Jethro Tull were always kind of ridiculous, right?
I mean, they folksy prog-rock band led not just by a flautist — is there any more non-rock ‘n’ roll instrument than a flute? — but a flautist who looked like a fucking madman to boot.
Check out just about any Jethro Tull performance clip, and Ian Anderson is all crazy gestures and bug-eyed mugging as leaned into the mic to over-enunciate his vocals.
And yet, Anderson’s weirdness — and that fucking flute — also ensured that Jethro Tull sounded unlike any other band on the planet. When it all came together, they could be genuinely thrilling.
That opening riff of the title track of 1971’s “Aqualung” has long been a standard on rock radio, and the song itself is a microcosm of everything they did well: a big-ass hard-rock riff, fast full-band parts alternating with slower acoustic passages, and lyrics that have real empathy for the loser whose story they’re telling.
Sun streaking cold
An old man wandering lonely
Taking time the only way he knows
Leg hurting bad
As he bends to pick a dog end
Goes down to a bog to warm his feet
And, of course, halfway through there’s Martin Barre’s fantastic guitar solo, which starts slowly in a stop-time, and then suddenly takes off for the stratosphere, with the rest of the band futilely chasing after it. After a minute or so, Barre just comes to a dead stop just so the rest of the band can catch their breath, and even Ian Anderson is so winded all he can do sing “dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee.”
Honestly, either that riff or the guitar solo would have been enough to grant this song legendary status among high school students of the 1970s, where random dudes would suddenly yell “sitting on a park bench!” out of nowhere.
“Aqualung” performed live in 1977
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