Jethro Tull: Benefit (1970)

The third studio album by Jethro Tull was Benefit.  The first two albums were learning experiences for Tull, they started as a blues band but had this wild folk flair, on the way to developing their style.  Suddenly, they hit on their musical mantra, it came together on this third album.

For many Tull fans, album number four, Aqualung, is the mother lode, their favorite.  Aqualung is a classic, Tull never surpassed it.  But it’s not my favorite.  Benefit is the one that I go to when I need a Tull connection.

Not only is Benefit a tremendous musical journey, it’s an album I discovered in high school and I have fond memories of that experience.

On their second album, Stand Up, Tull scored several songs that would be key to their 1970s period.  “Living in the Past” showcased leader Ian Anderson’s frothy lyrical imagination and ability to blend musical styles to forge a unique sound.  The other memorable track was “Bouree” is a jazzy flute-driven adaption of Bach, quite a left-turn for a hard-driving blues band.  Stand Up, contained a few gems but proved that Tull was a band with immense, but rough talent.  “Living in the Past” would be a top ten hit in the U.S. and the album cracked the top twenty.  Not a bad sophomore effort.

Benefit shifted the group into a higher gear and would be their first million seller.  Anderson described it as a darker album reflecting a bad experience in America. In a BBC radio interview in 2001, he said:

“Well, around the time of Benefit we were … that was in the first three months of 1970 … we were recording Benefit, and it was rather a dark album, probably because we’d spent ’69 mostly in the USA, and that was a little frightening in a way. We came across a lot of rather dark and frightening sides of American society. You know, firearms would sometimes be in the audience in the hands of people who were clearly unstable … I picked up rounds of live ammunition off the stage … I had to do a show wearing a Kevlar body-armour vest when someone was supposedly going to kill me on stage that night.”

The album is darker lyrically, but the music is anything but light and frothy. You won’t find a “Bouree,” what you find is music that has minor chords, feels urgent and mysterious.  Anderson must have been channeling Black Sabbath during the writing of this album.

All songs written by Ian Anderson.  Martin Barre who joined Tull with the last album, really shines on Benefit.

Side one

No.      Title     Length

  1. “With You There to Help Me” 6:15  A spooky flute (with echo) opens the song with piano and acoustic guitar, an electric folk song, that gets very gritty with Barre’s electric guitar solos.  One of the strongest musical songs on the album.  The use of echo makes the flute sound funky.  The bass and drums propel this song, although what you hear are the guitar, flute and piano, but the energy comes from the rhythm section.  The last 90 seconds, Tull rocks out with a thundering blast, finely-tune noise.
  2. “Nothing to Say” 5:10  A haunting acoustic driven song with distorted electric guitar riffs on the chorus.  John Evans’ piano provides a nice counterpoint to the guitar.  Anderson buries his vocals in echo.
  3. “Inside” 3:46  There’s a feeling of isolation and disconnection on Benefit. On this song, there is a sense of friendship, of belonging. “Inside” is a rocking song, with the flute prominent in the mix.
  4. “Son” 2:48  The song begins with a powerful guitar riff and vocals.  Anderson, like John Lennon, preferred to process his voice, which becomes a powerful musical instrument.  Halfway through, the song becomes acoustic, a bridge, and then shifts back to the guitar/piano riff.  Anderson moves his vocals in and out of echo.
  5. “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me” 3:47  A soft acoustic beginning morphs into a a faster, heavier song.  The song speeds up, slows down, speeds up and slows down.  A great vocal performance by Anderson, less echo, more acoustic and piano picking.  A very underrated Tull song, finely played, just lost in the many good ones on this album.

Side two

No.      Title     Length

  1. “To Cry You a Song” 6:09  Double tracked guitar and bass opens the song.  Anderson’s vocal is heavily processed, maybe through a Leslie speaker to give it a spacey quality.  The electric guitar is prominent on the mix, this is a bluesy song with a lot of jazzy solos in both the right and left channels.
  2. “A Time for Everything?” 2:42  Anderson’s vocals are again in echo, but his flute is forefront. Lots of distorted guitar.  It’s the bass that drives the melody in the song.  Anderson incorporates more jazz than blues into songs on Benefit.
  3. “Teacher” 3:57  One of Tull’s best known songs, opening with a familiar riff, building to a rocking guitar/organ musical feast.  This song would be the template for Tull songs in the future, the arrangement is tight, awesome riffs, a soaring bass line, and memorable lyrical soundbites.
  4. “Play in Time” 3:44  A heavy, bluesy riff song, strong flute and guitar instrumentation.  Tape effects make the guitars squeal and move around.
  5. “Sossity; You’re a Woman” 4:31 Nice organ and guitar interplay opening the song. A mostly acoustic folk song, about the nature of Sossity or society, whoever she is, who no longer seems to please.  An interesting choice to end the album.

 

From 1967 to 1980 there would be a lot of changes in the band.  Anderson has been the only constant from beginning to present.  Barre served from 1968-2012, the second longest member.  Bass, drums and keyboards have turned over many times in the following years ( Jeffrey Hammond, Barrimore Barlow and John Glascock would fill those roles.)  John Evans would become a member of the band until 1980.  In my opinion, these folks created the best Jethro Tull music and established the “sound” that would make the band famous and lasting.

The band for Benefit consisted of:

Ian Anderson – Vocals, flue, guitar, keyboards, producer
Martin Barre – Guitars
Glenn Cornick – Bass
Clive Bunker – Drums, percussion

John Evans – Keyboards
David Palmer – Orchestral arrangements

Jethro Tull is lumped in with progressive-rock bands which I’ve never fully bought into. Even the massive work “Thick as a Brick” doesn’t really quality as prog-rock.  Tull marched to their own beat, an usual blending of blues, rock and folk, but it worked, and it was distinctive.  Tull embraced the tearing down of musical boundaries, which they battered to pieces.

The first Tull album I owned was Thick as a Brick, a daunting album to digest and really didn’t represent the Tull you heard being played.  Thick as a Brick consisted of one piece of music spread over two album sides.


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