Today marks the 45th anniversary of the release of one of rock and roll’s most important and beloved albums, Aqualung by Jethro Tull. Departing from its predominant blues rock groove, Tull established the sound that would define it evermore – a mix of acoustic folk and progressive, hard and psychedelic rock styles, with varying tempos and intensity. It is the group’s best selling album.
Aqualung is not a concept album, rather a collection of songs written mostly by Ian Anderson (vocals, acoustic guitar, flute) that happen to explore common themes. One is anti-organized religion, e.g. “Hymn 43:
"If Jesus saves -- well, He'd better save Himself
from the gory glory seekers who use His name in death.
Oh Jesus save me!"
Another, the lives of society’s less fortunate, e.g. “Aqualung” “Cross-Eyed Mary.” The album’s title song and character (depicted in the original watercolor painting) were inspired by photographs of homeless London men taken by Anderson’s wife, Jennie. “Aqualung” is a song about the emotions, such as guilt, distaste, awkwardness, resulting from encountering the homeless. Aqualung’s name appears to derive from the line:
“And you snatch your rattling last breaths
with deep-sea-diver sounds,
and the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.”
Aqualung also makes an appearance in “Cross-Eyed Mary,” about a schoolgirl prostitute. Iron Maiden covered the song as the B-side to “Trooper.”
Back L-R: Martin Barre – Jeffrey Hammond – Clive Bunker
Front L-R: John Evan – Ian Anderson (with actress Julie Ege)
Jethro Tull recorded Aqualung at Island Studios in London, between December, 1970 and February, 1971. Tull used Island’s main studio, a converted church, while the other, more intimate studio was being used by Led Zeppelin to record its untitled IV. Aqualung peaked at #4 in the UK and #7 in the US. “Hymn 43” was the only single released, as other candidates were deemed too long for the format. Aqualung is ranked #333 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Guitarist magazine rated Martin Barre’s solo on “Aqualung” the 20th Greatest of All Time, while Guitar World puts it at #25.
The 40th Anniversary Re-Mastered Edition of Aqualung was released in 2011. For all its accolades, the original vinyl recording is rather muddled, and just not that good. The re-mastered version is a revelation, every player and instrument being given its due. Click the link above to hear it all, including a second CD of other songs and versions not chosen for the final cut.
Original Tracklist (Approx. 43:00 minutes)
- Cross-Eyed Mary
- Cheap Day Return
- Mother Goose
- Wond'ring Aloud
- Up To Me
- My God
- Hymn 43
- Locomotive Breath