When I think of Jethro Tull, these are the songs that come to mind. Not really greatest hits, but definitely great songs. I remember Tull from the beginning, the British blues band that would become the blender of numerous musical genres, but would continue the blues vibe.
Picking five songs to represent more than 50 years of recorded music is an impossible task. The first decade found Tull all over the charts and FM radio with platinum selling albums and world tours.
What unites these songs are several things. Leader and chief songwriter Ian Anderson has a certain swagger that shows through in Tull’s songs. Whether it’s British blues, jazz-prog or folk-rock, Jethro Tull has a distinctiveness that is apparent through nearly six decades. And the flute, no rock band has used a flute as prominently as they have.
Anderson is known to be a deep thinker, his songs reflect the complexity and gnawing issues of life, often through colorful characters and quizzical events. Two of these five songs are exceptions to the above. “Bouree” is an instrumental and “Bungle in the Jungle” is more like a children’s song, nothing deep there. Still, here are five songs that show different sides of the band and for me define their style and musical pallet.
Adapted from Bach by Anderson. The most decidedly Tull song. The jazzy beginning features Anderson’s flute before the song takes a more rock and roll attitude. The bass line of the song is so unique and enduring. Released as a single from the group’s second album, Stand Up, released in 1969.
“Living in the Past”
Released as a single in 1969, but not in the U.S. until 1972 when it was released from the new album of the same name. Anderson wrote and recorded the basic tracks while on tour in the U.S. It has a jazzy feel to it and the flute is out front. Overall, the song is difficult to describe, it doesn’t really fit in a genre, and has such a unique sound quality to it. To close our eyes, to revisit the past, where there was no fighting. Life was better.
“With You There to Help Me”
The lead song on side one of Tull’s third album, 1970’s Benefit, “With You There to Help Me” would unlikely to be on many lists. The entire album has a dark, downbeat, bluesy feel. The opening notes has the heavily reverbed flute and Anderson’s vocal, joined by the melancholy piano by John Evan. The song represents the dark and sometimes dissonance of Tull, the fractured nature of life and the disappearing past. Can we go back to those better days? Just for a bit.
The title track of the classic album from 1971. Nearly every song on the album is a classic, but I picked this song because it contains some distinctive musical passages that makes the song instantly recognizable and well represents the amazing arrangements and playing. Martin Barre’s incredible guitar work is in full view on this album, as it was for nearly four decades.
It’s one of the most complete albums of the periods. Aqualung represents a style or attitude that Tull embraced through the early 1970s. This was bluesy folk music, a tale of a broken, down on his luck, unsympathetic man.
“Bungle in the Jungle”
From the 1974 album, War Child. “Bungle in the Jungle” represents the highly commercial side of Tull, not necessarily the highest quality. Quite popular, the song began the decline of the band putting new singles on the radio. The Tull fan base continued as the band began to meander through various blends on musical genres. “Bungle in the Jungle” is instantly recognizable by the flute and animal growl into, and the ear-worm chorus.
The world through the lives of animals. Not exactly deep, complex philosophical lyrics. Life, love, death. It’s the cycle of life. No more, but fanciful lyrics on the radio. Nothing wrong with that.
In the near future, Tull would release an album and single called Too Old to Rock and Roll: Too Young to Die!
4 thoughts on “5 Defining Jethro Tull Songs”
All great picks, in my view. I knew each except “With You There to Help Me”. I might have replaced that one with “Hymn 43.” But as you pointed out, your goal wasn’t necessarily to capture Tull’s best songs.
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Hymn 43 is a great choice. Thought about it, but wanted to represent the darkness of Benefit. Tough choices with so many great songs!
Thank you for this! Tomorrow I will be revisiting Jethro Tull, it’s been too long.
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All good songs, my faves being “Living in the Past” and “With You There to Help Me.” Aqualung is undoubtedly their most popular album, but it’s been played to death on the radio here in the states. And “Bungle” was silly Top 40 fare. Jethro Tull is special to me because they can’t easily be slotted into a rock genre. Not exactly blues, folk, or art/progressive, but bits of all three.