If Henry 8th had a house band, it would’ve been Jethro Tull.
Jethro Tull were arguably Britain’s most commercially successful prog folk, blues, rock, metal, jazz group. A niche category, but the best nonetheless!
Aqualung was written as an album to make a significant breakthrough into the mainstream. The late 60s saw many folk-inspire acts, some better than others, but many were really part of the wider movement for the preservation of traditions, nature, sandals, ye olde cider….that sort of thing.
By 1971, the 60s was well and truly gone and the transition from twee kinks, rock n roll zep and psychedelia had turned towards a much darker sound in rock with the arrival of Black Sabbath. Led Zep had now gone to a similarly inspired sound in their fourth album…in fact Aqualung was recorded in a converted church shared with Led Zeppellin, though Jethro Tull got the cavernous sounding hall area, which adds a dramatic/epic sound to the whole album. The production values are excellent. There is no fear of overdoing the studio’s hand compared to the purity and raw sound of many of their 60s peers.
The album themes centre on an attack on organised religion – Possibly in a response to the burning their records by religious groups in America. This was reflected in other strongly religious countries like catholic Spain…but weirdly not Italy.
Anyway, the music! What you immediately realise about this album is the affinity traditional folk music has to heavy metal – Much of that folklore imagery and sound runs through both genres and what Aqualung does effortlessly is flitting on a sixpence between travelling minstrel troubadour and all out rock god riffing.
The album opens with possibly one of the best opening riffs on any album ever – Der-der-der-der-derrrrrr-der! ‘Aqualung’ is very dynamic – Straddling rock standard, anthemic ho-down, folk prog mystique.
Cheap day return and Mother Goose really show the pristine articulate sound of acoustic folk with quasi-medieval string playing.
Cross-eyed Mary has a psychedelic morris-dancing sound with soft jazz flute(!)…then techno fuzz riff-heavy Deep Purple-esque keys!
Up to me – A rare outing for blues flute with accompanying full blues chunky riffs.
During recording, Jimmy Paige popped into the studio to hear takes and you can feel his encouragement on the solos – this is guitar work that stands up against any axeman in a burgeoning era of guitar gods.
Hymn 43 is a stomping driving rock that sounds more at home with Creedance Clearwater Survival and Lynyrd Skynyrd and a different sort of homemade booze 😊
The album has a fantastic staggering of power rock and short, folksy pieces, which cements the versatile sounds – Jethro Tull are both a proper rock band, proper folk group and mash it up brilliantly.
Is it a concept album? Well, possibly – It depends on your view of combining two distinctly different sounds. Personally I’d say no…it just sounds too harmonious and blended. Many other concept albums of the decade had a pretentious and over-exerting effort to be different. This album just sounds like folk and rock/metal should really have been combined more!
Was it mainstream? Yes. Does it sound a bit niche too? Yes. Is the album cover creepy? Yes. Does it deserve to be on the 1001 albums list? Undoubtedly, yes!
Song of the album: Aqualung