Favorite Jethro Tull song? Impossible choice, there are so many. I looked around for a good greatest hits collection, mainly from their classic period. No collection is perfect, but I found a good one: The Best of Jethro Tull: The Anniversary Collection. This two-disc set omits a few classics and includes a couple of lesser songs, but it’s generally spot-on. This set covers the 1968-1991 period.
The music of Jethro Tull is kind of all over the place. Like most English bands starting in the late 1960s, they either that a blues or folk basis. Tull incorporated both, which is kind of unusual to maintain a focus on both genres. You will hear references to both styles in my descriptions of the songs below.
Disc one (1968-1974) The blues, folk, progressive and hard English rock – a bit of everything.
“A Song For Jeffrey” from This Was. The early, bluesy Tull sound. A harmonica and the appearance of the flute.
“Beggar’s Farm” from This Was. The Tull sound was more evident here, a pulsating blues song that changes style several times. The organic Tull sound was here, a mixing of blues and almost a jazz structure as the song moves along.
“A Christmas Song” from Living in the Past. A folk song with string quartet, a not so traditional Christmas song.
“A New Day Yesterday” from Stand Up. A hard blues song. Stand Up was when Jethro Tull really began their musical journey. Guitarist Martin Barre joined.
“Bouree” from Stand Up. A beautiful song, based on Bach’s Bourree in E minor. One of Tull’s most enduring songs.
“Nothing is Easy” from Stand Up. An all-out hard rocking song, simple, but tremendously effective. This line up of the band was the most rocking and progressive-oriented of any of Tull’s various line ups. Their musical mastery was perfect for this time period.
“Living in the Past” from Living in the Past. A light, bouncy song with a jazz feel to it. An instantly recognizable song with one of Ian Anderson’s best vocal tracks. This song was not released until the Living in the Past album was released later.
“To Cry You a Song” from Benefit. Sadly, the only song selected from this phenomenal album. The perfect blending of folk, blues and a wicked progressive sound. Barre’s guitar playing is wonderful as the song takes many different turns. Anderson’s vocal is heavily processed in sections of the song. This album could easily be represented with “With You There to Help Me” or “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me.”
“Teacher” from Living in the Past. Contains one of Tull’s most famous guitar riffs. The b-side of a single. It’s a great song.
“Sweet Dream” from Living in the Past. Another great opening guitar riff. Another non-album single recorded during Stand Up. This song has plenty of attitude and a great arrangement with a string accompaniment.
“Cross-Eyed Mary” from Aqualung. This is the album that put Jethro Tull in the big league. A revered album from start to finish, masterful songwriting and performance. Not a single, but still an instantly recognized song from the album. An excellent flute intro before it turns into a hard guitar riff song.
“Mother Goose” from Aqualung. I’m curious why this song and not “Hymn 43,” a more widely known song, was not included here.
“Aqualung” from Aqualung. An angry song, the song is a suite of musical pieces joined seamlessly. Not a single but one of the most recognizable songs from the album. The piano playing by John Evan is quite good.
“Locomotive Breath” from Aqualung. A grant piano intro before it gives way to a more powerful, pulsating riff song. One of Tull’s best musical performances, this song has both polish and grit.
“Life is a Love Song” from Living in the Past. This is an odd song, not really known by Tull fans. Not a bad song, but there are other songs from the album or Benefit that would have been a better representation here.
“Thick As a Brick” an excerpt from Thick as a Brick. Another hard album to really enjoy because it is just one song on two sides of an album. This excerpt is quite good.
“A Passion Play” an excerpt from A Passion Play. Easily one of my least favorite album, it is a grand concept album but not really very fun to listen. More style than substance.
“Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day” from War Child. A great acoustic guitar intro, an early message about the environment. A very eclectically arranged song with various odd instruments. Not a successful single but a very memorable song.
“Bungle in the Jungle” from War Child. A top 20 single, very commercial, almost too cute. There are even better songs on the album.
Disc two (1975-1991) A mixture of the old and very new sound.
“Minstrel in the Gallery” from the album of the same name is probably the best cut from that album which includes a string quartet along side the acoustic and electric folk-rock. About a third of the way through the song, the electric guitar heats up and you get a Free-Bad Company type of guitar riffs.
“Too Old to Rock and Roll” is the title track of a concept album about an aging rocker. This is a story song, not really suited as a single as it has several motifs but not the structure of a song you’d hear on the radio.
There are three songs from Songs From the Wood, not one of my favorite albums, but it was highly praised and sold well. “Songs From the Wood,” has the medieval theme that bounces between acoustic folk and hard rock. “Jack in the Green” is an acoustic guitar and flute piece. “The Whistler” is the best of the three songs, a very definitive melodic structure, and the obvious choice as the single.
“Heavy Horses” from the album of the same name, is almost nine minutes long. It is a progressive-rock and folk song that includes a violin, in much the same style as Kansas did on their albums of the era.
“Dun Ringill” from Stormwatch. A nice acoustic number, but not one of the singles from the album. Great vocal by Ian Anderson.
“Flyingdale Flyer” from A. This is one of the best JT songs of the era. Rocking and great vocal work, sort of like R.E.M. The lineup of the band was significantly different from past albums and it began as an Anderson solo album. The sound is more contemporary, more electronic instruments.
“Jack-A-Lynn” for the album 20 Years of Jethro Tull. A stately, traditional Tull song with a contemporary arrangement. The first half is acoustic, the second half hard rock.
“Pussy Willow” from The Broadsword and the Beast. Tull’s sound continues to be updated to the new decade. A new keyboard player, Peter-John Vettese brings a fresh sound to the music. A mix of the old folk with the new 80s vibe.
“Broadsword” from The Broadsword and the Beast. A harder guitar sound with synthesizer soundscapes. The new Jethro Tull sound.
“Under Wraps II” from Under Wraps. An interesting sound, great guitar playing by Martin Barre. A very lovely song.
“Steel Monkey” from Crest of a Knave. A very Euro-synth sound on this song. Many Tull fans had a hard time swallowing the very contemporary sound of the mid 1980s, programmed drumming and synth overload. Not a bad song, just very different.
“Farm on the Freeway” from Crest of a Knave. Heavy guitar sound. Even the flute sounds very processed. Not an awful sound, just modernized. The album won a Grammy as the group competed with hard rock bands in the category.
“Jump Start” from Crest of a Knave. A bluesy sound with aggressive guitar.
“Kissing Willie” from Rock Island. A very successful single from the album. Barre’s guitar work is quite good on this hard rocker. The album won a Grammy and sold better than anything from the group in the 1980s.
“This is Not Love” from Catfish Rising. Tull’s return to the early 1970s roots started with the previous album, going full circle.