrics are just amazing. Melodically and lyrically, it’s a killer song. I used to cover it years ago as well, so it has particularly special memories for me. Aqualung was probably Tull’s biggest selling album over here in the States as well.
AQUALUNG (Aqualung, 1971)
This is just a straight up rocker. The one thing I’ve always liked about Tull, even though they were so classical, is they wrote riffs. Almost like Accept for that matter, because Wolf [Hoffmann] always has that classical thing that he brings into the mix, but he’s a riff master too. I don’t know who wrote the Tull riffs – maybe Martin Barre – but most of their songs were so riff-orientated, despite having classical elements to them. And Aqualung is a real rocker. It’s almost like a metal song.
LOCOMOTIVE BREATH (Aqualung, 1971)
The intro to this song alone deserves a round of applause. That whole piano part is just an amazing piece of music. And the song itself has such a great groove. It’s different from a lot of their other stuff I think, and it rocks. It’s got killer lyrics, once again, and a killer vocal. It’s brilliantly done. And the production was the other thing with these guys: the guitar sound alone, and the way they mix that stuff in is so clean. Nothing’s stepping on top of anything else, but it’s full, and sonically it’s beautiful.
CROSS-EYED MARY (Aqualung, 1971)
This has another one of those amazing riffs. It’s another song that I remember covering in bands back in the late ‘70s as well. Everybody always wanted to hear that riff, man. It’s a killer song – a real rocker. And again, the lyrics are brilliant. Beyond being a musician’s musician, Ian Anderson writes really great lyrics. You can say that about pretty much everything he’s ever written.
TO CRY YOU A SONG (Benefit, 1970)
Is this the best Jethro Tull song ever? I don’t know. But it’s the best one for me. I can only speak for myself. It’s the first track on side two of Benefit, and it’s called To Cry You a Song. I can remember sitting in the back of my friend’s car, driving down the street, smoking a joint, and hearing this song for the first time. I was like, ‘Who is this dude? Is he talking to me?’ It was so intense. I still to this day get chills whenever I hear it. I never got to see them live sadly, and I’m very sorry that I didn’t. They’re one of the few bands from back then that I was really into but didn’t get to see. I wish the hell I could say that I did though. They’re an amazing band all the way around, and To Cry You a Song is my number one song.