Deep Dive: Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK - 11 Feb 1977

Welcome to entry number two in my Deep Dive series, where I look at the full studio discographies and histories of some of the major names in progressive rock and progressive metal. It’s here that I highlight output beyond an act’s “classic” releases.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked-list.

For this second entry, I’ve opted to cover Jethro Tull. Tull are best known for their pair of early ‘70s masterpieces, Aqualung and Thick as a Brick, as well as winning the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Grammy over Metallica in 1989. But beyond those few common knowledge highlights, as well as the notable quirk of being the best-known rock act with a flautist, this band’s discography holds an impressive breadth of music, ranging from blues to folk to synthpop to world music.

I really love Jethro Tull. My love of Jethro Tull is so deep, in fact, that the first email address I ever made was a rather blatant reference to said fandom. (And that Yahoo address is still in use 14 years later, as well as a very similarly-named Hotmail account.) In high school, I made it my mission to collect a physical copy of every studio release from Jethro Tull. I still have all those CDs (including both the US and UK versions of Benefit), as well as several vinyl records, which I acquired both from my mom’s old record collection and from my own purchases. I also managed to see Jethro Tull in concert in 2011. Even then, Ian Anderson (plus Martin Barre and the other motley musicians) could still put on a hell of a show.

Despite my deep fondness for this group, I’ll do my best to be as objective as one can be when reviewing music. They did put out some crap albums, and I’ll be honest about other albums’ shortcomings.

Included in this essay are two compilation albums: Living in the Past and Nightcap. Living in the Past isn’t tough to address. It’s a collection of non-album singles, two live tracks, and a small number of album cuts released in 1972. Nightcap is a bit trickier for my preferred chronological coverage. Released in 1993, it’s a two-disc set: the first disc covers aborted recording sessions in 1973; and disc two covers outtakes from 1974-1990. As such, I’ll be splitting my Nightcap review in half. One half will be covered around 1973, and the second will be addressed around 1993.

Part I: The Early Years (1967-1970)

Jethro Tull were formed in 1967, out of the remnants of a six-piece blues and soul act, The John Evans Band. The original lineup consisted of Ian Anderson (vocals and guitar), Mick Abrahams (guitar and vocals), Clive Bunker (drums), and Glenn Cornick (bass). In these early days, the band were not yet “Jethro Tull”, and they had such terrible indecision regarding their name that they had trouble booking gigs. Some of the names they used included “Navy Blue”, “Ian Henderson’s Bag o’ Nails”, and “Candy Coloured Rain”.

“Jethro Tull” was just another randomly-selected name provided by a history-enthusiast booking agent, but it stuck because a club owner invited them back while under that name. Their first official studio release, a single called “Sunshine Day” with the B-side “Aeroplane”, was released in February 1968, under the misprinted name “Jethro Toe”.

Ian Anderson purchased a flute in late 1967, frustrated with his inability to be a standout guitar player. By the time Tull got around to recording their first album in mid-1968, he had been playing flute for only a few months.

1968That debut, released in late 1968, was This Was. This Was is a blues-rock record with some occasional jazz flourishes. It opens with “My Sunday Feeling”, a pretty decent rocker. Anderson’s decision to take up the flute was a smart one. It adds a unique character to an otherwise good-but-unremarkable song.

“Beggar’s Farm” is one of the stronger cuts on the album, and it’s one of the points where Anderson’s ambitions to move beyond blues were most evident. It slinks along smoothly, and Anderson’s signature aggressive flute-playing takes the lead in the song’s outro. The brief “Move on Alone” is another highlight. It’s the only album track in the band’s history to feature someone other than Ian Anderson on vocals (in this case, guitarist Mick Abrahams). The horn arrangement in this song’s outro marked the first collaboration with Dee Palmer, who would work with the band until 1980.

“Dharma for One” is seen in its first incarnation here. In live settings, it would be reworked into a ten-minute monster. Vocals would be added to the supercharged music, but both live renditions and the version here are centered around an extended drum solo, which manages to avoid becoming tedious.

Overall, This Was is a pretty decent blues-rock album, and that’s coming from a guy with a professed low tolerance for most overtly-bluesy music. There are a couple unimpressive tracks, like “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You”, and the album’s production isn’t particularly good. Though considering this album was recorded on the shoestring budget of £1200, it could have been worse.

Mick Abrahams left Jethro Tull shortly before the release of This Was. His blues-oriented playing put him at odds with Anderson, and he went on to form the band Blodwyn Pig. Ian Anderson has stated that the album title “This Was” itself was meant to demonstrate the temporary nature of their blues sound, and Mick Abrahams’s departure was necessary for the band to progress.

Following Abrahams’s departure, Jethro Tull auditioned a few guitarists. Tony Iommi, during a brief departure from Earth (Black Sabbath’s predecessor), joined the band for a few weeks before returning to Earth. He never recorded any material with Tull, but he can be seen in video footage recorded for The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. (He’s the one in the big white hat.) Only Ian Anderson’s vocals were recorded live; the rest of the band were simply miming along to the studio backing track.

Martin Barre was the band’s second choice, and he would stay with the band through the rest of its history. (Fun fact: Martin Barre’s middle name is Lancelot.)

1969Jethro Tull’s next studio album, 1969’s Stand Up, was a huge step forward in the band’s musical progression. Due in part to that leap forward, Ian Anderson has cited this as his personal favorite Tull record. It was also their first #1 record, thanks in part to popularity gained by touring with Led Zeppelin in the US.

The opening track, “A New Day Yesterday”, isn’t that much of a departure from This Was. Martin Barre’s playing style is distinct from Mick Abrahams’s, but it’s still a blues song. The second song, though, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” offers a sharper contrast. It’s a happy little folk number, featuring flute from Martin Barre (who also provided flute on one other track).

“Bourée”, the third track, is a rearranging of J.S. Bach’s Bourée in E Minor for Lute, and it’s one of Jethro Tull’s best-known songs. It transforms the airy lute piece into a driving jazz number, and it demonstrates just how far Ian Anderson had progressed in his flute skills between the first and second albums.

“Fat Man” is another example of the band testing out new ground. Jingling bells and jangling balalaika are the primary instruments. It’s a jaunty, folky song with some slightly goofy lyrics. Following this is “We Used to Know”, a slow-building, mournful song. The soloing from both Anderson and Barre is intense and emotive.

The unquestionable highlight, to me, at least, is the closing “For a Thousand Mothers”. It’s a charging, aggressive piece that moves a mile a minute. Clive Bunker’s drumming especially stands out, channeling the madness of The Who’s Keith Moon. Anderson plays his flute hard, giving it a biting, slightly distorted edge, and the main guitar riff drives the song with impressive power.

1970Their next album, 1970’s Benefit, saw Jethro Tull fully divorce themselves from their blues roots and establish the folk-prog/hard rock sound for which they would become best-known. John Evan (née Evans; he dropped the “s” after being told that made him sound more distinctive) sorta, kinda, unofficially joined the band as their keyboardist. He was billed as “guest” on the album sleeve and initially intended to play with Tull only for a year or two. He wound up sticking around for ten.

This is also the only Tull (non-compilation) album to feature different UK and US track listings. The (original) UK version featured “Alive and Well and Living In”, a jazzy, piano-driven number. In contrast, the US version featured “Teacher” in its place, a hard-rocking piece which was a successful non-album single in the UK. For my money, I prefer the US track listing. “Teacher” is one of Tull’s absolute best songs.

The rest of the album is impressive as well. “Inside” is a jazz-influenced song with a strong melody and striking, fuzzed-out bassline. “Son” is one of Jethro Tull’s weirdest songs. It clocks in at under three minutes, but it wildly vacillates between melodic hard rock and strange folk rock led by plinking piano and acoustic guitar.

“For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me” and “Sossity; You’re a Woman” see the band further exploring folk-rock. Both open with gentle, acoustic moments and are powered along by somber-yet-effective melodies. The band’s hard rock influences also became clearer on this record. Songs like the riff-driven “To Cry You a Song” and the charging “Play in Time” showed Tull’s willingness to lean into heavier sounds.

Following Benefit, bassist Glenn Cornick left the band and was replaced by Jeffrey Hammond. (This is the same Jeffrey as mentioned in the songs “A Song for Jeffrey”, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square”, and “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me”. He also occasionally went by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, as his mother’s maiden name was Hammond.)

The addition of John Evan is what really allowed Jethro Tull to blossom creatively. Ian Anderson credits his joining the band to their continued success. With a full-time keyboard player in the mix, Jethro Tull were about to put out their two most-hailed albums.

Part II: The Classics (1971-1972)

1971Aqualung, Jethro Tull’s 1971 release, features two of classic rock radio’s most enduring songs: the anthemic title track and “Locomotive Breath”. Despite what Anchorman would have you believe, the song “Aqualung” does not feature any flute. But it features Martin Barre’s most recognizable guitar riff, as well as his most impressive solo. (Legend has it that the solo is so great because Jimmy Page swung by during the song’s recording, and Martin wanted to show off. Ian Anderson jokes that if you turn the volume way up, you can hear Martin waving at Jimmy during an especially long bend in the solo.)

If you ask me, though (and presumably you would, since you’re reading this on my site), “Aqualung” is one of the weaker songs on the album. Though to be a weak song on an album this amazing is to say it’d be an amazing song on a more middling release. “Cross-Eyed Mary” crunches along with a heavy, buzzing riff, complemented by John Evan’s distorted organ and Ian Anderson’s madcap vocals. “Mother Goose”, on the other hand, is a truly creative integration of English folk and rock music, full of recorders and simple percussion.

“Up to Me” and “Hymn 43”, in contrast to “Mother Goose”, weave those folk flavors with heavier rock influences. “Up to Me” features rather little distortion, but the odd minor-key riff and dark piano give it a looming, anxious feeling. “Hymn 43”, meanwhile, is driven along with a powerful, bombastic riff and dramatic vocals.

“My God” is Ian Anderson’s most obvious efforts to show off his abilities on the flute. Of this song’s seven minutes, Anderson’s flute solo (backed with only some vocal chanting) comprises almost two full minutes. Beyond this solo (which would regularly be extended in live settings), “My God” features one of the band’s best hard rock riffs.

Following Aqualung’s release, many critics labeled it a concept album, due in large part to the trio of somewhat-anti-religious songs “My God”, “Hymn 43”, and “Wind Up”. The band have always disputed this categorization of Aqualung and insisted this topical continuity was largely incidental. Nonetheless, in light of this interpretation, Ian Anderson decided to give rock critics the mother of all concept albums. With the addition of drummer Barriemore Barlow (replacing Clive Bunker, who left the band), and inspired by the comedy troupe Monty Python, Anderson intended to satirize the entire genre of progressive rock. He specifically intended to take the piss out of bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes.

1972The result, released in early 1972, was Thick as a Brick, one 42-minute song split over two sides of a record. This is also quite possibly my favorite album of all time, only seriously challenged by The Beatles’ Revolver and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

The conceit of the album was that it was an epic poem written by a ten-year-old prodigy in the fictional British town of St. Cleve. This was further underscored by the album’s packaging, which took the form of a 12-page newspaper, The St. Cleve Chronicle, full of bizarre in-jokes and humor so British, it comes off as more confusing than funny to an American like me. Ian Anderson has stated that the faux-newspaper took longer to create than the album itself.

The music for Thick as a Brick, unlike their previous releases, was written rather hurriedly and off-the-cuff by Anderson. All their previous albums had been much more meticulously planned. Somehow, this resulted in one of progressive rock’s masterpieces.

The music is the greatest synthesis of all of Tull’s influences. Folk is a major part of the music, most notably in the introductory movement, which remains a mainstay of classic rock radio. Hard rock, jazz, and avant-garde influences loom large as well. John Evan had significant contributions to the songwriting here, and considering how big the organ is, it’s not surprising. Numerous musical themes crop up and are revisited and reinterpreted throughout the album’s runtime, adding to its sense of continuity.

Part III: The Other Overtly-Proggy Albums (1973-1976)

1972bIn mid-1972, Jethro Tull released their quasi-compilation album, Living in the Past. This double album consists of a mix of non-album singles, live recordings, and album cuts. Most of the songs here were later released as bonus tracks on the CD remasters of Tull’s first three albums. When consumed as a self-contained collection, it offers an interesting insight into the band’s early evolution. It ranges from blues (“Driving Song”) to heavy psychedelia (“Love Story”, “Sweet Dream”) to folk rock (the title track (which is notable for being a substantial hit despite being written in 5/4 time) and “Witch’s Promise”).

The pair of live recordings shows a side of Jethro Tull rarely heard in the studio. Both pieces center around extended solos and jamming. “By Kind Permission Of” is a John Evan composition and focuses on his piano skills. “Dharma for One” is a reworking of a song off This Was. It’s a raucous, powerful, heavy piece centered around a skillful, dynamic drum solo.

Thick as a Brick was an immense commercial success, which prompted Ian Anderson to keep his musical ambitions high.

In the early 1970s, it was also common for British bands to escape the UK’s punishing taxes on musical royalties (as high as 95% in some cases) by going into tax exile on the European mainland. This was a practice carried out by major acts like The Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, and Yes.

As such, Jethro Tull departed for the Château d’Hérouville studio in northern France. These recording sessions did not go well, prompting the band to jokingly label the studio the “Château d’Isaster”. They were beset by technical difficulties and recurrent bouts of food poisoning, but they managed to record embryonic forms of songs which would eventually wind up on A Passion Play and War Child. These ill-fated recording sessions would be released as the first disc of the 1993 compilation Nightcap. As would be expected, these are sonically quite similar to the music of A Passion Play, including a few songs which would eventually be incorporated as sections within that album. It’s an interesting, enjoyable glimpse into Jethro Tull’s writing process, but it’s so similar to A Passion Play, I hesitate to call it essential. Much of the flute on these recordings was overdubbed by Ian Anderson in the early 1990s, when his style of play had changed noticeably.

1973After their d’Isaster-ous attempt to record an album in France, Jethro Tull returned to the UK for their next release. What resulted was another massive, 40+ minute epic: 1973’s A Passion Play. Anderson insists this was yet another jab at progressive rock, but when does supposed mockery loop around into sincerity? When is your tongue so firmly in your cheek it bursts through?

I love A Passion Play. It has a somewhat darker overall tone than Thick as a Brick, and saxophone (played by Anderson) is a lead instrument on much of the album, alongside flute and Hammond organ. The darker atmosphere matches the story excellently, which details a journey through the afterlife. There are deft changes between somber and energetic moments, and Anderson’s always-dramatic vocal delivery is especially well-suited here.

In the middle of this massive suite dealing with life, death, and reincarnation is a weird, silly interlude. “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles” is a baffling piece reminiscent of “Peter and the Wolf” in the way orchestral instrumentation backs a narrator. On the tour supporting this album, there was a bizarre short film played, which depicted the events in the song. I wouldn’t necessarily say this adds to the charm of the album, nor does it substantially detract from it, but it’s always jarring when Jeffrey Hammond’s narration begins.

Despite my personal love of the album, the music press on both sides of the Atlantic savaged A Passion Play upon release. (Nonetheless, it still hit #1 on the US charts.) Taken aback at just how brutal the backlash against A Passion Play was, Anderson and the rest of Jethro Tull reevaluated their songwriting process before commencing work on their next album.

1974War Child was released in 1974 and saw Tull return to much shorter songs. The longest track here clocks in at a mere five-and-a-half minutes. This was also the band’s spottiest release to date.

Two of Jethro Tull’s biggest hits were spawned off this album: “Bungle in the Jungle” and “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day”. But War Child also features some stinkers, and it starts off weak. Side A features such unimpressive cuts as the goofy “Queen and Country” and “Ladies”. The title track is alright, but the melody feels awkward. The saving grace of this first half is “Sealion”. A simple, heavy riff drives the song along, and Dee Palmer’s string arrangements feel well-integrated.

War Child’s second half is stronger, but it has its flaws as well. After starting off with the lovely folk song “Skating Away” and the goofy-but-enjoyable “Bungle in the Jungle”, there’s “The Third Hoorah”, which, despite electrifying its folk influences, lacks any real impact. “Two Fingers” is an inferior rearrangement of an outtake from the Aqualung sessions, “Lick Your Fingers Clean”.

In many ways, War Child is akin to Yes’s Tormato. Both records were released after a string of beloved albums, both saw the bands transitioning to shorter song structures, and on both, the bands sound like they’re not entirely sure what sound they want to go for. One key difference is that (from what I can tell from the bonus tracks on both albums’ remasters) Jethro Tull simply had too many ideas and lacked focus, whereas Yes sounded as if they were scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Perhaps also contributing to War Child’s scattershot nature was the fact that it was initially conceptualized as a double-album film score. After the film failed to get funding, the scope of the project was narrowed to a single-disc album.

1975Despite continued critical indifference, Jethro Tull remained massively popular, especially in the US. Their next album, 1975’s Minstrel in the Gallery, saw the band return to a sound reminiscent of Aqualung. Light, acoustic moments contrast sharply with electric bombast, and the songs show greater structural complexity. Dee Palmer’s orchestration also continued to play a growing role in the band’s sound.

The title track opens the album on a folky note. The first two minutes feature just Ian Anderson singing over acoustic guitar before Martin Barre’s proto-metallic riffage sends the song in another direction. A main riff is established around the song’s midway point, and the lyrics previously sung are revisited with renewed intensity. “Cold Wind to Valhalla” bears some resemblance to “Mother Goose” with its simple percussion and acoustic backbone. But Dee Palmer’s strings add a new layer of depth. The song seamlessly transitions to a hard rocker, with Jeffrey Hammond’s bass especially standing out.

“Black Satin Dancer” is a bit unfocused, but I enjoy its contrasts of piano-and-strings-backed balladry and searing, bluesy soloing. “Requiem” and “One White Duck/010 = Nothing at All” are simple, emotive acoustic pieces, featuring just Anderson’s voice, acoustic guitar, and strings. Where “Requiem” is elegiac, “One White Duck”” is more playful.

The centerpiece of Minstrel in the Gallery, though, is the sprawling suite “Baker St. Muse”. It’s one of Jethro Tull’s best songs, playing up all their strengths. It covers ground ranging from simple folk to twisting, heavy riffs, and Ian Anderson’s vocal melodies are some of the strongest he ever wrote. The metallic and folk/classical elements complement each other beautifully, adding to the music’s ultimate impact.

Bassist Jeffrey Hammond left the band following this album to pursue a career in painting. He was replaced with John Glascock, coming from the progressive rock/flamenco act Carmen.

1976Jethro Tull decided to stick with this hard rock/folk sound for their next album, the cumbersomely-titled Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (hereafter abbreviated to TORRTYD), released in mid-1976. Unlike Minstrel in the Gallery, which was an introspective collection of songs, TORRTYD is another concept album, this one telling the story of an aging rocker and discussing the cyclical nature of pop culture trends.

The other big difference between this album and Minstrel in the Gallery is that Minstrel in the Gallery is a good album. TORRTYD is like an even weaker War Child. There are some good songs on the album, but the music overall is unfocused and unimpressive, and there are fewer good songs overall to buoy this release.

(On a side note, in doing research for this piece, I happened to listen to the Steven Wilson remaster/remix of this album. Normally, I love his remasters; he’s worked wonders to breathe new life into King Crimson’s discography. But oh my god, he fucked this album up hard. The electric guitars are turned way down, and the orchestral arrangements are given far too much prominence. Instruments are also panned really hard to the left and right audio channels, resulting in a downright-distracting mix while wearing headphones. Such a treatment might be appropriate for King Crimson, whose music was often immensely dense, but Tull’s music was only rarely like that. I know he’s remastered other Tull albums, but now I’m afraid to listen to them.)

TORRTYD starts off with its two best songs: “Quizz Kid” and “Crazed Institution”. “Quizz Kid” is one of the more aggressive songs on the album and is centered around a high-energy rhythm section, though the main musical theme of the song is an awkward, uncomfortable guitar riff. “Crazed Institution”, meanwhile, draws upon Tull’s strengths as a folk-rock act. Skittering high hats, twinkling piano, and a catchy melody carry this song.

Other highlights include the title track and “The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)”, but they’re not strong enough to spend much time discussing. The rest of TORRTYD alternates between limp folk and half-assed blues rock. Not only is the story of the album muddled and unclear, but the music follows suit, with lingering songs having unsatisfying resolutions.

Part IV: Folk-Prog (1977-1979)

It’s hard to break up the 1970s for Jethro Tull in the same way I could for Yes or King Crimson or Genesis. Ian Anderson was the driving force behind the band, and their lineup remained pretty stable until 1980. (More on that later.) But I know reading long chapters in books can make you flip ahead looking for a break, so I thought I could at least put a little break here to avoid having the ‘70s be one massive section.

1977Songs from the Wood is an immense improvement over the unfocused mess that is TORRTYD. Where Tull’s 1976 release opened with an uneasy, half-assed riff, this album opens with a striking, folky vocal melody. (Get ready for me to abuse the hell out of the word “folk” in the ensuing paragraphs.) Dee Palmer officially joined the band as a fulltime member, providing additional keys, and she and John Evan give this album a lush texture. The title track–which is in the upper echelon of individual Tull songs on its own–grabs your attention with its synthesis of British folk, prog, and hard rock.

The title track isn’t the only place where Jethro Tull leaned into folk influences. In fact, this entire album draws heavily from the folk traditions of the British Isles. The music here is varied, though it all drinks from the same font. “Jack-In-The-Green” is a simple flute-and-guitar piece, and “Ring Out Solstice Bells” is a joyous Christmas song. “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” is slow and the darkest song on the album, though it retains a certain fanciful flavor owing to its folk roots.

Songs from the Wood marked a shift in Jethro Tull’s overall sound. They’d never been shy about incorporating folk influences, but it was on this album where they wholeheartedly embraced it. The combination of folk and hard rock, coupled with complex song structures and virtuosic musicianship, makes this one of Tull’s best records.

19781978’s Heavy Horses continues in a similar vein. “…And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps” is a weird song full of stuttering flute, skittering acoustic guitar, and rich organ tones. Barriemore Barlow’s drumming is spot-on, propelling the song forward with impressive skill.

Overall, the song structures on Heavy Horses are more streamlined than on preceding albums. Ian Anderson has described this album as something of a contemporary (c. 1978) version of Songs from the Wood, which leaned on older folkloric traditions, both lyrically and musically. Much of the lyrical material on Heavy Horses address the differences between country and city life, and those themes are evident in the music itself, with its sharp acoustic-electric contrasts.

Despite such a provincial focus, Tull still managed to include some impressive hard rock here. “No Lullaby” has a slow, bluesy main riff coupled with creepy lyrics about a child’s fear of the dark. This song also features a high-energy riff and provides bassist John Glascock a chance to show off. His tenure in the band was quite brief, but I consider him to be Jethro Tull’s most distinctive bass player.

“One Brown Mouse” is a clever, playful song. It’s powered along by a simple yet propulsive rhythm and John Evan’s piano. Some of the synth tones haven’t aged well, but the songwriting is strong enough to negate that weakness. The verses have a sunny feel which contrasts brilliantly against the minor-key choruses.

The title track provides the fullest integration of folk rock and hard rock on this album. The main theme is powerful and emotive, using both Ian Anderson’s flute and Martin Barre’s electric guitar to drive it home. I may find the concept of the song nostalgic in the stupidest way possible (it mourns the decline of big work horses on farms), but this is another piece that deserves a special spot in Jethro Tull’s catalog. The inclusion of guest violinist Darryl Way of Curved Air adds extra impact.

1979Stormwatch, released in 1979, is an altogether darker and moodier album than its predecessors. Ian Anderson attributed this partially to the poor state of the British economy in the late 1970s (as evinced by songs like “North Sea Oil” and “Dark Ages”). This dour mood was only compounded by bassist John Glascock’s health issues. Due to congenital heart issues, he recorded only three songs for this album before Ian Anderson told him to take time off. Anderson, then, played bass for most of this album. (And perhaps not coincidentally, this album is Jethro Tull’s most bass-forward release.)

This music on this album is suitably grim. It retains a lot of the folk inflections of the two preceding releases, but Martin Barre’s guitar looms larger and more ominously. John Evan’s organ and Dee Palmer’s synths add to this oppressive atmosphere. The opening “North Sea Oil” encapsulates this aspect perfectly. It’s a song addressing Britain’s dire economic straits with an edgy, anxious minor-key riff.

Even calmer, folky moments, like “Home”, have a certain downbeat atmosphere about them. Anderson’s plaintive singing is enhanced by a mournful string arrangement and some downright-morose electric guitar lines.

“Dark Ages” is, for my money, Jethro Tull’s last true epic. (1987’s “Budapest” may be longer, but I’ll address that in Part VI.) It’s a complex, multi-parted song that weaponizes the darkness of the music to build a driving, emotive monster of a song.

There’s no neat way of fitting this in, but the remastered release of this album features a song called “King Henry’s Madrigal”. It’s a rendition of “Pastime with Good Company”, written by King Henry VIII. I’m pretty sure that makes this the single-most British piece of music ever recorded, and I’m also pretty sure that if you drink a pint of British beer while listening to this, you’re granted automatic UK citizenship. (I wouldn’t know, as being the snob I am, I drink only Northwestern IPAs with enough hops to kill a medium-sized mammal.)

Stormwatch marked the end of an era for Jethro Tull. Following this album their sound would change dramatically, and the overall quality of music would take a downward turn, though they still had a few good albums in them. For four of Jethro Tull’s six members, this would be their last release with the band.

Part V: Tull Does the ‘80s (1980-1985)

With bassist John Glascock still on medical sabbatical, ex-Fairport Convention bassist Dave Pegg was added to the touring lineup. He was promoted to a full member when, sadly, John Glascock died as a result of his congenital heart disease. While on the Stormwatch tour, drummer Barriemore Barlow had expressed his intention to leave the band shortly thereafter.

Once the tour was over, Ian Anderson set about recording a solo album. The music was a massive shift from what he’d written with Jethro Tull, being much more electronic and featuring more modern (for the time) keyboard tones. Providing those keys (and some violin) was ex-Roxy Music-and-UK multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson. Jobson brought along his friend Mark Craney to play drums, and Ian Anderson invited Dave Pegg to play bass. Anderson also invited Martin Barre along, initially just to add a little guitar, but he wound up playing on the whole album.

When the album was played to the record executives, they wanted to release it as a new Jethro Tull album, not an Ian Anderson solo album. Anderson said he wanted to talk to Barlow, Evan, and Palmer first. The executives ignored this and announced the new Jethro Tull lineup, effectively firing Barlow, Evan, and Palmer via newspaper article. Barlow was intending to leave the band anyway, and Evan and Palmer had teamed up for a side project called Tallis. Nonetheless, feelings were hurt, and none of those three musicians would collaborate with Jethro Tull again.

On a side note, almost no information about Tallis exists online. Dee Palmer has a page dedicated to it on her website, and there’s one song posted there. A full album was never released (despite one being recorded), and she says she has no intention of ever releasing it in full. Based on the song she’s posted, I don’t think it’s a big loss. It’s an awkward mixture of classical themes and funky progressive rock. It’s not bad, but it certainly doesn’t stand out, either. It reminds me a lot Utopia’s debut album, but with classical melodies awkwardly slapped on. Anyway, back to Tull.

1980This Anderson-turned-Tull release was A. From the first notes of this album, it’s clear Anderson wanted to take a starkly different musical direction. “Crossfire” opens it with glimmering electric piano, and Martin Barre’s guitar is mixed rather low. Subtle vocoder is utilized to give the vocals on “Fylingdale Flyer” a robotic quality, and the music is once more dominated by Jobson’s piano and synths.

“Black Sunday” is easily the best song on A. It opens with a Rick Wakeman-like synthesizer flourish before moving into a heavier riff, pushed along by flute and pounding bass piano. The minor key verses and paranoid lyrics add to the oppressive atmosphere. Piano lines glimmer in sharp contrast to Martin Barre’s dark guitar licks.

On a few songs, Eddie Jobson busts out his electric violin, adding some folk flavors which somehow meld with the slick 1980s sound. It adds power to the main riff in “Uniform”, which sounds like a futuristic version of something that could have been on Songs from the Wood. “The Pine Marten’s Jig” is a high-energy instrumental where the violin and flute duel it out over mandolin. It’s like the 1980s and Celtic folk had a baby. This song also features a springy bass tone that I wish Dave Pegg would have utilized more often.

Not everything on A works, though. “Working John, Working Joe” has a weird, unengaging main riff and chorus, and it drags on for far too long. “4.W.D (Low Ratio)” suffers from a similarly weak main theme, including an unsuccessful blues infusion. The vocoder is borderline-abused on this track as well. The closing ballad “And Further On” is pretty enough, but the first half or so is awfully dull.

Following the tour (which featured the band in some rather silly white jumpsuits), Jobson (who had never intended to stick around long) and Craney left the band. Replacing these two were Peter-John Vettese and Gerry Conway, respectively.

1982Ian Anderson decided to continue with the trends begun on A for Tull’s next album, 1982’s The Broadsword and the Beast. Now sans violin, Jethro Tull began to sound more and more like a stereotypical ‘80s hard rock band, especially on tracks like the opening “Beastie”. Vettese was probably the flashiest of Jethro Tull’s keyboard players, and his frequent synth flourishes add to the character of this album. “Flying Colours” is another song where Tull fell into ‘80s hard rock mediocrity, albeit with some Wakemanesque synths.

Some folk influences still made their way onto this release, however. “Clasp”, for example, has flashes of flute and mandolin amid Vangelis-like synthesizers and some uninteresting hard rock. “Fallen on Hard Times” is a more thoroughly folky song, sounding almost like it could have been an outtake from Heavy Horses.

It’s not that The Broadsword and the Beast is without enjoyable music. “Broadsword” is an engaging, slow-building piece where Vettese’s synths add effective atmosphere. Martin Barre’s soloing is also quite good here. “Seal Driver” is another of the better songs, featuring an especially strong performance from bassist Dave Pegg.

Overall, though, this album feels like foreshadowing for Jethro Tull’s later-80s output of Crest of a Knave and Rock Island. Before they went there, however, Ian Anderson really wanted to embrace the electronic side of 1980s rock music.

1984Their next album, 1984’s Under Wraps, is where I disagree with fan orthodoxy the most. This is their lowest-rated album on the sites Rate Your Music and Prog Archives, but I think it’s pretty good. Yes, Ian Anderson’s flute is minimized; and yes, this at times resembles Thomas Dolby; and yes, they used a drum machine instead of a live drummer for this album. But the compositions here are stronger than people give them credit for. It’s also notable for how much collaboration occurred in the songwriting. Anderson only penned four songs on his own, with keyboardist Vettese contributing to the others.

It’s worth mentioning that the original vinyl release had a slightly different track listing than the CD I grew accustomed to hearing. “Tundra” was added right smack dab in the middle of the album (being inserted as song #7, on what was originally an 11-song album).

The album opens with electric percussion, a sharp break with Jethro Tull’s usual sound. “Lap of Luxury” is a decent hard rock song, featuring a panoply of keys, and “Under Wraps #1” is one of the best songs on the album with its driving main synth line, dark atmosphere, and surprisingly catchy chorus. “Heat” is the best song here. It’s a tense, high-energy piece that lets Martin Barre finally have something interesting to do, and Peter-John Vettese’s synthesizers (mostly) still sound great.

Under Wraps is also notable for how thoroughly Jethro Tull divorced themselves from folk influences. The occasional flash shows up here and there, like the Spanish-flavored guitar on “European Legacy” or the brief “Under Wraps #2”. But the electronics truly take center stage, drowning out many of the band’s longstanding tendencies.

Not everything on this album is great, and it does deserve some of the flak it gets. The aforementioned “European Legacy” is an awkward integration of electronics and folk. “Saboteur” has some pretty unfortunate synth brass tones, and “Astronomy” is just not a good song, being a bizarre mishmash of uplifting verses, minor-key choruses, and some of Ian Anderson’s worst vocal flourishes. “Nobody’s Car” has a main guitar line that sounds like a half-assed Alex Lifeson ripoff, coupled with more terrible ‘80s synth brass.

Following the Under Wraps tour, Jethro Tull went on a brief hiatus, while Ian Anderson underwent throat surgery. His vocal range would never be what it used to be, but Jethro Tull still had about another two decades of music in them.

Part VI: “The Flute Is a Heavy, Metal Instrument.” (1986-1994)

Following Jethro Tull’s mini-hiatus, Peter-John Vettese left the band. Still lacking a full-time drummer, the band pushed on as the trio of Anderson, Barre, and Pegg.

1987For their next album, 1987’s Crest of a Knave, Anderson would handle most of the keyboard duties. Doane Perry, who had drummed for Jethro Tull during the Under Wraps tour, and former member Gerry Conway provided percussion on five of the seven songs, while the other two pieces relied on a drum machine.

On Crest, Jethro Tull retreated from the keyboard-forward sound of Under Wraps and reestablished themselves a hard rock act. It should be noted that I dislike most 1980s hard rock, as I often find it cheesy, vapid, uninteresting,. It’s just not my music.

On Crest of a Knave, Ian Anderson’s weakened voice is immediately evident on the opening “Steel Monkey”. Despite that, this is my favorite song on the album. It’s a capable hard rock number with strong melodies, aggressive sequenced synthesizers, and some great guitarwork from Martin Barre.

I’m considerably less enthusiastic about the rest of Crest of a Knave. “Farm on the Freeway” is an alright song. “Alright” is a great way to describe this whole album. It’s far from good, but it doesn’t do much to actively offend. “Jump Start” continues this trend of the music being just alright. It’s notable in that Jethro Tull are once again exhibiting some folk influences on it, and Ian Anderson’s got a pretty good flute solo.

Crest of a Knave also demonstrates that Jethro Tull were not well-suited for 1980s hard rock ballads. “She Said She Was a Dancer” has eyeroll-inducing lyrics (which have aged terribly with the end of the Cold War), the jazzy tones on the guitar do not work at all, and Anderson’s intonation is downright irritating.

“Budapest” is an interminable 10-minute slog which opens with more overwrought balladry backed by unimpressive bluesy guitar noodling. The middle instrumental section is this song’s sole positive. Barre and Anderson have some good interplay in their solos, and the organ has some actual impact. But then the vocals come back with more inanity for a very long final four minutes.

The album closes fairly strong, with a pair of decent hard rockers. Though the final song, “Raising Steam”, sounds like a Dire Straits song. Everything from Martin Barre’s guitar riff to the synths to Anderson’s vocals are reminiscent of something Mark Knopfler would have done.

But Crest of a Knave isn’t really known for the music on it, and if you listen to the album it’s abundantly clear why. What it’s known for is being the subject of one of the greatest fuck-ups in the history of the Grammys.

In 1989, the Grammys added an award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. Crest of a Knave was nominated, as were Blow Up Your Video by AC/DC, Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction, and …And Justice for All by Metallica. Chrysalis Records were so confident that Jethro Tull would not win, the company told the band to not even bother attending the ceremony. Metallica were widely expected to take the award.

When presenters Alice Cooper and Lita Ford read out that Jethro Tull had won the award, the audience erupted in boos. After seeing the crowd’s reaction, Ian Anderson stated he was “lucky” he had not physically been there. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like Anderson thinks Metallica should have won, necessarily, as he views the award more as Lifetime Achievement sort of thing than for Crest of a Knave itself. And it isn’t like Jethro Tull were horribly miscategorized. The award was combined for hard rock and heavy metal. And it’s hard to dispute that Crest of a Knave is a hard rock album. It’s just not that great of one, and Grammy voters have always been notoriously out of touch.

Following the Grammys debacle, Chrysalis Records took out an ad in Billboard magazine featuring a flute lying on top of a pile of steel rebar with the heading, “The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.” The Grammys also subsequently split the award into separate hard rock and heavy metal categories.


1989Jethro Tull continued with Crest of a Knave’s sound on their next album, 1989’s Rock Island, which was  an unremarkable, entirely forgettable hard rock album. Doane Perry officially joined the band as a full-time drummer, though Anderson still handled most of the keys.

Almost nothing on this album stands out. Martin Barre’s riffs are achingly generic, Ian Anderson’s voice is even worse than on Crest, and the playing itself feels lifeless, flat, and completely joyless. There’s more offensively dull balladry, and Anderson’s lyrics continue to be awful. It doesn’t take very long for me to reach a point where I struggle to write about this album. The Dire Straits comparison I used above is still applicable here, though Tull don’t pull that sound off half as well as Mr. Knopfler.

The only song of note here is the title track. It reminds me of “Budapest”, but it’s shortened to a more reasonable seven-minute length. And where “Budapest” wallowed in sappy balladry, “Rock Island” feels more like a slow-building hard rock song. The song’s intensity ebbs and flows effectively, and folk flourishes are deployed to great effect. The instrumental moments here are also the strongest on the album, though some of Barre’s soloing does get cheesy and overwrought.

19911991 saw the release of yet another unimpressive hard rock album, Catfish Rising, though at least Jethro Tull switched a few things up. Gone are Anderson’s synthesizers. Instead, a handful of studio musicians were brought aboard to provide piano and organ. Catfish Rising also features the most overt blues influences since Stand Up, released 22 years prior.

Ian Anderson seems to have finally accepted that his vocal range was more limited by this point, and this album has his best vocal performance since before his throat surgery. The band members also sound like they’re having fun and not just passionlessly laying down bland hard rock (see: Rock Island). They’re just having fun playing bland, bluesy hard rock. It’s not much of a difference, but it does have something of a positive effect.

A few songs on Catfish Rising are alright, and upon listening to this album for the first time since high school, I found it to be less intolerable than I recalled. I still wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s not some flaming catastrophe. “Still Loving You Tonight” is an okay blues ballad featuring some nice Spanish flavors in the acoustic guitarwork. “Sparrow on the Schoolyard Wall” is surprisingly fun, and “Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie” is a return to short-form, jolly folk numbers. As much as the blues permeate this record, it’s the mandolin and folk influences that provide the best moments.

Despite those few highlights, Catfish Rising still brims with dragging, unimpressive hard rock. “This Is Not Love”, the album’s opening track, shows that Tull still liked doing Mark Knopfler knock-offs (Knock-pfloffs? Knopfl-offs?). “Rocks on the Road” is a tepid, slow-moving number that sounds like an alternate take of “Farm on the Freeway”. “White Innocence” lacks a single original thought and drags on for nearly eight minutes. It’s maddeningly repetitious, and the piano tones are terrible.

“Like a Tall, Thin Girl”, however, may be the single-worst song Jethro Tull ever recorded. I’m not a lyrics guy. I don’t focus on them, and I’m usually pretty good at zoning them out and enjoying the music by itself. But these lyrics are really, really, unignorably terrible. Ian Anderson’s vocal delivery is also reminiscent of his work on Crest of a Knave. It’s strained and nasal and grating to no end. I’m just glad this song is only three-and-a-half minutes long.

1993The gap between Catfish Rising and Jethro Tull’s next album would be four years, their longest gap yet. But in the meantime, the compilation album Nightcap was released. I addressed Disc 1 in Part III, but Disc 2 covers assorted outtakes from 1974-1990. There’s a pretty hard delineation in terms of quality between the material recorded in the ‘70s and the stuff recorded in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Outtakes from the War Child sessions are fantastic; most of them are better than what actually made it onto that album. “Paradise Steakhouse” rolls along smoothly, powered by John Evan’s froggy synthesizers and dramatic piano. “Sealion II” reprises the main riff of the original “Sealion”, but with synthesizers in place of the string arrangements. Jeffrey Hammond provided vocals for this song, only the second song in Tull’s catalog to feature someone other than Ian Anderson in the spotlight. There’s some strange narration backed with accordion, and this song is one of the overall-oddest songs the band recorded. The last song from these sessions to be featured here is “Quartet”, a brief, jazzy instrumental. Much of it is led by saxophone and celesta, but there is a moment of massive, distorted organ that comes out of nowhere for a great surprise.

The other outtakes from the ‘70s are pretty solid, too. “A Small Cigar”, recorded during the TORRTYD sessions is a cozy little song. And “Broadford Bazaar”, recorded during the Heavy Horses sessions, could have easily been featured on the album.

The rest of the songs on Disc 2 were recorded 1981-1990, and they sound like it. There’s the occasional catchy riff or chorus, (like “Crew Nights” or “Drive on the Young Side of Life”), but most of this material is unremarkable 1980s hard rock. The keyboard tones are grating more often than not, and the post-1984 material features expectedly-weak vocals.

Taken as a whole, Nightcap is an interesting collection of music. Disc 1 is very reminiscent of A Passion Play (which I love), and Disc 2 is a mixed bag.

Part VII: “World Music” Phase (1995-1999)

(PSA: I’m about to seriously overuse scare quotes in this section. “World music” is not a particularly good or effective genre label; and the “Eastern” influences found therein are often so surface-level, superficial, and ambiguous in their origins that I can’t take them seriously.)

19951995 saw the release of Jethro Tull’s next album, Roots to Branches. Andy Giddings was brought on as a full-time keyboard player, and the band finally moved away from the dull-as-dirt 1980s hard rock sound. Longtime bassist Dave Pegg left the band partway through recording and appears on only a handful of tracks. He wouldn’t be formally replaced until after the album was released.

The music here was strongly influenced by a trip Ian Anderson took to India. Assorted “Eastern” motifs crop up all over this album. Anderson also seems to have regained some musical ambition on this album. Some hints of the band’s prog-rock past are detectable. Aiding this is the fact that Anderson continued to adjust his limited vocal range. He (mostly) doesn’t sound strained and works well within his limitations.

The title track opens the album with an immediately-evident shift in sound. A distorted riff builds gently, and Anderson’s flute playing has taken on a different, more delicate quality. The calm verses segue smoothly into higher-energy choruses. Andy Giddings is a massive improvement over past releases where Anderson was in charge of the keys. His synth tones are smart and complementary. (Note: Giddings did contribute on a few songs on Catfish Rising.)

“Rare and Precious Chain” draws heavily from “world” music, that vaguely-“Eastern” genre of easy-listening ambiance which saw a spike in popularity in the 1990s. But while the synth tones or Indian scales may not have aged super-well, this is still an enjoyable mixture of those influences with unusual progressive rock riffs. It just very much sounds of its era.

Roots to Branches thrives on songs like “Rare and Precious Chain”. “Valley” is another strong synthesis of progressive rock and “world music”. The alternating lightweight acoustic moments and bluesy, electric riffs work together shockingly well. “Dangerous Veils” continues the successful streak. It contains one of Anderson’s best flute lines, coupled with an engaging melody in the chorus. The solo in this song doesn’t quite work, though. The jazziness is out-of-nowhere and incongruous.

Not everything on this album is great. “This Free Will” is one of the less-successful songs on Roots to Branches. It feels like something that could have been on Catfish Rising, but they decided to tack on some “Eastern” aesthetics, via the strings and mock-shehnai synthesizer. “At Last Forever” drags on for far too long, does far too little, and the vocals are far too dramatic.

“Wounded, Old and Treacherous” is my personal favorite on this album. This is their best song since “Black Sunday” off A, way back in 1980. It’s slow-building with a fun, jazzy backbone, and Anderson wrote some clever lyrics for the first time in a long time.

Ian Anderson has compared Roots to Branches to Stand Up, and I can agree with him to a degree. Stand Up is the unquestionably stronger album, but both albums feature a wide swathe of often-incongruous musical influences that the band somehow made work. These two albums also stand in sharp contrast with both their respective predecessors.

1999Jonathan Noyce officially joined as Jethro Tull’s bassist for their next album, 1999’s J-Tull Dot Com. (Incidentally, this new lineup would become Jethro Tull’s longest-lasting roster, enduring until 2007.) Stupid album title aside, Tull’s twentieth (non-compilation) album is pretty enjoyable. It continues in the same vein as Roots to Branches in its combination of sorta-proggy hard rock and superficial “Eastern” influences.

The opening “Spiral” is a pretty decent hard rock song, but it establishes a recurrent issue on this album. There’s almost nothing about it that stands out. It’s an enjoyable four minutes, but once it’s over, the song does nothing to stick in your memory. “AWOL”, “Hunt by Numbers”, and “Black Mamba” all suffer from this very issue.

“Hot Mango Flush” is a song that does stick out, however, primarily from its sheer weirdness. It has a jumpy, tropical feel, and Ian Anderson seems to be channeling Fred Schneider of the B-52s in his half-spoken vocal delivery.

The title track features the most overt Indian flavors on the album, enhanced through the heretofore-unheard-of use of a guest vocalist. Such influences pop up elsewhere on the album, including rather heavy-handedly on both “El Niño” (which also features Martin Barre’s most metallic guitar riff ever in the chorus) and the aforementioned “Black Mamba”.

Dot Com ends on its two strongest tracks. “The Dog-Ear Years” Sounds like it could have been on War Child, due to its overt folkiness and dashes of saxophone. “A Gift of Roses” is in a similar mold. It’s less proggy in its structure and instrumentation. It’s a pretty straightforward song, but the melody is strong, and the accordion was a smart addition. (The original CD release also contains the title track of Ian Anderson’s then-forthcoming solo album The Secret Language of Birds as a hidden track after this song.) These two songs demonstrate that folky, proggy hard rock was Jethro Tull’s strong suit.

Unlike a lot of previous Jethro Tull albums, I’m not sure there are any songs on this album I’d describe as “bad,” per se. It’s all enjoyable (even if the album is about ten minutes too long), but so little of it stands out in any significant way. It feels so ephemeral.

Part VIII: Return to Folk (2000-2012(-Present))

The first few years of the new millennium saw a flurry of Jethro Tull best-ofs and live albums, including a one-show reunion of the band’s original 1968 lineup, consisting of Anderson alongside guitarist Mick Abrahams, bassist Glenn Cornick, and drummer Clive Bunker.

2003In 2003, the band released The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Christmas music was nothing new to this band, having released three Christmas songs in their career (1968’s “A Christmas Song”, 1977’s “Ring Out, Solstice Bells”, and 1989’s “Another Christmas Song”). Generally speaking however, rock acts do not have a great track record with Christmas music. Two-thirds of Tull’s holiday output to date was very good, but I’d rather tear my ears off than be subjected to any of Paul McCartney’s or Twisted Sister’s Christmas material. (Though honestly, I’d rather tear my ears off than listen to most Christmas music.)

I’ll save my general-anti-Christmas-music screed for another essay.

If any rock band could pull off a good Christmas album, it would be these guys, particularly if they leaned into their folk side. And that’s exactly what they did. Stylistically, this album is akin to Songs from the Wood or Heavy Horses. Jethro Tull played up their folk past, and it sounds like they had fun recording this music.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is a weird release, not solely due to its subject material, but also because of its specific contents. Seven of the 16 songs are rerecordings of  previously-released Tull material. And four of those aren’t even Christmas-themed. Three are sorta-winter-themed, which is close enough, I guess. But then “Bourée” is tacked on here for some reason. “Bourée” is also the only rerecording with any significant differences from the original. It retains its jazzy character, but Anderson’s flutework is more refined, and the accordion adds a unique twist. (The original is still superior, though.)

Of the other nine songs on the album, only four are entirely new compositions. The opening “Birthday Card at Christmas” is one of those new compositions. Written for one of Ian Anderson’s daughters, who has a birthday near Christmas, it’s a refreshing return to form for Jethro Tull. It’s a well-written, high-energy piece of folk rock which would have fit in on any of Tull’s late ‘70s releases. “Last Man at the Party” is lightweight folk-rock that’s carried by accordion and mandolin. It’s another sign that Ian Anderson had gotten his compositional mojo back (mostly). “First snow on Brooklyn” is a saccharine folk ballad I’m not fond of, but “A Winter Snowscape” is a lovely instrumental written by guitarist Martin Barre. It’s a great way to close out the album.

The other five songs here are instrumental arrangements of other pieces of Christmas(-ish) music. “Holly Herald” is a jovial medley of assorted yuletide pieces. The flute, accordion, and acoustic guitar have great interplay, while the rhythm section keeps it bouncing along. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” gets the “Bourée” treatment, in that it’s been given a very jazzy interpretation. It’s so jazzy, in fact, that when anything other than Ian Anderson’s flute gets the lead, it borders on elevator music. It’s a bit more dynamic and interesting than that, but the sound palette is awfully close.

“Pavane” is a take on a piece of music by French composer Gabriel Fauré. Some moments in here remind me a lot of Tull’s glory years in the early ‘70s in how the flute and organ play off one another. “Greensleeved” (Anderson’s arrangement of “Greensleeves”) once more veers into jazz territory. “We Five Kings” (guess which Christmas hymn this is a rearrangement of) is probably the least-adventurous of these five songs, staying firmly in the album’s folk-jazz lane, but it’s still nice.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album would wind up being Jethro Tull’s last studio album. While I’m a bit disappointed they stopped recording, I am glad they were able to go out on a pretty strong note.

Jethro Tull toured extensively up through 2012, including the 40th Anniversary Tour for Aqualung in 2011, when I saw them. Anderson officially disbanded Jethro Tull in 2012 and went about focusing on his solo career. Also in 2012, he released an album called Thick as a Brick 2, meant to be a chronicling of the life of the first album’s fictional author, Gerald Bostock. It’s an alright album. In fact, I’d describe all of Ian Anderson’s solo albums as alright. They’re not bad, but you’re not missing much by not listening to them. He’s mostly stuck to the sound of early-‘70s, organ-powered prog rock.

Ian Anderson re-formed Jethro Tull in 2017 to begin another round of touring ahead of the 50th anniversary of This Was. This lineup was the first since the debut album to not feature Martin Barre. As of the time of writing, Jethro Tull are still touring, and Anderson is working on a new solo album.

In early 2022, Jethro Tull released The Zealot Gene, their 22nd studio album. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Part IX: TL;DR and Ranking

Jethro Tull are mostly known for being “that one band with a flute” by most people. But they did so much more than just have a flute. They played everything from jazz, to blues, to folk, to electronic rock, to world music, to hard rock, to bad ‘80s hard rock, to the proggiest prog that ever progged. I really recommend checking out most of their discography.

Below is my ranking of Jethro Tull’s 21 studio albums and two outtake-compilation albums. Coming up with exact scores and where exactly to rank albums is pretty difficult.

  1. Thick as a Brick (1972) (100/100)
  2. A Passion Play (1973) (97/100)
  3. Aqualung (1971) (96/100)
  4. Living in the Past (1972) (94/100)
  5. Stand Up (1969) (93/100)
  6. Minstrel in the Gallery (1975) (90/100)
  7. Songs from the Wood (1977) (87/100)
  8. Heavy Horses (1978) (85/100)
  9. Benefit (1970) (85/100)
  10. Stormwatch (1979) (81/100)
  11. A (1980) (78/100)
  12. Nightcap (1993) (76/100)
  13. The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003) (75/100)
  14. Roots to Branches (1995) (74/100)
  15. This Was (1968) (73/100)
  16. Under Wraps (1984) (71/00)
  17. War Child (1974) (68/100)
  18. J-Tull Dot Com (1999) (66/100)
  19. The Broadsword and the Beast (1982) (54/100)
  20. Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976) (48/100)
  21. The Zealot Gene (2022) (47/100)
  22. Crest of a Knave (1987) (45/100)
  23. Catfish Rising (1991) (42/100)
  24. Rock Island (1989) (37/100)

7 thoughts on “Deep Dive: Jethro Tull

  1. Thanks for this complete discography!
    I first encountered Jethro Tull when “Broadsword and the Beast” came out. My older Brother gifted me the LP, because I liked Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd at the time. I listened to the LP for hours on end and read Lord of the Rings / Elric of Melniboné to it. I really like all the old stuff like the live LP “Bursting Out”. Everything after Broadsword I then ignored, because a) Under Wraps was terrible (LOUD electronic snare drum everywhere) and b) I.A.’s voice was no more. I went to the live concert in Frankfurt, Germany 1983(?), but he mostly played Under Wraps stuff and not many classics. That was sad, but mostly due to his failing vocal cords. The GI’s from the US Airbase on the other hand loved it. The keyboard solo by PJV was absolutely great. It wasn’t very Tull like, but he is one of the best live synth player I have ever seen and heard.


  2. Hm. How would I rate those records? Only those I have and know of course.

    Bursting Out (live LP)
    A Passion Play (1973)
    Living in the Past (1972)
    The Broadsword and the Beast (1982)
    Stormwatch (1979)
    Songs from the Wood (1977)
    Thick as a Brick (1972)
    Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)
    Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976)
    Aqualung (1971)
    Stand Up (1969)
    Heavy Horses (1978)
    Benefit (1970)
    This Was (1968)
    Roots to Branches (1995)
    War Child (1974)
    A (1980) (78/100)
    Under Wraps (1984)

    Many of the Albums I regard as equally good and it also depends on the mood. “Stand Up” is a great LP for a rainy Afternoon with a hot tea and a fireplace. Damn it. Am I really 55 already? I see myself still as 13..15 year old.
    Soon my record collection may end up in a damn store for legacy media. lol
    Even analog synthesiser from back when are now collectables. Thankfully there is a new wave of people who love analog synths! 🙂


  3. You botched reviewing the Steven Wilson take on TORRTYTD. First off, he remixed the rerecording of the album which was done to suit union rules when LWTV ran a video version of the album (the original soundtrack/album was forbidden from being used). He then worled only only on side 2 of the original album since the master tapes of side 1 had gone missing (and still are).


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