Popular Culture 20120824: Jethro Tull — Aqualung

Aqualung is the forth album by Tull and many people think that it is their best.  I favor Thick as a Brick, but it is still an excellent album.  Rumor has it that critical comments about Aqualung spawned Thick as a Brick, and we shall discuss that in a bit.

It was released on 19710319 on Island Records in the UK and Reprise in the US.  By this time Anderson had completely taken control of the band, and all of the songs are written by him except for the title track which was cowritten by his wife at the time, Jennie.  Anderson, along with Terry Ellis, produced it.

The band lineup was different than that of Benefit, with Jeffrey Hammond replacing replacing Glen Cornick on bass and Barriemore Barlow replacing Clive Bunker on drums.  Remember, Jethro Tull has had more personnel changes than many bands.  Otherwise the lineup was the same as on Benefit.

The album charted at # in the UK and #7 in the US, better in the UK but worse in the US than Benefit.  Rumor has it, but I have no hard figures, that this was their best selling record.

Lots of critics deemed that Aqualung was a concept album, and Anderson vigorously denied that.  To him it was just a collection of songs, and he resented the concept album label.  The story goes that because of his hard feelings, he created Thick as a Brick, sort of the ultimate concept album as their next release.

I am not a Tull expert by any means, so there will be little discussion tonight except by readers in the comments about the deep meanings of the songs.  I will comment on which ones I like, dislike, and why.  Fair enough?

We shall start with the title song.  This is one of my favorite Tull pieces, not only because of the music but also because of the imagery.  Here it is.

Sitting on the park bench

eyeing little girls with bad intent.

Snot is running down his nose

greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.


Drying in the cold sun

Watching as the frilly panties run.


Feeling like a dead duck

spitting out pieces of his broken luck.

Whoa, Aqualung

Sun streaking cold

an old man wandering lonely.

Taking time

the only way he knows.

Leg hurting bad,

as he bends to pick a dog-end

he goes down to the bog

and warms his feet.

Feeling alone

the army’s up the road

salvation a la mode and

a cup of tea.

Aqualung my friend

don’t you start away uneasy

you poor old sod, you see, it’s only me.

Do you still remember

The December’s foggy freeze

when the ice that

clings on to your beard was

screaming agony.

And you snatch your rattling last breaths

with deep sea diver sounds,

and the flowers bloom like

madness in the spring.

This song really rocks!  For those of you who are not familiar with British slang, a dog-end is the butt of a cigarette.  Something that was not immediately obvious to me at first was the line, “Feeling alone the army’s up the road salvation a la mode and

a cup of tea.”.  That is a reference to The Salvation Army and their charity of taking in and feeding the homeless in return for listening to a minister.

Please do not get me wrong.  I believe that The Salvation Army is one of the best charities, and their people indeed take the vow of near poverty.  If you want to donate to a charity, that is a really good one.

This song begs the question of who is observing and speaking to Aqualung.  Obviously it is someone quite familiar with him, and it is never clear.  And evidently Aqualung is not just down on his luck, but seems to be a despicable person, as evidenced by his proclivities about young girls.

The next song is “Cross-Eyed Mary”, quite a piece.  Perhaps Mary was the one who drew Aqualung’s attention, since it is made clear that she prefers much older men.  I really like this song not only because of the imagery, but also John Evan on Mellotron.

“Cheap Day Return” is one of those songs that I can not make any sense of at all, but like because is is nicely done.  Can anyone tell me what it means?

On Preston platform

do your soft shoe shuffle dance.

Brush away the cigarette ash that’s

falling down your pants.

And you sadly wonder

does the nurse treat your old man

the way she should.

She made you tea,

asked for your autograph —

what a laugh.

“Mother Goose” is next, and it is also beautifully done.  I am not sure what it is about, but is has a psychedelic quality to it.

As I did walk by Hampstead Fair

I came upon Mother Goose — so I turned her loose —

she was screaming.

And a foreign student said to me —

was it really true there are elephants and lions too

in Piccadilly Circus?

Walked down by the bathing pond

to try and catch some sun.

Saw at least a hundred schoolgirls sobbing

into hankerchiefs as one.

I don’t believe they knew

I was a schoolboy.

And a bearded lady said to me —

if you start your raving and your misbehaving —

you’ll be sorry.

Then the chicken-fancier came to play —

with his long red beard (and his sister’s weird:

she drives a lorry).

Laughed down by the putting green —

I popped `em in their holes.

Four and twenty labourers were labouring —

digging up their gold.

I don’t believe they knew

that I was Long John Silver.

Saw Johnny Scarecrow make his rounds

in his jet-black mac (which he won’t give back) —

stole it from a snow man.

“Wond’ring Aloud” is a beautiful love ballad, and it still makes me cry.

I had sort of a similar experience last night.  The Girl and I had been planning to bake a Red Velvet cake for some time, and things kept coming up that interfered with us doing so.  She started texting me before her current beau had even left and told me to prepare to cook it as soon as he left.  This was extraordinary because her conk out time is generally around 10:30 to 11:00 PM.  He did not leave until after 10:00, but sure enough, she still wanted to cook it.

I took the cake pan and some other supplies over (she already had the cake mix) and we mixed the batter, cooked, then cooled the cake, and iced it last night.  It was well past midnight when I got back home, and when we spoke today we both agreed that we had a wonderful time last night, just doing something mundane and just spending time together.

Sunday next the plan is to make a cheesecake from scratch for her birthday, which is Tuesday.  That way it will be cool and ready for us to eat Monday without interference from her current beau, who will be there Tuesday.  Life is good!  By the way, I got a second piece of the Red Velvet cake this afternoon when I went to see her.

“Up to Me” completes Side One, and will have to complete this installment.  One of my dear friends in Arkansas lost his father yesterday, and I have been talking to him via the telephone for quite a while tonight.  I know how he feels, having lost my father several years ago.  I am trying to be comforting to him, but he has to find his own way to grieve and put it behind him.  It is a difficult thing to know how far to go to be supportive without being overbearing.  I shall call him later to see how he is doing.  It was not unexpected, but more sudden than anyone had expected.

I am not sure what this song means, but “half a bitter” I believe is a Brit expression for half a glass of beer.  If someone has a better interpretation, please let us know.

I know that this installment is not up to standard, but I have had a lot to do the past couple of days and little time for writing.  I shall try to do better next week when we investigate Side Two.  Please comment freely because I did not contribute very much this time.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at

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  1. a powerful set of songs?

    Warmest regards,


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