Every once in awhile an artist or group issues an album which just resonates down through music history. Jethro Tull created one of those albums when they released Aqualung during 1971.
During the previous three years they had evolved and honed their sound which now revolved around Ian Anderson’s vocals, songwriting, and frantic flute playing plus Martin Barre’s emergence as one of rock’s great guitarists. Also on hand were new bass player Jeffrey Hammond, drummer Clive Bunker, and keyboardist John Evan who had become the bands fifth member.
The opening six chords of the title song are some of the most memorable in rock. What follows are two songs about a pedophile and school prostitute and both are early seventies rock at its best. Anderson’s biting lyrics and accompanying vocal create a visual image of old Aqualung sitting on his park bench. “Cross Eyed Mary” both rocks and rolls her through school.
One of the beauties of the album is the short acoustic interludes which divide the harder rocking songs and allow the listener to catch their breath.
“Mother Goose” is a mostly acoustic tune which continues Anderson’s character sketches. It has a slight medieval feel which would be explored in depth in the future.
If side one of the original vinyl release explores the dark side of society; side two is Anderson’s rant against God or organized religion to be more precise. “My God,” with Martin Barre’s riffing, and “Hymn 43” is ten minutes of Tull rocking the church. After the short acoustic “Slipstream” they move to what would become their signature song.
“Locomotive Breath” begins with a bluesy piano solo and then hits rock mode with Barre’s guitar, Anderson’s vocal and one of the better flute solo’s of his career. The lyrics of Darwin and the church are secondary to the instrumental delights the song contains.
Aqualung would surprisingly only reach number seven on The American album charts but would continue to sell and sell and sell until it became their most commercially successful release selling over three million copies.
It remains their masterpiece and is essential listening not only if you are a Jethro Tull fan but for any fan of rock music.