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Aug 11 2012

Popular Culture 20120810: Jethro Tull, the Beginning

One of the most complicated bands in many ways is the British band Jethro Tull.  They are complicated in their music, extremely complicated in their personnel, and almost mind bogglingly complicated in insofar as why I adore a limited set of their work and either care not a fig or actually dislike the rest.  I have such a love/hate relationship for any other band.

I do not understand why I feel this way, but I do.  At their best, they are superb.  When they are a bit off they are still better than most bands, but the material that I dislike is just awful, at least in my view.

This is why it has taken me so long to get started with this series.  I generally try to write about things that I have unambiguous feelings, usually bands that I really like.  Sometimes I write about horrible acts, like Ray Stevens, who really never did anything of real merit.  But to write about a band that can move me greatly with some material and with other material make me say, “What IS that?” is quite different.  Please bear with me!

The band has had at least 24 different members, which is a lot for a five person band.  This is not counting the other dozen or more incidental players here and there.   I am not even going to try to deconvolute all of the personnel changes, and this series will not be longer than four installments.  It is just too daunting a task to attempt.

The only constant in the band is the founder and leader, Ian Anderson.  Born 19470810 (HAPPY BIRTHDAY!, by the way, Mr. Anderson, since today is your 65th birthday), he has been the driving force since the rather arbitrary formation year of 1967.  The whole issue is quite murky, and anyone with inside expertise is invited to comment extensively.

Anderson seems to have formed a band called The Blades in the northwest part of England in 1962, but it never panned out well.  Interestingly, Jeffrey Hammond was the bass player for that band way back then, and actually was part of Tull years later.  It seems that the band were always in a constant state of flux.

The second longest current member is the guitar player, Martin Barre.  He joined the band in 1969 and is still with them.  He replaced Mick Abrahams who was the original guitarist from 1967.  This really gets confusing.

I am not a Tull historian, and I am sure that this is quite obvious by now.  Instead of trying to detail all of the personnel changes, let us just look at their early music.  I shall attempt to explain things as we look at that.

Their first single to be released was called “Sunshine Day” and was written by Abrahams.  Here it is.  Interestingly, due to a typo, the band were presented on the label as Jethro Toe!  It was released in the UK on 19680216 on MGM Records.  It failed to chart.

I could not find lyrics for this song.

This is not a really memorable song, but is not bad at all.  I like the guitar a lot.  Two things other than that stand out to me:  Anderson does not play flute on it, and he does sing.  Not a bad song.  But it seems to me that Abrahams was the band leader at the time.  Anderson would soon remedy that.

The band released an album, called This Was, on 19681025, on Island Records in the UK and Reprise in the US.  It charted at #10 in the UK and #62 in the US.  They were on their way!  By that time, Anderson had written or cowritten all but one of the songs, sort of pushing Abrahams out of the band.  Sure enough, he left after the release.

Here is the band lineup for that album:

Mick Abrahams (19430407 and still with us):  Vocals, guitar

Ian Anderson (19470810 and still with us):  Vocals, claghorn, flute, harmonica, mouth organ

Clive Bunker (19461230) and still with us):  Drums

Glenn Cornick (19470423 and still with us):  Bass

David Palmer (birth date unknown, but still with us):  French horn, orchestral arrangements

By the way, the album was produced by Terry Ellis, who went on to create the record label Chrysalis Music that was extremely influential in bringing new talent to the public.  It was a really good label whilst it lasted.  It still does, but Ellis sold his interest in it in 1985.

Here are a couple of songs from it, still not quite getting the Tull flavor, but getting closer.  The first one is “My Sunday Feeling”, by Anderson.

My Sunday feeling is coming on over me.

My Sunday feeling is coming on over me,

Now that the night is over.

Got to clear my head so I can see.

Till I get to put together,

that old feeling won’t let me be.

Won’t somebody tell me where I laid my head last night?

Won’t somebody tell me where I laid my head last night?

I really don’t remember,

But with one more cigarette and I think I might.

Till I get to put together,

well that old feeling can’t get me right.

Need some assistance, have you listened to what I said?

Need some assistance, have you listened to what I said?

Oh, I don’t feel so good.

Need someone to help me to my bed.

Till I get to put together,

that old feeling is in my head.

We do hear the nascent Jethro Tull in this one, and it is not bad at all.  It is not polished, but not bad.

The second track that I have chosen to present is Anderson’s “A Song for Jeffery”, about Jeffrey Hammond, who would play bass guitar for Tull for a few years.  Hammond was the bass player for The Blades way back when.

Gonna lose my way tomorrow,

gonna give away my car.

I’d take you along with me,

but you would not go so far.

Don’t see what I do not want to see,

you don’t hear what I don’t say.

Won’t be what I don’t want to be,

I continue in my way.

Don’t see, see, see where I’m goin’,

Don’t see, see, see where I’m goin’,

Don’t see, see, see where I’m goin’ to,

I don’t want to.

Everyday I see the mornin’ come on in the same old way.

I tell myself tomorrow brings me things I would not dream today.

With all of that said, it was probably “Living in the Past” that got Tull going.  Anderson wrote it, and it is likely the first single that really brought the full Tull sound to view.  It was released sometime in 1969 (better information would be appreciated) and is quite good.  By that time, Anderson was the undisputed leader of the band, and still is.  The Tull sound is fully fleshed out in this song.

Happy and I’m smiling,

walk a mile to drink your water.

You know I’d love to love you,

and above you there’s no other.

We’ll go walking out

while others shout of war’s disaster.

Oh, we won’t give in,

let’s go living in the past.

Once I used to join in

every boy and girl was my friend.

Now there’s revolution, but they don’t know

what they’re fighting.

Let us close out eyes;

outside their lives go on much faster.

Oh, we won’t give in,

we’ll keep living in the past.

The name of the song was also used as at the title for the compilation album that was released in 1972, and most people were not familiar with it until the album was on the market.  To this day, some folks think that it was one of their concept albums.  Interestingly, it is one of the few rock songs that uses 5/4 meter.

That single was also part of their second album, Stand Up, released 19690801 on Island and Reprise in the UK and the US, respectively.  That album was well received, and charted at #1 in the UK.  I have no data about the US chart position, so if you know please comment.  There were a couple of other songs of merit there as well, viz.:

The band membership had changed, with Martin Barre (19461117 and still with us) replacing Abrahams on guitar.

Here is “Stand Up”.  By then, Anderson was writing all of the material.

It is now clear that Anderson was driving the bus.  I would have like to have ridden it then!

“Reasons for Waiting” is particularly poingant for me.  Those sound like real strings.

What a sight for my eyes to see you in sleep.

Could’ve startled the sunrise hearing you weep.

You’re not seen, you’re not heard

but I stand by my word.

Came a thousand miles

just to catch you while you’re smiling.

What a day for laughter and walking at night.

Me following after, your hand holding tight.

And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.

If I can but make the words awake the feeling.

What a reason for waiting and dreaming of dreams.

So here’s hoping you’ve faith in impossible schemes,

that are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by

while the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.

Their third album, Benefit, was released on 19700501 in the UK on Chrysalis, and on 19700420 in the US on Reprise.  It charted at #3 in the UK, but I have no data on its position in the US.  Anderson wrote all of the material, and also produced it.  He was by then the undisputed master of Jethro Tull, and the best was to come.  The band lineup was the same as for Stand Up.  Here are a couple of songs that I like very much.  The first is “Nothing to Say”.

Everyday there’s someone asking

what is there to do?

Should I love or should I fight

is it all the same to you?

No I say I have the answer

proven to be true,

But if I were to share it with you,

you would stand to gain

and I to lose.

Oh I couldn’t bear it

so I’ve got nothing to say.

Nothing to say.

Every morning pressure forming

all around my eyes.

Ceilings crash, the walls collapse,

broken by the lies

that your misfortune brought upon us

and I won’t disguise them.

So don’t ask me will I explain

I won’t even begin to tell you why.

No, just because I have a name

well I’ve got nothing to say.

Nothing to say.

Climb a tower of freedom,

paint your own deceiving sign.

It’s not my power

to criticize or to ask you to be blind

To your own pressing problem

and the hate you must unwind.

So ask of me no answer

there is none that I could give

you wouldn’t find.

I went your way ten years ago

and I’ve got nothing to say.

Nothing to say.

Here is “To Cry You a Song”.  The lyrics are included in the feed so I did not include them separately.

I know that this brief introduction is not nearly enough for hardcore Tull fans and I hope that readers will insert their favorite pieces in the comments.  The plan for next week is to examine Aqualung in its entirety.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

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1 comment

  1. Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith

    a complex band?

    Warmest regards,

    Doc

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