meta-scriptIan Anderson Of Jethro Tull’s Themes & Inspirations, From 'RökFlöte' Backward | GRAMMY.com
Ian Anderson Of Jethro Tull’s Themes & Inspirations, From 'RökFlöte' Backward
Jethro Tull in 2022 (L-R: John O'Hara, David Goodier, Ian Anderson, Joe Parrish, Scott Hammond)

Photo: Assunta Opahle

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Ian Anderson Of Jethro Tull’s Themes & Inspirations, From 'RökFlöte' Backward

Jethro Tull's new album 'RökFlöte' is deeply influenced by old Norse paganism. And as per Ian Anderson's bank of lyrical concepts, it only scratches the surface.

GRAMMYs/Apr 24, 2023 - 08:22 pm

Ian Anderson was finishing up an interview about the first Jethro Tull album in almost two decades, 2022’s The Zealot Gene, when he offered GRAMMY.com some tantalizing news: the next one would arrive sooner rather than later.

"At 9 o'clock on the first of January, I will open my mind and heart to the visiting muse," Anderson said two weeks before the end of 2021. "Should she decide to visit — hopefully, by 10 o'clock, I'll have the beginnings of some kind of flicker of an idea." 

Where might Anderson, a voracious reader with a sweeping purview and a learned, gentlemanly air, go from there?

Fast forward to today, and we have the result: RökFlöte, which arrived April 21 and is based on "the characters and roles of some of the princip[al] gods of the old Norse paganism."

The GRAMMY-winning prog-rock heroes’ catalog has always been flecked with similar mythology, especially on 1977's fantastical, bucolic Songs From the Wood. But never had Anderson dedicated an entire album to this specific system of concepts.

RökFlöte’s opener, "Voluspo," is titled after the most famous poem in the Poetic Edda, which dates back centuries. Lead single "Ginnungagap" refers to the bottomless abyss that encompassed all things prior to the creation of the cosmos. "Ithavoll" is the meeting place of the gods.

This sheer depth of reference is not new for Anderson and company. A band less cited for their musical and philosophical depth than mined for cheap codpiece and Anchorman jokes, Jethro Tull contain multitudes just beneath the surface.

Take a stroll through the band's discography, and you'll find Anderson doesn't linger on one topic for long — and often addresses many concepts within the same album, or even song. Even Tull's most straightforward hits often contain richer meaning than what immediately meets the ear. 

To celebrate the release of RökFlöte, here's a by-no-means-comprehensive breakdown of the poles Anderson and crew have tended to touch on throughout the band' almost 60-year career.

Love (With Some Caveats)

"I am a descriptive writer," Anderson wrote in the preface to his career-spanning compendium of lyrics, Silent Singing. "Not so often a storyteller, and almost never a heart-on-sleeve love-rat. Social documentary that you can hum along to." 

True, this applies to the lion's share of his songs. But there are a couple of major exceptions — perhaps ones that prove the rule. 

Take "Wond'ring Aloud," his gorgeous acoustic ballad on 1971's Aqualung that clocks in at less than two minutes. If there's any kind of social commentary or obscure meaning in "Wond'ring Aloud," it's difficult to tease out. Rather, the tune unfurls a quiet, domestic tableau of romantic bliss: 

"Last night sipped the sunset/ My hand in her hair," he sings. "We are our own saviors as we start/ Both our hearts beating life into each other." The aroma of breakfast wafts through the kitchen; he considers their years ahead. Then, the unforgettable closing line: "And it's only the giving that makes you what you are."

Flash forward to "One White Duck / 0¹⁰ = Nothing at All," another gobsmacking acoustic-with-strings centerpiece, from 1975's Minstrel in the Gallery.

Online chatter seems to suggest that the image of "one white duck on your wall" refers to a domestic split. Whatever the case, the darkly romantic song is suggestive of packing and leaving: "There's a haze on the skyline to wish me on my way/ There's a note on the telephone, some roses on a tray." From there, the song unfurls into a litany of images, commensurately puzzling and evocative — and full of arcane British-isms.

Like every other arena of life represented in Jethro Tull songs, romance comes with bottomless shades and nuances — and Anderson's seemingly attuned to the full spectrum.

Religion (As A Nonbeliever)

Jethro Tull classics that address faith, like Aqualung's "My God," "Hymn 43" and "Wind Up," excoriate religious corruption and dogma — to the degree that Anderson comes across as defensive of God.

"It's about turning God into a vehicle for personal power and the glitz and paraphernalia that sometimes surrounds religion," Anderson wrote of "My God" in 2019's oral history of the band, The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "It's actually quite pro-God in asking: 'People what have you done/ Locked him in his golden cage?'"

In "Wind Up," he rails: "I don't believe you/ You have the whole damn thing all wrong/ He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays." But it's crucial to stress that Anderson is decidedly not a man of faith.

Read More: Jethro Tull's Aqualung At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

"I've learned to describe myself as somewhere between a pantheist and a deist," he wrote. "I'm not a Christian, but I like to do things for the church. I've always believed there are certain aspects of our society that, while anachronistic, are still worth preserving."

In an Olde English font in the Aqualung sleeve, Anderson printed a facsimile of Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning Man created God; and in the image of Man created He him." 

Of the religious commentary scattered throughout Tull's discography, none seem to summarize Anderson's views like the above.

Nature (The Non-Human Kind)

Jethro Tull's so-called "folk trilogy" in the late 1970s — Songs From the Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch — address the natural world from three different angles.

Songs From the Wood is drenched in the atmosphere of the English countryside, where “fairytale creatures, ley lines, naughty equestriennes and the pre-Christian era old gods all came to call," Anderson writes in Silent Singing. The jangling "Jack-in-the-Green," about a raggy character somewhere between a hobbit and the wizard Radagast, is one irresistible highlight.

The majestic Heavy Horses is something of a song cycle about animal life. The serrating opener "...And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps" nails cats, with evocative lines including "Claws that rake a furrow red/ License to mutilate" and "Windy rooftop weathercock/ Warm-blooded night on a cold tile." From there: dogs, moths, weathervanes, the passing of equine generations.

While Stormwatch's compartmentalization as a "folk album" is somewhat suspect — only "Dun Ringill" really fits the mold — it's spiritually connected to Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses on that conceptual front.

Anderson had addressed climate change before, as on "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day" on 1974's War Child. ("Predicated on the then-mistaken belief, in popular science circles, that we were headed toward another ice age," Anderson writes in Silent Singing.)

The gloomy Stormwatch takes that theme all the way home; the 1979 album draws its power from the weather and the ocean — as well as paranoia about humanity's bludgeoning impact on it.

As jabs at Exxon and their ilk go, "North Sea Oil" is up there with Neil Young's "Vampire Blues." The heavenward "Orion" is an awestruck gaze at the celestial panorama. And "Dun Ringill" warns "The weather's on the change/ Ice clouds invading and pressure forming."

Nature (The Human Kind)

Anderson may write his songs like a documentarian, but he’s arguably at his most powerful when writes from the human side of the equation.

Their barreling hit “Locomotive Breath,” from Aqualung, is about runaway population growth, through the lens of an “all-time loser” on a brakeless train, “headlong to his death.”

Thirteen tracks into Tull's 1972 odds-and-ends album Living in the Past is their deep cut to end all deep cuts: "Wond'ring Again." A sequel to "Wond'ring Aloud," it's about as angry and voluble as the band ever got.

"The excrement bubbles, this century's slime decays/ And the brainwashing government's lackeys would have us say/ It's under control and we'll soon be on our way/ To a grand year for babies and quiz panel games," goes just one of its dizzying lines.

But Anderson’s perspective isn’t always from a 50,000-foot view. In other tunes, he cuts to the chase regarding what makes humanity tick.

Read More: Ian Anderson On The Historical Threads Of Fanaticism, Playing Ageless Instruments & Jethro Tull's New Album The Zealot Gene

A goof on what Anderson perceived as bloated concept albums of the day, the narrative of 1972's one-song album Thick as a Brick flows in all directions. Yet the opening salvo, titled "Ready Don't Mind" on later editions, is especially incisive in its needling of small-minded biases.

"I may make you feel, but I can't make you think," Anderson declares amid the backdrop of "the sandcastle virtues… all swept away/In the tidal destruction, the moral melee."

On "Aqualung," Tull's classic portrait of a seedy, streetbound derelict, Anderson zooms in on how the straights perceive this loathsome character.

"[It's] more in terms of our reaction to the homeless," Anderson explained to GRAMMY.com in 2021. "I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel — compassion, fear, embarrassment. It's a very mixed and contradictory set of emotions."

Anderson’s reflections on human nature and the social order are not always that heavy; 1976's underrated Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! explores "the cyclical nature of fashion, music and youth culture" through the lens of a hapless, aging protagonist, trapped in the mire of his youthful interests.

The American rocker in "Said She Was a Dancer" from 1987's Crest of a Knave is similarly over-the-hill, as he flirts with a disinterested Muscovite. What a clash between "Eastern steel and Western gold": "You've seen me in your magazines, or maybe on state television," he complains. "I'm your Pepsi-Cola, but you won't take me out the can."

From here, you can open Silent Singing and head in any direction — horny Tull ("Kissing Willie," "Roll Yer Own"), tech-curious Tull ("Dot Com"), and even odes to household objects ("Wicked Windows," about eyeglasses.)

If you're already a Tull fan, chances are a dozen more examples of these umbrella concepts have already popped into your head. If you're a newbie, you've stumbled on one of the most eclectic, intelligent, criminally misunderstood rock bands of all time. Cheerio!

Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Progressive Rock Giants Jethro Tull, From This Was To The Zealot Gene

Ian Anderson On The Historical Threads Of Fanaticism, Playing Ageless Instruments & Jethro Tull's New Album 'The Zealot Gene'
Ian Anderson

Photo: Will Ireland

interview

Ian Anderson On The Historical Threads Of Fanaticism, Playing Ageless Instruments & Jethro Tull's New Album 'The Zealot Gene'

Ian Anderson never stopped recording and touring, but 'The Zealot Gene' is the first album by his long-running band, Jethro Tull, in 18 years. Here, Anderson opens up about why it took so long — and why he plumbed humanity's capacity for militancy.

GRAMMYs/Jan 25, 2022 - 06:50 am

Jethro Tull has spent more than 50 years pigeonholed as the classic rock band with the flute  — and largely undervalued for their wit, intelligence and heart. But that doesn't stop bandleader Ian Anderson from marveling at the very physicality of his instrument.

"Other than fine-tuning some of the mechanics and the intonation and scale of it, it's the instrument that is 175 years old now," Anderson tells GRAMMY.com, noting that Theobald Boehm perfected the Western concert flute a century before his birth. "I'm a fan of those 'forever' kind of aspects of music-making. They just go on and on and on."

This eternality doesn't just imbue Anderson's instruments of choice — he also plays the acoustic guitar, mandolin and Irish whistle — but informs what he writes and sings about. Sure, he's fascinated by modern technology — he named an album J-Tull Dot Com back in 1999, and any discussion with him is bound to be sprinkled with references to aircraft and artillery.

Read More: Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Progressive Rock Giants Jethro Tull, From This Was To The Zealot Gene

But these days, Anderson wants to know where our political discourse's wild-eyed fervor and immutable rhetoric flows from. And while nobody can pinpoint an ultimate origin for this psychological strain, the GRAMMY-winning progressive-rock giants' latest offering, The Zealot Gene — which arrives Jan. 28 — argues that it's millennia-old at this point. In fact, it's Biblical.

That's the name of the first Jethro Tull album in 18 years — despite several Anderson solo albums since then. (The last one was 2003's The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, partly an album of re-recordings.) Open up Anderson's 2021 lyrics compendium, Silent Singing, and you'll find scriptural citations for each song — "Mrs. Tibbets" comes from Genesis, "Shoshanna Sleeping" from the Song of Solomon, "The Betrayal of Joshua Kynde" from the Gospel of Matthew, and so forth.

Then, you'll notice the Andersonian dimensions of the lyrics — peppered with an English professor's vocabulary. And when you actually listen, you'll hear quintessential Tull — commensurately delicate and thunderous, with opportunities galore to hop on one leg a little.

Despite Anderson being the only remaining original member of the band — fan-favorite guitarist Martin Barre has been out for more than a decade — The Zealot Gene is a treasure box for Tull neophytes and diehards alike. Once an acoustic wafts in on side 2 — nodding toward those on classics like 1971's ***Aqualung ***— it's hard to hear it as anything but a return to form.

GRAMMY.com sat down with Anderson over Zoom to discuss the narrative power of Christianity, the contents of his bookshelf, and how a list of positive and negative words led him to crack open the Bible — and write the first Tull album in ages.

The last Jethro Tull album came out almost 20 years ago — obviously, you've recorded solo albums and toured all over the place since then. But why did you step away from the name for so long?

In 2011, I announced to the band that I was going to embark on a project unspecified for some point in the future. I told Martin Barre and Duane Perry, our drummer, that for the next period of time — whatever that turned out to be — I would be doing some other stuff.

I set out to do the Thick as a Brick 2 album, which is what it turned out to be once I started applying myself to a project, and since it didn't involve two members of the band who had been around for many members, I decided I should release it as a solo album rather than a Jethro Tull album. 

And then, subsequently, in 2014, I released Homo Erraticus, which I also released as a solo album. Although, with hindsight, it probably would have been better to have said that was a Jethro Tull album because the guys on the album had been playing with me for many years at that point.

Later on still, when I started working on The Zealot Gene, I decided at that point that I would release it as a Jethro Tull album because the guys in the band had been playing with me as members of Jethro Tull for an average of 15 years.

It seemed like the decent thing to do — to release it as Jethro Tull so they could actually be on a Jethro Tull album, as opposed to just Jethro Tull live concert dates. So, it was written and conceived as a band album, and indeed, it started off to be just that in 2017, when we spent five days in rehearsal and four days recording to do the first seven tracks.

But because of the pressures of touring and other commitments, it didn't get finished. I think I finished four tracks in that year — that I completed vocals and flute and mixed and so on.

Then, it kept getting delayed and delayed because of the very short periods between tours, until the pandemic struck — at which point, I hoped we would get in the studio to finish it off and do the last five songs. But it was not to be, since we were in lockdown and it was unwise for us to be together in a room.

So, I ended up, at the beginning of [2021], deciding I really had to finish the album, and I would just finish the last five tracks at home. And the other guys, some of them sent in their contributions as audio files to be incorporated into the mix.

I presented it to the record company — finished, mixed and mastered — in June. Due to the delays of pressing vinyl, it was never going to be released in [that] calendar year. So, the 28th of January is the official release date due to the seven, eight months of delay and waiting to have the slot at the pressing plant to be able to manufacture.

I'm sure there are Tull fan groups grumbling about the lack of one member or another, but I think this lineup is as valid and powerful as any — especially given that some members have played with you for many years.

Well, the guitarist who is on almost all of The Zealot Gene is Florian Opahle, who left the band at the end of 2019 when he completed his recording studio near Munich, in Germany — a photographic studio to work with his wife, who's a professional photographer.

And so, he decided his touring days were over — although he did come back to do some shows in August and early September of this year, because Joe Parrish, his replacement, was not fully vaccinated at that point — a much younger guy.

So, Florian stepped in to do a few shows to help us out. It was great to have him back, but he is indeed the guitarist on The Zealot Gene — at least on seven of the tracks. Joe Parrish- James contributed a little bit of guitar on one of the remaining five tracks, just so his presence would be there on the album.

But yeah, the guys have been around for a long time. I mean, David Goodier started with me in 2004, John O'Hara in 2005. It goes back a long way working with these same members of the band. So, it's time for recognition that they are well and truly members of Jethro Tull.

After looking up all the scriptures cited in Silent Singing, I think the word "gene" says it all. You're drawing a thread from extremism in ancient history — like that account in Ezekiel of slaughtering the idolators — to what we're seeing today.

Well, it's a fanciful supposition that the human condition embraces something genetic that makes us want — as we say in English vernacular — to get our knickers in a twist.

What I'm really meaning by "zealot" is not a Biblical reference or a reference to Christian zealots, per se. I'm just talking about zealots as being fanatics — people who are fanatical about a certain topic. They could be fanatical about building model railways or attending football matches or following Formula One Grand Prix racing — or fanatical about Michelin-starred restaurants.

But, really, what I'm getting at is "fanatical" in the sense of being very firm and loudly of an opinion — which most people feel, increasingly these days, necessary to express. And freedom of speech, of course, is absolutely vital to us.

But when it starts to hurt other people — when it starts to be divisive socially in the way that populist politicians and national leaders use social media to create division in their society, to set people against each other in order to have a majority, they hope, that will allow them to maintain power — then it gets very ugly.

So, it would be easy to say that "The Zealot Gene," the title track, is modeled on Donald Trump, but that is too easy. It could be one of half a dozen people who immediately spring to mind, who are national leaders of a pretty aggressive and unpleasant sort, who epitomize that idea of being fanatical about their cause and clinging to power at all costs. That idea of fanaticism or powerful emotions runs through the album.

Indeed, it started out as a list of words. I decided I would write each song about a different kind of strong human emotion. And I made a list: some of the good stuff like companionship, loyalty, faithfulness, love — platonic love, brotherly love, spiritual love, erotic love — compassion. And then, I wrote down some bad words: things like "anger," "greed," "jealousy," "retribution."

And I looked at my list of words that I was going to, each one, pick as a subject for a song, and thought, "Oh, these are all words I recall from reading the Bible." So, I looked up all the Biblical references that readily came up in a search that would apply to those descriptions — those words.

I copied and pasted some of those verses from the Bible and put them on a file on my computer that I could use as a ready reference to draw a little comparison from. On really all but one song, I'm taking those ideas and trying to give them relevance to the world we live in today.

I think the only exception, really, is "Mine is the Mountain," which is really set in the Biblical, historical story of Moses going up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone to take down and satisfy his followers — that he was in possession of something powerful and strong that would allow him to maintain his authority and lead his followers to a promised land.

That's something I appreciate as a good narrative and gives Christianity its strength and power. It's a good story. Unlike other religions, it has a continuous narrative. It has a beginning, a fairly short middle and a very powerful ending. But the ending of it brings the promise of something more to come — i.e. series 3 on Netflix.

That's why Christianity has this enormous power as a religion worldwide. It's a narrative. It's a story. And we all love a good story — even if some of it is not entirely credible, historically speaking, or unprovable factually. But I'm a big supporter of Christianity; I just don't choose to call myself a Christian.

My favorite song on the album is "In Brief Visitation," which frames Christ as a "fall guy." It feels charged with love and wonder, but also biting humor — it's quintessential Tull in its outlook. What was going on with that song?

Well, yes, obviously, going back to my notes and the Biblical texts, we are talking about Jesus of Nazareth being, if you like, the "fall guy" for a cause. As a rather radical Jewish prophet as he was, in historical terms, almost certainly. But it's applicable to anybody who perhaps has a brief period of time to try to achieve something, but ends up suffering for the cause and being cast aside.

I think it has lots of applications in the modern world. Sometimes, bad things — because, right now, there is a trial concluding in America where a certain woman is likely to spend the rest of her life in prison if a jury finds that she should so do.

She could be referred to as a "fall guy" — carrying the can for a very dreadful person who is not allowed to face the music because he committed suicide. That's another kind of fall guy — someone who takes the rap because it's easier to pick on somebody who you can actually identify and punish.

That's a bad example in the sense of bad deeds, but there are probably other cases where people who probably do good things still end up being pilloried in some way because they're easy targets.

I think the important thing is, for me, as a writer, that I have a reason for writing something. I can bring it under an overall topic. It can sit under the umbrella of a concept, and the concept is quite simple: it's just to write a bunch of individual songs about extreme emotion.

But I like to tie it together, and that's the fact of using Biblical texts — not as an inspiration, but a little constant reminder of some examples that I can draw upon and flesh out in often contemporary terms.

I appreciate that you've never succumbed to any urge or pressure to streamline or dumb down your ideas for a wider audience. It seems like you've engendered an intelligent following for it.

I don't think it's so important that I do that to the majority of listeners. I think they are perfectly entitled to — and perhaps best advised to — just listen to the music and sing along or tap their foot and enjoy it on a relatively basic level. I don't expect people to go into the detail of what's there.

But I think for those who do want to go into what lies behind something…the general feeling was: yes, we should give the dedicated fans the detail, the information behind the album, how it came to be written, and even include the very first, rough demos that I made and sent out to the members of the band back in early March of 2017.

But I don't think that's necessarily important for the majority of people who will listen to the album — having hopefully paid for it, or downloaded it, or streamed it or whatever. They're not all necessarily interested in what lies behind it, and that's fine by me.

"Jacob's Tales" sounds like it could have been on This Was. "Mine is the Mountain" has a "My God" feeling. The synths throughout the album make me think of Crest of a Knave. Was it a conscious decision to touch on the sounds of Tull's various eras?

Hardly at all. They're just the instruments we play. Essentially, the instruments I play are the instruments I've been playing since I first began professionally.

I play the acoustic guitar; I use it for writing the majority of songs I've written over the years. And I play the flute — another acoustic instrument — and other acoustic instruments which occasionally appear on records. Mandolin, harmonica and the Irish whistle — these things appear on this album in small measure, but they're there.

So, I'm an analog, acoustic kind of guy as a performer. And when you look at the guitars that get played — our bass player plays a Fender Jazz Bass. It's from the 1960s. Our guitar player — well, Florian, on the album — he's playing a Gibson Les Paul, which is another vintage, late-'50s, early-'60s.

And John O'Hara plays the piano and Hammond organ, which, again, are instruments that are part of the history of pop and rock music as well as jazz. And, in the case of piano, of course, it forms a major part of classical music.

So, the instruments we use are fundamentally embedded in the world of contemporary and older forms of music — there's nothing particularly clever about that, technologically. I think where the technology comes in is into the actual recording process, where everything is digitally recorded, mixed and mastered. That's the bit where the technology is contemporary.

I like to embrace the traditions of music-making and incorporate those into modern technological ways of bringing it to the ears of the public. That's my approach to making music, really — it's a mixture of old and new.

And when I get on an aeroplane, very often, I'm sitting on a Boeing 737 — another product of the '60s, still flying today. [There are] several editions further on, but nonetheless, it still looks like the Boeing 737; it smells like the Boeing 737. You know, if you were to pick up the average handgun belonging to a policeman — assuming he would let you do it — you would see inside the magazine some 9mm Parabellum ammunition.

It's been around since the very beginning of the 20th century as the ammunition caliber that is probably, more than any other — in terms of sidearms — been the gold standard. If you can call it that, given that it is something primarily used for killing people. Except, if I have it in my hands, I'm just making holes in a paper target, so that's OK. However, a lot of things seem to go on forever. They seem relatively unchanged in many ways. I rather like that.

The flute I play is an instrument that was designed by Theobald Boehm exactly 100 years before I was born. And essentially, it's still the flute that you would buy if you were a student learning to play the flute, or you were a soloist in the world of classical music… I'm a fan of those "forever" kind of aspects of music-making. They just go on and on and on.

Obviously, we've all flirted with the analog synthesizers of the '70s and the more exotic sampling and sequencing keyboards of the '80s and the '90s. But they are there almost as a substitute for the real thing…for a classical grand piano, or a substitute for a church organ or Hammond organ.  It's a matter of convenience, but essentially, not a busting amount has really changed.

So, we're still flying in a Boeing 737 most of the time, in musical terms.

You mentioned the Ghislaine Maxwell trial, and I remember you telling me you'd read George W. Bush's memoir. What else are you reading about these days?

Well, I read a mixture of Nordic noir crime thrillers — just for a bit of light entertainment — and then weightier books on subjects. Comparative religion, spirituality, things to do with fairly deep, philosophical thoughts.

Sometimes, they're more contemporary, but nonetheless, somewhat philosophical by contemporary popular writers who will go into topics of everything from ecology, to climate change, through to the societal changes happening these days and where we might be headed in the future.

Again, it's the contrast that appeals to me, I suppose. If I only read one kind of thing all the time, it would be a little dull.

It seems like you're always working on Tull-related books or putting out boxed sets for various anniversaries. How would you break down an average day in your life, from a professional standpoint?

I usually get up at six in the morning — sometimes a little earlier. I come down, do a couple of hours' work in the office. And then, I usually have my morning round of promo interviews to do, if I'm working with a new project, like the album — [which] is, for me, quite demanding from a promo point of view.

So, I've got a few hours of press and promo to do in the morning, as per the European side of things, and then I've got press and promo to do in North America and other territories on very different time zones. That happens in the afternoon. I'm probably at my office desk much of the day, but I'm not actually rehearsing, practicing and playing the flute.

I'm about to start a new project on Jan. 1 of [2022]. In a couple of weeks, I will begin the next album. The great thing is that I have no idea what it's going to be about.

At nine o'clock on the first of January, I will open my mind and heart to the visiting muse, who — should she decide to visit — hopefully, by 10 o'clock, I'll have the beginnings of some kind of flicker of an idea. And by lunchtime, I might have a few ideas. And over the period of the next three or four weeks, I might think I'd completed the first draft of something — musically and lyrically — for a new album.

That's partly wishful thinking, and partly putting myself on the spot. I like the idea of challenging myself to do what I say I'm going to do, and usually managing to do it, as I have done since 2011 with Thick as a Brick 2, the Homo Erraticus album, the String Quartets album, the Zealot Gene album. I've set out to do those things at a certain point, and I like to think I get results.

But sooner or later, I will meet the dreaded writer's block and probably burst into tears or have to be carried into my bed.

So there's nothing to reveal about the next album, because you haven't even opened your mind to the ether yet.

Well, no. I think the thing is that if I started dwelling on that now, I would start to have some ideas, and it's too early. I just want to wait for that magic moment to present itself.

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Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Progressive Rock Giants Jethro Tull, From 'This Was' To 'The Zealot Gene'

Jethro Tull

Photos (L-R): Ricrdo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images, Martyn Goddard/Corbis, Pete Cronin/Redferns, Hulton Archive via Getty Images

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Songbook: A Guide To Every Album By Progressive Rock Giants Jethro Tull, From 'This Was' To 'The Zealot Gene'

Despite being a staple of 1970s rock, Jethro Tull remain bizarrely underrated — they're one of the most cerebral, idiosyncratic and affecting bands of all time. With their comeback LP 'The Zealot Gene' on the way, here's a guide to their 22 albums.

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2022 - 03:05 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Songbook is an editorial series and hub for music discovery that dives into a legendary artist's discography and art in whole — from songs to albums to music films and videos and beyond.

Ian Anderson recently released Silent Singing, a full compendium of his lyrics with his band, Jethro Tull, and from his solo career. He doesn't expect most people to seek it out, much less absorb it — and he's perfectly OK with that.

"They are perfectly entitled to —  and perhaps best advised to — just listen to the music and sing along, or tap their foot and enjoy it on a relatively basic level," the bandleader tells GRAMMY.com of the book, which spans his life's work since 1968. "They're not all necessarily interested in what lies behind it."

In other words, Anderson's not here to lecture listeners about the wonders of cutting-edge technology, the corruption of organized religion, or the joys of animal life. He makes rock songs, not TED Talks.

But what if you do want to dig deeper than the top-line information about Tull? Anderson put out Silent Singing for the more invested portion of his fan base — those who know his art beyond the famous Anchorman scene.

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Flip to even the most obscure entry, like the one for "Wond'ring Again," a sequel to Aqualung's love song "Wond'ring Aloud," buried in the 1972 compilation Living in the Past, and the cerebral, furious and evocative lyrics might blow your hair back.

"The excrement bubbles / The century's slime decays," it goes. "Incestuous ancestry's charabanc ride / Spawning new millions, throws the world on its side." Unfurling its predecessor's purview until it encompasses everything, Anderson condemns an overpopulated, coarsening society plundering its only home. It’ll give you goosebumps if you're in the right mood. It's quintessential Tull. 

Wielding a freight-train intellect, a bookworm's vocabulary, and underdiscussed melodic gifts (despite his limited vocal range), Anderson has penned a few dozen tunes that belong in the Tower of Song — from the white-knuckled "Locomotive Breath" to the enchanting "One White Duck / 0¹⁰ = Nothing at All" to the exquisite "Moths." And the more you plumb beneath the surface — the riffs, the flute, the, er, codpiece — the more rewarded you'll be.

On Jan. 28, the English progressive rock titans are back with The Zealot Gene. It may be their first album in almost two decades, but their idiosyncratic vision remains undeterred. Drawn from Biblical accounts and morality lessons, songs like "Shoshana Sleeping," "The Betrayal of Joshua Kynde" and "In Brief Visitation" peer under the hood of the human condition like only Anderson can.

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Despite Tull's considerable creative powers — and being a staple of hard-rock radio — they remain bizarrely underrated. Like fellow '70s hitmakers Randy Newman and Steely Dan, the press has pigeonholed them with superficial characterizations. The mordant Newman is most famous for Toy Story, so he must be a cuddly, harmless artist; the black-humored Steely Dan jammed with jazz legends and projected laconic cool, so they must be a yuppie-friendly yacht-rock act.

As for the erudite Tull, perhaps their theatrical goofiness and "Dungeons & Dragons"-style album art backfired in that department. But they've always had bigger fish to fry than being cool. Leave your preconceptions at the door, maybe hop around on one foot a little, and you're in for musical treasures galore — from poetic outpourings to horny musings to sober inquiries into a higher power.

These days, Anderson is the only remaining original member of Jethro Tull. They've had numberless lineups across the decades, and longtime, fan-favorite guitarist Martin Barre left in 2011. But if the patina of The Zealot Gene is any indication, still more captivating work may lie ahead of Anderson and his cohorts — even with their best-known music a half-century behind them.

In the latest edition of Songbook, GRAMMY.com rings in the impending release of The Zealot Gene with a deep dive into every album from the band's still-underdiscussed discography — from their blues-rock beginnings to the folk trilogy to their work in the 21st century.

(Editor's note: This list focuses on the core Jethro Tull discography and excludes compilations and Anderson's solo albums.)

 Photo: Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Named after an 18th-century agriculturist, Jethro Tull began as a fairly typical blues/rock combo with one important distinction: the flute.

This Was (1968)

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Jethro Tull's debut is less the vision of Anderson than of their original lead guitarist, Mick Abrahams, who appeared on a grand total of one record — this one.

A mostly straightforward blues/rock album, This Was features an instrument that immediately distinguished Tull from their peers. (Try and guess which one.)

This was intentional on Anderson's part. In a British rock scene with a preponderance of white-boy guitar shredders, Anderson demurred and took a different tack.

"I wasn't sure when Ian turned up with the flute," Tull's drummer at the time, Clive Bunker, said in their 2019 oral history The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I said, 'Look, Ian, it's a blues band, not a jazz band.'"

The eccentric Anderson stood out in other ways, too. "Ian was a good performer, but he was a strange man and I was confused," Abrahams recalled in the same book. "I remember seeing him shambling down the street wearing an old shabby overcoat, hair and beard all over the place, carrying a toilet bowl he'd pinched from the Savoy cinema."

As creative partners, the open-minded Anderson and blues-purist Abrahams weren't to be, but the one album they made together is a low-demand pleasure — and an enjoyable product of its time and place. 

This especially goes for the rollin'-and-tumblin' "My Sunday Feeling," and "Dharma for One.” The latter features an invented "claghorn" — an amalgam of an ethnic bamboo flute, the mouthpiece of a saxophone and the bell of a child's trumpet.

The most well-known tune here is "A Song for Jeffrey," a harmonica-driven tribute to future Tull bassist Jeffey Hammond that doubles as a roast (before Hammond officially joined the band, he and Anderson were classmates). "Gonna lose my way tomorrow/ Gonna give away my car," Anderson sings. "Can't see, see, see where I'm going." 

But Anderson had a pretty good idea of where he was headed — as foreshadowed by that rearview mirror of a title.

Stand Up (1969)

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By 1969, Abrahams was out of the band. And in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, Anderson claims the pair were “never close,” noting his diametrically opposite nature: "I wasn't one of the lads. I didn't drink beer or smoke marijuana and hang out."

Barre soon replaced Abrahams; he would stay in the band for decades and perform on their most beloved works. And from the outset, he proved himself to be as eclectic and open-minded as Anderson needed him to be.

"Martin Barre wasn't a blues guitarist like Mick Abrahams," Anderson noted in the book. "I could see the possibilities."

With a simpatico co-pilot on board, Tull recorded their first truly excellent album — one that acts as a Rosetta Stone for their output throughout the following decades.

Barre's scorching lead parts on "A New Day Yesterday" foreshadow the mighty Aqualung, a jazzy rendition of Bach's "Bourée" displays their high-minded purview, and the international flavor of "Fat Man" gestures toward their '90s embrace of global sounds.

"It's progressive in that it reflects more eclectic influences, bringing things together and mixing and matching and being more creative," Anderson told Louder Sound in 2018. "For me, it's a very important album — a pivotal album."

Benefit (1970)

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An album borne of exhaustion with the touring lifestyle, Benefit introduced an anxiety and ache to Tull's sound — a vibe that would take flower on Aqualung. The songs also became slippier, more mysterious, more elliptical — partly thanks to a key influence in an English progressive folkie.

"Roy Harper, who I came to know quite well, wrote songs that were so personal and frighteningly intimate," Anderson noted in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I found it fascinating being drawn into this sexual intimacy, but having no idea who the other person in the song was."

This vibe made it into songs like "Alive and Well and Living In," which obscures its subject: "Nobody sees her here/ Her eyes are slowly closing," "If she should want some peace, she sits there without moving/ And puts a pillow over the phone."

Elsewhere, "Sossity: You're a Woman" is their first knockout acoustic ballad in a career full of them. (Honestly, if you only seek out Tull's quieter selections, you'll still find the essence of the band.)

But most telling of all is "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me." The track was inspired by astronaut Collins, who remained in the command module of Apollo 11 as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked the lunar surface. (Advertently or not, that sums up the loneliness of touring life.)

Despite intriguing moments like these, Benefit mostly functions as the connective tissue between two eras of Tull and the ramp-up to a stone-cold classic.

Photo: Michael Putland via Getty Images

Jethro Tull's sound became increasingly dynamic and diverse, dealing in themes including organized religion. On successive releases, their ambition only grew more outsized.

Aqualung (1971)

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If you can believe it, Tull's signature song, “Aqualung,” contains no flute. But it contains more than most give it credit for — an ocean of pathos.

Atop Barre's six-note thunderclap of a riff, Anderson snarlingly describes the titular, itinerant character, who wanders the frigid streets in raggy threads, leering at neighborhood girls.

If that was all "Aqualung" was, though, it wouldn't be much — a sudden dynamic shift into a hushed, acoustic ballad goes for the heart. Instead of judging the pathetic vagabond, Anderson notes his loneliness, isolation and marginalization. Most touchingly, he addresses him as "my friend." 

"[I was] not trying to imagine much about his life, but more in terms of our reaction to the homeless," Anderson told GRAMMY.com in 2021. "I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel — compassion, fear, embarrassment."

After that momentous introduction, Tull leads listeners through an astonishing song cycle about the rot of organized religion ("My God"), domestic tranquility ("Wond'ring Aloud") and the dangers of overpopulation ("Locomotive Breath"). 

"'Locomotive Breath' was incredibly difficult to do," Anderson recalled in the oral history. "You have to keep the lid on the thing, like a boiler building up pressure."

Aqualung crescendos with perhaps the most powerful song ever written about the difference between God and church: "Wind Up," where the Highest addresses Anderson directly. He's a personage with thoughts and feelings, He informs Anderson — not just on Sunday morning, but 365 days per year.

In the bridge of "Wind Up," Anderson's incredulity and rage say it all. While he says his spiritual beliefs haven't changed since 1971, his rejection of dogma only seems to stoke his fires as a seeker of truth.

Thick as a Brick (1972)

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Is there any more tired rock-critic construction than the "concept album"? Back in 1972, Anderson didn't seem to think so. 

"I figured … that I'd give people the mother of all concept albums," he said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, "by taking the mickey out of some of our peer group who were now doing concept albums that were overblown and silly." (Genesis and Yes, he was looking at you.)

Thus was the impetus for Thick as a Brick, which Tull originally released as one 43-minute song across two sides. After the umpteenth shifted meter and goofy breakdown, the gag wears somewhat thin across its runtime — even with lovely moments sprinkled throughout, like the "Poet and the Painter" section.

But its flaws takes nothing away from the album's sublime first movement, titled "Really Don't Mind”  in a 2015 remix and remaster. Seemingly taking shots at intellectual elitism and a drain-circling culture, it’s one of the clearest available windows into Anderson's worldview.

"The sandcastle virtues are all swept away," he warns, "in the tidal destruction/ The moral melee." And if only for the radiant and pointed three minutes that open the record, Thick as a Brick belongs in any rock fan’s collection.

A Passion Play (1973)

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By far, the most priceless take on A Passion Play comes from a Melody Maker clip about a Wembley concert, where Tull played this baffling, colossal suite front to back. Think Thick as a Brick but even more scattered, with Anderson skronking on the saxophone throughout. 

"The lyrics or story of A Passion Play did not communicate one whit," journalist Chris Welch wrote, horrified, in a piece headlined "Crime of Passion." Even more dramatically, "After the show, I felt uncomfortable and filled with inner torment."

An ambitious program about an afterlife-dweller accompanied by a bonkers stage show upon its release, A Passion Play is a head-scratcher — and its creator admits it.

"I didn't practice enough, I wasn't trained, and it hurt my lip," Anderson admitted in the oral history of his questionable sax chops, calling A Passion Play "in the bottom third of Jethro Tull albums." (Elsewhere, he called it "the step-too-far album.")

Are there decent moments? Sure, like the relieving appearance of acoustic guitar in "The Silver Cord" and "Overseer Overture," and the percolating ending of "Memory Bank." 

But at the end of the day, if you're looking for Extravagant Tull, there are more effective places to start.

War Child (1974)

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Written for a film that would never be made, War Child is a scaled-back, middle-of-the-road entry before five superb albums in a row. While Anderson himself called it "the last multiple outing of the dreaded saxophone" and "kind of OK," it offers three all-timers on Side 2. 

First, cue up the gorgeous "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of a New Day)," a xylophone-buoyed ode to the fragility of life. "Bungle in the Jungle" — which views citydwellers through a zoonotic lens — remains one of the band's biggest radio hits.

Another for your ongoing Acoustic Tull playlist is "Only Solitaire," which marries a gently winding melody with a lyrical purview that's acrid even for Anderson: "Brain-storming, habit-forming, battle-warning, weary winsome actor/ Spewing spineless, chilling lines."

Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)

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Finally: a worthy follow-up to Aqualung.

Recorded with a mobile studio in Monaco, Minstrel in a Gallery elegantly splits the difference between multifarious heavy rock (the title track) and string-swept balladry (almost everything else), with an unwavering eye for dynamics and atmosphere.

Its creator called it "an angrier record" and its sessions as "a little divisive"; Barre didn't see it that way. "Ian was at his writing peak on Minstrel," he said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "I don't recall any friction at all. It's just that Ian took it very, very seriously."

Anderson's single-minded vision paid off in some of his loveliest songs to date. "Cold Wind to Valhalla" is a Norse daydream where "breakfast with the gods/ Night-angels serve with ice-bound majesty." "Baker St. Muse," for its part, is a gorgeous suite about quotidian London scenes.

But then, oh: the time-capsule track. "One White Duck / 0¹⁰ = Nothing at All," a heartstopping acoustic serenade suggestive of packing and leaving, remains one of Anderson's grand slams and potentially the most bewitching tune in the Tull songbook.

A puzzle as much as a song, this darkly seductive masterwork is less listened to than communed with — preferably in solitude, deep into the night.

Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976)

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Initially conceived as a stage musical, Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! follows a washed-up character who learns lessons about youth and rebirth and nostalgia… or something. But the real hero of this story is the mixing and mastering engineer Steven Wilson.

Here’s why Wilson, who has remixed and remastered many Tull albums by now, is a magical being. What everyone thought was a just-OK Tull album, he revealed to be nearly perfect. As it turns out, the original mix was just murky enough to dull the album’s impact.

In Wilson's hands, Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll isn't just saved; it's potentially the most accessible gateway to this band. Shone until they gleam, "Salamander," "Bad-Eyed and Loveless" and "Pied Piper" contain sneaky hooks that might burrow into your consciousness.

While the cornerstones of the album might be the triumphant title track and closer, "The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)," the finest of them all is a very deep cut: “From A Dead Beat to an Old Greaser.”

Climbing a stair-step melody with an exquisite string arrangement, this affecting hipster tableau name-drops Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac and René Magritte as it builds to a lithe sax solo.

Photo: Stan Frgacic/Corbis via Getty Images

Using pastoral instrumentation as a canvas, Ian Anderson explored themes of agriculture, woodland mythology and the environment under siege.

Songs From the Wood (1977)

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Spurred by the book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain and a relocation to the Buckinghamshire countryside, Songs From The Wood is a jolly, earthy affair preoccupied with the pre-Christian old gods and all things verdant and growing.

Still, a faint thread of anxiety runs throughout, as if Anderson is clinging to the old country as it fades. 

"Does the green still run deep in your heart/ Or will these changing times, motorways, powerlines keep us apart?" Anderson asks of the titular, woodland character in "Jack-in-the-Green." (Think Radagast, the wizard of nature from Tolkien's works — but small enough to drink from an “empty acorn cup.”)

Songs from the Wood isn't perfect — Side 2’s seemingly endless, guitar-squealing “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” is seemingly included here to run the clock. Still, the litany of folky gems throughout makes it a top-shelf Tull offering.

From the springy "Cup of Wonder" to the wintry delight "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" to the randy "Velvet Green," Songs from the Wood exudes giddy, punch-drunk joy at the gift of the green country.

Heavy Horses (1978)

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Sure, songs about broken guns and hunting clothes and making love in the woods are all well and good. But on Heavy Horses, Tull took the theme further by zeroing in on animals — several songs roughly correspond to a critter found in the English countryside.

It all kicks off with "...And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps," the most deliciously bloody toast to the housecat this side of T.S. Eliot. To wit: "Savage bed foot warmer/ Of purest feline ancestry… With claws that rake a furrow red/ License to mutilate." If that doesn't sum them up, what does?

Powered by the kinetic rhythm section of bassist John Glascock and drummer Barriemore Barlow, Heavy Horses only gains steam as it hits gem after gem. "Moths" is an oblique love story imbued with magical realism; the majestic, nine-minute title track laments the obsolescence of workhorses amid the encroaching industrial age.

The crown jewel, though, is "One Brown Mouse," a rapturous ode to the banalest of household pests with a dizzying, key-toggling bridge. Drop every one of your defenses, and the song a rush of unadulterated feeling; it will pry open your heart if you let it. Smile your little smile.

Stormwatch (1979)

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With country air behind Tull, something wicked this way came. Stormwatch flips the script on its (mostly) carefree predecessors, zeroing in on weather and the environment. Appropriately, the music sounds salty and eroded, like a schooner battered by a tempest.

After the opener "North Sea Oil” needles the petroleum business, the fraught vibe only unspools from there. In "Orion," Anderson addresses the titular constellation as it indifferently observes the world’s dramas; in "Something's On The Move," he tackles climate change decades before Greta Thunberg.

Sure, it’s all a touch dreary and monochromatic, but that’s part of its charm: Stormwatch is a rock-solid Tull album with a vividly rendered moral compass.

The power ballad "Home," with guitar-monies beamed overhead like the Aurora Borealis, stands out in particular. So does the weatherbeaten ballad "Dun Ringill" — which, with its disembodied, spectral whispers, sounds like a dispatch from Davy Jones' Locker.

Photo: Pete Cronin/Redferns​

At the top of the 1980s, Tull sensed the winds of change and interwove synthesizers into their sound.

A (1980)

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Is it jarring to see Jethro Tull playing synth-inflected music in jumpsuits? That’s fair: A was never meant to be a Tull album, but — hence the initial in the title — an Anderson solo album. hence the title. But thire record label, Chrysalis, didn't think it would sell under his name.

"Barrie, [keyboardist] John Evan and I all received the same, cheap carbon copy of a letter explaining that the record company had decided to release Ian's latest recordings as a Jethro Tull album," synthesist and arranger Dee Palmer said in the oral history. "Our services were no longer required."

This, along with other factors, led to upheaval within the camp and the departure of multiple members. Taken together, these factors make A an odd duck in the catalog, but listening today, it's by no means an embarrassment. 

Thanks in no small part to its remaster — thanks again, Steven Wilson — songs like "Crossfire," "Fylingdale Flyer" and "Protect and Survive" show that Anderson's pop instincts remained undimmed, no matter the aesthetic or context. 

Plus, it ends with two great, underdiscussed tunes — the giddy instrumental workout "The Pine Marten's Jig" and capacious closer "And Further On."

The Broadsword and the Beast (1982)

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While synths occasionally trapped in amber; they're woven in far more seamlessly on its follow-up. "We took the new technology and married it with folk-rock," Anderson explained in The Ballad of Jethro Tull, calling it "a good album and full of light and shade."

Indeed, The Broadsword and the Beast is a welcome return to form, with synth textures adding vividness and color to the songs. Despite tanking in America — probably due to the very non-single title track being the single — the record fits snugly with their '70s masterworks.

From the feisty "Beastie" to the irresistible "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow," excellent tunes abound here. But the inarguable centerpiece is "Jack-A-Lynn": a downcast acoustic ballad studded by a melancholic synth motif and, eventually, detonating into stadium rock.

Under Wraps (1984)

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Speaking of the 1980s, "I don't think Ian should have ever attempted to keep up with the modern trends," then-bassist Dave Pegg said in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. ("But he wasn't alone — everybody else was doing it too,” he qualifies.)

This seems to sum up the problem with the leaden, electronics-heavy Under Wraps. While the majority of tracks, like "Lap of Luxury," "European Legacy" and "Saboteur," are probably best left uninvestigated, there's one decent tune here — and one gorgeous one — to add to circulation.

Respectively, those are "Paparazzi" — which actually does something angular and intriguing with the dated palette — and "Under Wraps #2," which strips down the instrumentation for a sweet, simmering love song with charming call-and-response verses.

Crest of a Knave (1987)

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Crest of a Knave may be one of Tull’s most surprising and thrilling returns to form, but its reputation precedes it in a different way. 

Sadly, it's forever tethered to the upset at the 1989 GRAMMY Awards, where it beat Metallica's …And Justice For All in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category. (Afterward, Anderson took out a full-page Billboard ad, which simply read "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.")

At this point, however, it's time to consider Crest of a Knave apart from this well-worn anecdote. Fact is, it may be Tull's final truly great album until The Zealot Gene more than 30 years later.

The album begins thrillingly with the vertiginous "Steel Monkey," where a knuckleheaded skyscraper worker tries to get fresh with a woman. The obviously sequenced synths and programmed drums don't stifle the tune one iota — true to the industrial theme, they make it pump and slam like hydraulics. As Anderson's character gloats about his high-flying lifestyle, a skyward key change puts you right there — 300 feet above the ground.

Elsewhere, "Farm on the Freeway" addresses infrastructure's threat to American farmers, and "She Said She Was a Dancer" sardonically casts Anderson as an out-of-his-depth Western rocker trying to pick up an Eastern European. 

Despite its very 1987 production, Crest of a Knave is a triumph purely on its own terms.

 Photo: Martyn Goddard/Corbis via Getty Images

While grunge reigned in the '90s, Tull returned to their heavy-blues roots and branched into global sounds.

Rock Island (1989)

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Like A Passion Play and Under Wraps before it, Rock Island could probably vanish from the catalog without altering the narrative. Which doesn't make it bad, exactly — save for the wince-worthy sexual innuendo of "Kissing Willie."

Anderson has publicly expressed fondness for at least three tunes. In the oral history, he praised "The Whaler's Dues," which he praised as "representing something that had happened historically but still had some relevance today"; and closer "Strange Avenues," which he called a "very spooky, moody piece of music." 

In Silent Singing, he cited "Another Christmas Song" as "probably my long-term favorite, oozing nostalgia, reflection, and dislocated family relationships.”

But after you throw those tunes on your Tull playlist, seek out Rock Island's follow-up, Catfish Rising, for a far more engaging example of what the band could do at the close of the '80s.

Catfish Rising (1991)

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That's more like it: Catfish Rising was Tull's richest, loamiest album since Crest of a Knave.

A return to ballsy hard rock in the ballpark of Stand Up, Catfish remains strangely overlooked in the oeuvre. It's the moment they emerged from the miasma of the '80s, happily remembering what made them special in the first place.

This doesn't just mean 12-bar shuffling — although "Still Loving You Tonight" is a decent throwback in that regard — but outfitting that palette with acoustic instruments like mandolin and mandola, which has always been Tull’s specialty.

Despite not containing their deepest material, Tull listeners should know a few selections on Catfish Rising: "Sparrow on the Schoolyard Wall," "White Innocence" and "Gold Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie," to name a few. 

Even while miles away from the heights of Aqualung and Minstrel in the Gallery, returning to the blues’ gravitational center kept Tull healthy and robust into the '90s.

Roots to Branches (1995)

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Could Tull have successfully drifted into the remainder of the '90s as a new-age band with a Middle Eastern tint, like latter-day Popol Vuh? Roots and Branches makes a compelling case for that direction.

For once, the songs are secondary to the feeling: Roots to Branches captures the specific moment where classic rockers made "exotic" works during the CD reign. With each synth sweep and reverberated sidestick, the humid-rainforest vibe deepens.

While the album contains more ambiance than anything, a few gems reveal themselves with time — such as the Arabic-influenced ode to jewelry, "Rare and Precious Chain" and the atmospheric, after-hours piano ballad, "Stuck in the August Rain." 

Altogether, though, Roots to Branches is one for deep heads, not neophytes. (Unless "dreamily dated" is your jam — in that case, fire it up.)

J-Tull Dot Com (1999)

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From the title to the typography to the too-anatomically-correct album art of the Egyptian god Amun, J-Tull Dot Com can be a tough one to defend at first. But if you can get past the packaging, there's very little actually wrong with the album — well, other than "Hot Mango Flush." 

The skulking "Hunt By Numbers" is another one of Anderson's (always welcome) songs about cats. Following that is the beguiling "Wicked Windows," which may be the only song ever written about eyeglasses — and despite the stilted drum production, it’s an imaginative beauty.

Named after the band's first registered website, "We did it in my studio and we rehearsed it and played it live in the same way as we did Thick as a Brick,” Anderson explained in The Ballad of Jethro Tull. "J-Tull Dot Com had a high-tech title but was relatively low-tech music." 

With that clarification in mind, feel free to find a used copy and party with Amun. Still, there are so many worthy alternatives — especially for first-time listeners.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)

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What would be Jethro Tull's final album for 18 years —Anderson released solo albums Homo Erraticus and Thick as a Brick 2 in the interim — wasn't really a collection of new material. Rather, it contains re-recordings of old songs and variations on Christmas classics, like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman."

If you're a committed fan who needs a little yuletide Tull, it'll do in a pinch. For everybody else, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album is mostly worth hearing for the lovely, updated versions of oldies "A Christmas Song" and "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow."

Photo: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images

After time off from the name and the departure of longstanding guitarist Martin Barre, Anderson and his latest cohorts have made a triumphant Tull album.

The Zealot Gene (2022)

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Even though Anderson's never stopped recording and touring, it's bracing to hear the first music under the Jethro Tull name in ages.

Questions abounded upon its announcement: would it be a bunt, like J-Tull Dot Com, or a grand slam, like Crest of a Knave? Would the absence of Martin Barre diminish the music? 

Fortunately, this lineup, which includes longtime bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O'Hara, is as valid and robust as any before it. And the album they made together, The Zealot Gene, hits all the marks that make the band stupendous and singular.

For starters, Anderson is as literate and layered a lyricist as he ever was. Still, he's never out to merely flaunt his vocabulary (despite employing verbiage like "sacrum," "perfidious" and "rostrom"). There's a refreshing, human element to the songs, which pull from accounts as old as time to explain how our species got in such a mess.

In "Mine is the Mountain," the wrath of the God of the Pentateuch radiates — you feel His judgment. True to its roots in the erotic Song of Solomon, "Shoshana Sleeping" has an anticipatory, heart-racing quality. And "In Brief Visitation" flips the account of Christ's death into a meditation on the concept of "fall guys."

Just as happily, The Zealot Gene isn't an aural monolith, but something of a tour through Tull's various styles over the years. The harmonica in "Jacob's Tales" recalls This Was; the synths in "Mrs. Tibbets" recall Crest of a Knave; the acoustic suite near the end recalls Minstrel in the Gallery.

Seemingly galvanized by the finished product, Anderson is already writing another Tull album: "On the first of January, I will open my mind and heart to the visiting muse," he recently told GRAMMY.com. "That's partly wishful thinking, partly me putting myself on the spot." 

Even after half a century, the minstrel has reams left to sing — and say.

Living Legends: The Kinks' Dave Davies On 21st-Century Breakdown, Mellowing Out In His Seventies & Stirring The Pot On Twitter​

Bob Dylan's Latest Box Set Proves He Remained Stellar In The '80s. These '60s Classic Rock Artists Did, Too.

Bob Dylan

Photo: Deborah Feingold | Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment

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Bob Dylan's Latest Box Set Proves He Remained Stellar In The '80s. These '60s Classic Rock Artists Did, Too.

A revelatory new box set, 'Springtime In New York,' proves that Bob Dylan was still a force of nature in the '80s. It's worth reexamining other classic rock artists' output during the rocky decade.

GRAMMYs/Dec 9, 2021 - 10:10 pm

What do you think of when you consider 1960s artists in the '80s? Washed up, adrift, lost in a sea of emerging technology? You're not alone — Bob Dylan considered himself as such in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles.

"I hadn't actually disappeared from the scene, but the road had narrowed," he wrote. "There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him." (He also calls himself "whitewashed and wasted out professionally" and "in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion.")

This is coming from the guy who gave us "Every Grain of Sand," "Jokerman" and "Blind Willie McTell" during that decade, went full wild-eyed Christian-preacher mode in concert, and destroyed the universe on "Late Night With David Letterman" backed by fiery punk band the Plugz. Whatever his internal state at the time, he was selling his creative output short.

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Read More: Here's What Went Down At Bob Dylan's Mysterious "Shadow Kingdom" Livestream Concert​

This suspicion — or conviction — that true Dylan heads have always had is now Gospel truth. Springtime in New York, a five-disc smorgasbord that arrived in September, strips away the sometimes-overbearing production of albums like Empire Burlesque, revealing their core components: Dylan in the midst of a spiritual awakening, backed by killer accompanists like the Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler.

So, Dylan has been handed a liferaft from the '80s, a decade thought too often as a sinking ship for him and his contemporaries. Sure, some '60s artists hit creative snags in big ways, and admit as much. Paul McCartney's film and soundtrack Give My Regards to Broad Street didn't quite make it out of the era; the now-prolific David Crosby only released one album, Oh Yes I Can; so on and so forth.

But does this hold true for George Harrison, who rejoined the music industry with a blazing smile on Cloud Nine? What about the Kinks, who handled the curves of the arena-rock and punk eras then hit a grand slam with State of Confusion? Or Jethro Tull, whose Crest of a Knave earned them their first GRAMMY (to the chagrin of Metallica fans)?

Clearly, there's a larger disconnect at play. So let's examine 10 excellent albums by artists most associated with the '60s who put out great work in the '80s.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono — Double Fantasy (1980)

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Believe it or not, Lennon's final album — the one that gave us jewels like "(Just Like) Starting Over," "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" and "Watching the Wheels" — earned scathing reviews upon its release.

NME, in particular, wished Lennon had "kept his big happy trap shut until he had something to say that was even vaguely relevant to those of us not married to Yoko Ono." The critics changed their tune after Lennon's slaying mere weeks after its release. But even if he were still with us (and how sweet would that be?), Double Fantasy would remain a milestone.

Picture this: After four chaotic decades in which Lennon lost his mother young and made (and unmade) the most significant rock band of all time, he had a transformative experience on a yacht from Rhode Island to Bermuda, in which a severe tempest forced him to take the wheel alone for several hours. He whooped sea shanties and took it as a baptism.

"I was so centred after the experience at sea that I was tuned in to the cosmos – and all these songs came!" he later said. They were unlike any others he'd written.

The Rolling Stones — Tattoo You (1981)

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It's fascinating to watch the "Beatles or Stones?" debate percolating in the media again, because we get to be reminded of how it's a false dichotomy.

"The Rolling Stones [are] a big concert band in other decades and other areas when the Beatles never even did an arena tour or Madison Square Garden with a decent sound system," Mick Jagger said recently. "They broke up before that business started — the touring business for real."

As the Stones' ultimate stadium-rock monument, Tattoo You has always been well-regarded in their discography. But now that a new 40th Anniversary Edition — released in October via Polydor/Interscope/UMe — offers us a fresh remaster, we can remember that the true integrity of the album is in the songs.

"Start Me Up" has taken on new life in a variety of advertisements, from Windows 95 to the Summer Olympics, and that's because its hook and riff are unforgettable. And "Waiting on a Friend" remains one of their most heart-tugging and elusive tunes — one that only 20-something skirt-chasers could write after deepening and wizening with age.

Joni Mitchell — Wild Things Run Fast (1982)

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Coming off her imperial run of albums in the '70s, Mitchell was a bit muted in the '80s.

Synth-pop production and era-specific politicking had a freezing effect on 1985's Dog Eat Dog; 1988's Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm leaned heavily on duets with Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Don Henley, and other superstars. (Still, don't write off that last one — Courtney Barnett's a vocal fan!)

That said, her first album of the decade, Wild Things Run Fast, is an imperfect yet deeply satisfying album with distinguished collaborators, like saxophonist Wayne Shorter, guitarist Steve Lukather and bassist (and then-husband) Larry Klein.

"Chinese Café" is one of her most underrated, luminous album openers ever, segueing gracefully into the romantic standard "Unchained Melody." And the gems keep coming, from the exquisite "Moon at the Window" to the percolating "Be Cool."

Overall, if you skip the squealing guitars on "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" and "You Dream Flat Tires" on Side 2, Wild Things Run Fast fits snugly with her '70s fusion-era masterworks.

Read More: For The Record: Joni Mitchell's Emotive 1971 Masterpiece, Blue

The Kinks — State of Confusion (1983)

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As only brothers in an all-time-classic rock band could experience, Ray and Dave Davies have had a fractious relationship for decades, both creatively and personally.

Not only was their band, the Kinks, banned from American stages at the height of their fame, but their fraternal tensions led to bizarre incidents like when Ray stamped on Dave's 50th birthday cake.

Today, they're getting along famously and working on new music. But through all the noise in the press, it's worth remembering that the Kinks weathered fundamental shifts in the music industry better than many of their peers. Dave's 1984 tune for the band, "Living on a Thin Line," is a perfect example — it was even featured three times in a classic Sopranos episode.

Also worth celebrating from their '80s period: State of Confusion, a gleaming pop album with hints of punk and new wave. "Long Distance" and "Come Dancing" are the obvious classics of the bunch — Rolling Stone called the former "astonishingly Dylanesque," and the latter, a memory-lane ode to their late sister, Rene, was their biggest hit in more than a decade.

But throw on the whole program and then spelunk deeper into the Kinks' '80s output. You won't be disappointed.

Yes — 90125 (1983)

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Breathe a sigh of relief: Many of the greatest prog bands are still with us in the 21st century. Jethro Tull have their first album in decades out soon; Genesis are currently circling the globe on a thrilling reunion tour; the indefatigable Yes just released The Quest.

The latter band has experienced uncommon longevity, having weathered the deaths of key members Chris Squire and Peter Banks and only taking relatively brief hiatuses during their 53-year run. And like King Crimson, Yes only seemed to grow teeth as the '80s dawned.

The new-wavey album marked the return of the honeyed singer Jon Anderson, who had left in 1980. And "Owner of a Lonely Heart," especially, was a thrilling costume change that helped prove Yes could easily retrofit their elaborate jams into danceable pop.

The Beach Boys — The Beach Boys (1985)

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Becoming a Beach Boys diehard is a three-pronged process: you get into the experimental '60s material, you realize the early pop hits and '70s albums rule as well, and then their entire history unveils itself as one gorgeous, flawed continuum.

This love story between you and America's Band also means getting to know their central angel: Carl Wilson. When their resident innovator, Brian Wilson, began to fade into the background in the late '60s, his brother stepped in as the band's lionhearted musical director until his 1998 death.

Granted, the Beach Boys' '80s period isn't the first era you should check out, per se. But it doesn't deserve outright dismissal by any means. Their self-titled record, the first since drummer (and middle Wilson brother) Dennis' drowning, carries hard-won poignancy that makes it an essential listen.

Three tunes especially deserve your attention: "Getcha Back," a driving co-write between Mike Love and Terry Melcher; "She Believes in Love Again," a heartfelt Bruce Johnston ballad with a charming yacht-rock veneer; and the elliptical "Where I Belong," which Carl never believed he truly finished.

Read More: Brian Wilson Is A Once-In-A-Lifetime Creative Genius. But The Beach Boys Are More Than Just Him.

Jethro Tull — Crest of a Knave (1987)

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By now, Crest of a Knave is saddled with the reputation of besting Metallica's …And Justice For All in a GRAMMY category some believed they shouldn't have been in: Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental. (Tull leader Ian Anderson cheekily responded by taking out a Billboard ad reading "The flute is a heavy, metal instrument.")

This is a shame for multiple reasons. Not only is Crest one of Tull's heaviest albums — especially the skyscraping opener "Steel Monkey" — but it contains stone-cold Tull classics throughout. Here, the '80s textures are a feature, not a bug; the sequencers and programming underpin Anderson's songs, which are often set against urban sprawl.

In "Steel Monkey," a knuckleheaded high-rise worker touts his sexual prowess; in "Farm on the Freeway," a profitable farmer loses his generational land to steel and asphalt; in the exquisite "Said She Was a Dancer," an aging Western rock star (Anderson himself?) unsuccessfully hits on an emotionally distant Muscovite.

Read More: Jethro Tull's Aqualung At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

George Harrison — Cloud Nine (1987)

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Harrison was more solid in the '80s than you might think: the Traveling Wilburys and Somewhere in England's "Life Itself" are alone worth the price of admission.

But any discussion of his output during the decade must begin with Cloud Nine, conceived and marketed as his comeback. Make fun of the album cover all you want — it radiates positive vibes and perfectly advertises the colorful, Jeff-Lynne-produced music therein.

"That's What It Takes" is an elevating ode to resilience; "Fish on the Sand" makes one wish he did a chunky Byrds thing more often; the jubilant "Got My Mind Set on You" (including its video) is a psychological tonic for anyone going through it.

Cloud Nine would be the final album Harrison would release during his lifetime; his posthumous 2002 album Brainwashed is equally, if not more radiant. What a treat for Harrison fans, that after a few half-engaged '70s albums borne of frustration with the music industry, he reminded the world he had what it took.

Neil Young — Bluenote Café (2015, r. 1987-88)

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This idiosyncratic Canerican's '80s period is mostly full of pranks and left-turns, but there's more "there" there than just making David Geffen mad.

1981's Re·ac·tor and 1982's Trans have aged fabulously, touching on electronic music and krautrock while tenderly addressing Young's communication breakdown with his nonverbal son, Ben. Then, there's 1988's This Note's For You, his swinging, bluesy takedown of corporate sponsorship.

He made that album with the Bluenotes, an assortment of old affiliates outfitted with a brass and reeds section. While it's a worthy curiosity today, Bluenote Café, an archival live album containing selections from Young's tours with the Bluenotes, is thrilling in a whole new way.

Throughout, the horns aren't just a pastiche — they legitimately rock. After 23 mighty, blaring songs, including his Freedom classic "Crime in the City" and underrated epic "Ordinary People," you might feel pleasantly exhausted.

That said, if you're not right there with the audience member shrieking "Woooo!" during "Welcome to the Big Room," you might be made of stone. If you're seeking out selections from Young's ever-growing Archives series, miss this one at your peril.

Lou Reed — New York (1989)

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The adjective most often pinned on Lou Reed is "streetwise," but New York takes that tag and defines it literally. The rudimentary chord progressions, learnable after three guitar lessons, seem etched in chalk; the dense torrents of lyrics illustrate Reagan-era America.

"Those downtown hoods are no damn good/ Those Italians need a lesson to be taught/ This cop who died in Harlem/ You think they'd get the warnin'," the Velvet Underground leader intones in "Romeo Had Juliette," and the details spill out from there like that unfortunate law officer's blood.

Really, New York feels less like a rock record than a work of dense, engrossing journalism; no matter where or when you commune with it, there you are — right amid the social unrest and urban decay he's describing.

"Outside the city shrieking, screaming, whispering/ The mysteries of life," goes "Xmas in February" — as good a summation of Reed's boots-on-the-ground, head-in-the-ether art as any.

Daniel Lanois On Why A 1,000-Year-Old Tree Informed His New Album, Heavy Sun & Working With Bob Dylan, U2

Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

Jethro Tull in 1971

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

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Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' At 50: Ian Anderson On How Whimsy, Inquiry & Religious Skepticism Forged The Progressive Rock Classic

Ian Anderson wasn't sure if Jethro Tull's fourth album, 'Aqualung,' could beat the last three. But the 1971 album turned out to be their masterpiece, consolidating Anderson's feelings about homelessness, love, God and an overpopulated Earth

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2021 - 12:28 am

By now, Jethro Tull's "Aqualung" has been lampooned by everyone from Ron Burgundy to Tony Soprano, but the song's import goes many layers deeper than throwaway jokes. It arguably could save the world.

Sure, everybody remembers that thunderclap six-note riff and leader Ian Anderson's snarling portrait of a disreputable street dweller, "eyeing little girls with bad intent." What happens next in the song is less discussed.

Over tranquil acoustic strums, Anderson sings of the itinerant character not with disgust but with almost Christlike compassion. He paints a detailed portrait of his daily routine. He takes pity on his loneliness. Most tenderly, he addresses him as "my friend."

Fifty years after Aqualung was released on March 19, 1971, it's safe to say this attitude hasn't been evergreen. In an era of quick demonization, most wouldn't try to understand Aqualung's plight or even give him the time of day. 

"I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel—compassion, fear, embarrassment," Anderson tells GRAMMY.com of the title track. "It's a very mixed and contradictory set of emotions, but I think part of the way of dealing with these things is to try to understand why you feel those things."

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This spirit of open, honest dialogue imbues the entire album, which Anderson wrote and he, guitarist Martin Barre, bassist Jeffrey Hammond, keyboardist John Evan and drummer Clive Bunker performed. On "My God," "Hymn 43" and "Wind-Up," Anderson analyzed organized religion and its connection to God—or lack thereof.

"I don't believe you/ You've got the whole damn thing all wrong/ He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays," he proclaimed in "Wind-Up." Some foreign governments banned the album or bleeped out offending lyrics; Bible Belters burned it.

Is this how we should deal with offending art or those we find repugnant? To Anderson, the real solution begins with turning off social media and having authentic conversations. (Yes, even with those we can't stand.)

GRAMMY.com gave Ian Anderson a ring about the writing and recording of Aqualung, his complicated relationship with religion and why "ranting and raving on Twitter... does no good for anybody."

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Where was Jethro Tull at the dawn of the decade, between 1970's Benefit and Aqualung?

On tour in the U.S.A., a great deal of the time. The songs for Aqualung began—not all of them, but many of them—in Holiday Inns and similar premises through the Midwest of America. The song "Aqualung," I remember writing in a hotel. We had moved on to having separate rooms by then, so it gave me some privacy to write songs and I always had a guitar with me.

So, I remember calling Martin Barre and saying, "Hey, come up to my room. I want to run through a new song with you." He came to my room with his electric guitar—no amplifier, so I couldn't really hear what he was playing—and I showed him the essential riffs and chords through "Aqualung." He didn't imagine, as I did, how it would sound if it was plugged into an amplifier turned up to [chuckles] number 11.

I said, "Trust me, trust me. Play this riff and it's going to be a big thing." I had an acoustic guitar and he wasn't plugged in, so you had to have faith and try to use your imagination. But as a record producer, that's what I was supposed to have, so I figured I would be able to demonstrate the drama and the contrast in the song when it came to playing it on stage.

I think "My God" was another early one that was written—and, in fact, performed—during the summer of 1970. It had slightly different lyrics, but it was one of the first songs that was complete for the Aqualung album. Many of the rest followed on toward the end of the year, and some of them were written pretty much in the studio or around the time of the recording sessions. So, it was varied.

"Mother Goose," I remember that. That was pretty early on. That was in the summer of 1970 as well. So, it spanned a period of time, really, from the summer of '70 through to the end of the year, writing the music and recording. It was an experience, being an album that suffered a little bit from production problems in the then-brand-new studio that Island Records had built from a converted church. 

It wasn't a great place to work in. The big room, the big church hall was not a nice sound. Led Zeppelin were in the studio underneath in the crypt, which was much smaller and cozier and had a very neutral sound. That was a much easier place to work in. They had it pretty blocked out for their session. We were in there maybe just once—we managed to get in to record there. 

But, yeah, it was a tricky album to make, and at the end of it, I wasn't really sure if it would be well-received, but it did OK. In the months and, indeed, the years following the release, it did much more than OK. It wasn't a really slow album, but it was a slow burn. It created a stir, but it was particularly in the year or two following the release that it became a flagship for Jethro Tull throughout the world.

Ian Anderson and Martin Barre in 1971.

What was the germ of the idea behind the title track? I understand you and your then-wife wrote it together, but what compelled you to write about a homeless person so poetically?

A photograph that she had taken. She was studying photography in London at the time and came back with some photographs of homeless people in the south of London. One particular one caught my eye and I said, "Let's write a song about this guy." Not trying to imagine much about his life, but more in terms of our reaction to the homeless. 

I felt it had a degree of poignancy because of the very mixed emotions we feel—compassion, fear, embarrassment. It's a very mixed and contradictory set of emotions, but I think part of the way of dealing with these things is to try to understand why you feel those things. Some of them are reasonable, perhaps, and some of them are unreasonable. 

But the song itself was one of the probably only two occasions I can think of in my life where I wrote a song with somebody else. Actually, that's not quite true—there were two or three very early songs I co-wrote with Mick Abrahams, our guitar player in the first year of Jethro Tull. But that's not something I normally do. I'm very private as a songwriter and find it much easier to be in isolation—in intellectual quarantine.

Aqualung is full of cynicism about organized religion. In past years, you've performed in churches and been involved in their preservation. But back in 1971, where was your head regarding that subject?

Oh, very much the same as it is today. I have a natural cynicism and questioning about all aspects of organized religion. It doesn't stop me from ultimately being a great supporter of Christianity in all of its many flavors. I thoroughly support the church, especially as we go through—I mean, 50 years ago, congregations were beginning to suffer, but the church still had pretty good attendance. 

These days, it really is an enormous struggle in a very secular world to give people the options. So many churches these days are financially at the tipping point of having to fail or go bankrupt. Some of the cathedrals in the U.K. I played in to raise money for them have been literally at the point of having to close them down, just because of lack of support and, ultimately, lack of a congregation.

I mean, there are some fairly well-off, big cathedrals that charge entrance fees because they are historic buildings or very grand, but the lesser cathedrals and most churches don't have any income except for the generosity of visitors. Of course, that mainly means the regular congregation leaving some money, and sometimes, a legacy from somebody who can afford to leave money behind for posterity. 

But it costs a lot of money to keep these places going. Even a little village church may still technically be open, but they only have a service once a month because they don't have a permanent priest. They have maybe a priest who looks after several different parishes and travels around taking it in turns to do a Sunday service.

It's tough times, and I'm very much in support of the idea that we should have that freedom to go into those historic buildings, which most of them are. In America, perhaps, not so, because you're a very young country. But a little village church somewhere could be a thousand years old.

It goes back, really, to Norman times. A lot of churches built in, say, 1100 or 1200, maybe they've changed a little bit along the way architecturally or the building of a new tower or chapel or whatever, but many of them really are between 500 and 1,000 years old, and that's something I think is something worth hanging onto while they still exist. Because one thing's for sure: we aren't going to build any more.

The Victorians did. The Victorians built a few big Gothic churches that were in the style of grand European churches, and so there are a few cathedrals in the U.K. that were built in 1700 crossing into 1800. By the mid-1800s, there was a revival in Gothic architecture, so the cathedrals that follow into the mid-1800s through to the turn of the century tend to be quite grand buildings. But I often feel they lack the buzz. They lack the atmosphere and the special spiritual charge of the truly ancient cathedrals.

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To me, what you're saying is reflected in "Wind Up." In that song, you're not bilious toward faith as a whole. Rather, you seem almost defensive of the essence of it—God, or the idea of God.

Yeah. I don't think we want to overstate it, but I remember the first time I went to the Vatican when I first traveled to Italy. I lasted about five minutes because I just found it so opulent and over-the-top. 

Catholicism does celebrate everything to do with art and gold-plated ornamentation. I found it very hard coming from a Protestant background in the Scottish-English churches, which were more Lutheran in their origins. Simpler, without a lot of ornamentation. So, I found Catholicism overwhelming and too obsessed with grandeur. 

I don't feel that way any longer. Many of the churches in Europe that I've visited and managed to go perform in are indeed Catholic churches. I'm perhaps more relaxed about the way in which people celebrate that because a lot of relatively poor, ordinary people see this as a symbol of the thing they can never aspire to having in terms of their own surroundings. That opulence, that grandeur gives them some comfort and tuning-in to the greatness of God, as they are taught.

But I'm not a believer. I must say. I'm not somebody who has faith, as such. I don't believe in certainties. I believe in possibilities and, occasionally, I believe in probabilities. So, if you were to put me on the scale of agnosticism of one to 10, you could probably put me down for a six, maybe a seven on a good day, in terms of confidence about there being that absolute cosmic power that we call God. 

While I greatly value the Bible, I view it as a gateway to spirituality in the same way that Islam is a gateway to spirituality and Hinduism and the world's great religions. They shouldn't be seen as absolute in terms of detail and being the only way to the truth. 

I find more acceptance in the idea that they are all different doors entering the same great building. You can come through the side door, the front door, the back door or descend from the rafters. There are lots of ways in. That's how I see religion. I place value on it, but I don't like it being pushed to me as a message of absolute certainty. 

As a child at school—14 years old, or whatever I was—I began to have feelings about the way I was being taught in regard to religion that expressed themselves in songs like "My God" and "Wind Up," for example.

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And a lot of Aqualung's power lies in how it deals not only with big subjects, but small, almost mundane ones. "Wond'ring Aloud" portrays this quiet, domestic scene. What was going on in that song?

Well, it's as simple as it is. I don't very often write love songs, as such, and that is. It's a simple, calm, domestic, comfortable, cozy-warm-blanket kind of a song. A bit of a rarity for me. I tend to be more in social realism, in terms of subject matter, but I do stretch to the more whimsical, surreal songs like "Mother Goose." And songs where I'm actually giving you a little more of an insight into my own emotions.

But mostly, I'm writing about people in a landscape—almost like actors on a theater stage. I don't do close-ups of people. I don't do pure landscapes without people. I like to study people in the context in which I see them. And that comes probably from my earlier years studying painting and drawing and, indeed, photography. I see things with the eye of a photographer or a painter, and then I put them to music and words.

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That perfectly encapsulates "Locomotive Breath," which sets characters against a wider landscape of capitalism run amok. Which is a theme you returned to later on with "Farm on the Freeway."

Well, the subject matter, yes, indeed. Things evolve, things change. We carry on with our expansion in terms of population and global economics. It's the reality that we have to face. 

But if there's one thing I think "Locomotive Breath" is about, it's more about population growth rather than anything else. It's talking about the material world, but as a result of a growing population, one which seemed, back in 1970, to be out of control. And if it seemed like that in 1970—well, goodness, it seems a lot more so now! 

Think about it this way. When I was born back in 1947, compared to now, the population of Earth has grown quite a bit. And if you were to ask the question, "Well, how much? 50%? 100%?" you would be surprised, I would expect, for me to tell you that since I was born, within the lifetime of one person—hopefully well within the lifetime of one person, in my case!—the population of planet Earth has slightly more than tripled. That should give pause for thought. In onegeneration, three times the population.

It clearly can't go on. There are signs, of course, that population growth in the so-called civilized Western world is slowing down. That the growth is below the threshold of sustainability, in the sense of fertility rates falling well below two through most of Europe. 

Perhaps not in America, where people like to have big families and brag about them. But in the pragmatic world of European countries and many countries elsewhere that are not technically part of Europe but within that great landmass, you see populations diminishing because people choose not to have large families. 

And so many women decide, given that they have a degree of freedom and the ability to be part of the choice, which they certainly didn't have 100 years ago. Now, they do, and they choose to have one child. Maybe two. Sometimes no children at all. So, on average, that falls to somewhere around 1.6 in the fertility rate on average around Europe.

But of course, in countries, particularly in Africa, we see that the fertility rate is somewhere up around five, six, seven. It continues to explode and brings with it, of course, overpopulation in some areas and the desperation to migrate from those areas to areas where people feel they have a better chance of survival and doing well. Add in climate change to that, and we have a recipe for mass migration in the next 50 years that will dwarf anything you've seen so far.

I would think Canada will be thinking of building a wall between the U.S.A. and Canada to stop you horny Americans from getting in!

Jethro Tull live in Germany, 1971.

Overpopulation was on your mind 50 years ago, and it still is. So were these themes of love and whimsy and religious hypocrisy. Then and now, did audiences have an accurate read on what you were trying to convey with Aqualung?

I don't really think I've ever given a great deal of thought to what audiences think or even what they want. It's not something that has ever driven me. It's an afterthought if, indeed, it's a thought at all. 

I do remember finishing the Aqualung album. After the very last session, it was so late in the night it was early morning, and the keyboard player John Evans and I went into a little cafe near Basing St. in London where the studio was, that had just opened, to do a very early breakfast. 

I remember saying to John, "What do you think? Do you think this is going to play well with our audiences and record-buyers and fans and the media?" He scratched his head and said, "I have absolutely no idea." I said, "Well, I'm a bit nervous, you know. I have my doubts it's going to hit the mark."

It was a bit nerve-wracking for the next month or two until the album was released. I did have my doubts that it was going to be a step upward from our previous album, Benefit. Either it was going to be the beginning of a new ascent to greater, loftier success, or it was going to be the beginning of the downhill slide. 

I felt it was an important album and it was relatively well-received at the time of its release in the U.K, but not overwhelmingly so. I think some of the subject material put some people off. But it was important that over the next year or two, it really did consolidate the onward surge of Jethro Tull's success in global terms. 

I mean, not global. It never did anything in China! But throughout Eastern Europe and Latin America and other places, it caught on.

But throughout Eastern Europe and Latin American places, it caught on. It might have taken a few more years to have penetrated. But Aqualung, by the mid-'70s, had become a very important and popular album throughout the European landmass, including Russia, and places where culture was very much not permitted. 

So, along with everything else, our music was banned in several countries, and it was only heard by people prepared to smuggle in bought, black-market copies, and make illegal tape copies to listen to. I do sometimes feel a sense of awe, really, in the degree to which people grew up, listening to Western rock music in defiance of the law. And potentially, a breach that would put them in prison. Or indeed, in Pinochet's Chile, even worse. 

So I thanked Mikhail Gorbachev personally when I met him some ten, 12 years ago, for being the man behind Glasnost and Perestroika. On his watch, Jethro Tull and The Beatles were the first acts from the West to be officially released on the Russian state record label Melodiya.

Was the record banned for its religious commentary? What was the deal there?

In some places, it was. For example, in Spain, in the final dying moments of Franco's fascist regime, it was indeed banned from the radio. Some words were bleeped out as well. I remember in the Bible Belt of the U.S.A., people were burning copies of Aqualung.

Jesus.

In the Evangelical South, it was seen to be sacrilegious and attracted a fair amount of attention. It had a little bit of notoriety attached to it. But, in Russia, it was just Western music generally. As indeed in some of the world's other countries, it was forbidden, verboten, because it was Western, decadent rock music, and it could seduce the youth and cause mayhem, madness, upheaval and revolution. 

But in Gorbachev's time, I think he wisely released that it was time to gently release the safety valve and create a bit more freedom. And while, of course, he had nothing whatsoever to do with saying, "Oh, we'll release Jethro Tull. I've always liked them!" That's not what happened. It was just, he created an atmosphere where that could come about. 

And so, I think we saw the end result is not only a growth of popularity and accessibility of Western rock music, but it also encouraged many of the homegrown rock bands to actively and more publicly pursue their dreams without fear of arrest. Which is a good thing.

Ian Anderson imitating the Aqualung cover art in 2011.

That level of censorship is alarming to me. Because it's not a record of blunt, ugly atheism; it's yearning and nuanced on that subject. Do you feel this one-dimensional attitude has taken hold in the 21st century as well?

I think I find that one-dimensional attitude liberally dispensed around the Old Testament of the Holy Book. That's what people go for. They like things black-and-white, and simple and direct, and they like a little bit of fear and diatribe and retribution thrown in. It's what happens.

But, of course, in our much more accessible world in terms of media, and social media in particular, people are able to express views instantly, loudly, even if sometimes they might regret them. And black-and-white is the order of the day, so everything is polarized and divisive. 

And I think, America, perhaps, more than any country in the world is an absolute demonstration of that, in terms of the way politics have divided a nation. And the degree to which people might have had a genuine and positive and valuable feeling of loyalty to their country, it's become so split and polarized that I think past ways of looking at it have now become very hard to grasp. 

Being a two-party system unlike Europe where there are many parties—and obviously, coalitions come about as a result of the failure of any party to achieve a massive level of superiority. In your country, it's essentially two parties, first past the post, and that's it. But, in fact, it's not it because, of course, you then contest the election result, and claim it was stolen. 

So, it's a tough world these days, and I think we have a real problem on our hands, collectively. Not just in the U.S.A., but collectively, as a result of populist politics and the divisiveness that seems to go with it.

If we're not allowed to unpack and examine these complicated subjects as you did on Aqualung, we're going to have a sad, withered society. How do we restore nuance to the public discourse so we're not firing professors over tweets?

I think it is exactly by that. By having conversations as opposed to ranting and raving on Twitter, which does no good for anybody. I think it's about listening to other peoples' points of view and trying to understand them, even if don't agree with them. If you don't arrive at an agreement, at least you've hopefully had a conversation and let people know how and why you have the views that you do.

Because to some extent, it is about the media environment. As you say, societal norms that you've grown up in.

Is the problem that we often smear the person or write them off before the conversation begins?

Yeah. I think you've got to give people a chance, and sometimes you have to be discrete, and you can't always say what's on your mind.

I think my views of the Republican Party are of something a little bit more traditional, conservative, discrete, and gentlemanly. You can't actually describe the U.S. Senate in those terms today!

It's a little bent out of shape, and I personally think it's going to take a lot of calming down. People have to calm themselves down. But sore losers like Ted Cruz, or indeed Donald Trump, they're not going quietly into the background, they only see further opportunities to be exhibiting their extreme views, and trying to grab a bit more power. So, it's a scary world.

Ian Anderson live in Berlin, 2018.

I have a bit of a soft spot for George W. Bush. I felt he had a kind of gentlemanly spirit about him and a restraint. I don't know if you've ever read his book after his presidency was over. I'm assuming he didn't sit there and write every word himself, but it seemed very much the genuine sentiments of somebody who had, at least, painstakingly done it through a series of interviews. Or perhaps he had typed a lot of it out himself; I really don't know. 

But it was, I think, a mark of the man, that he demonstrated a degree of his own failings, his dependence, as a U.S president, on listening to the advice coming from people around him. Obviously, notably Rumsfeld and Cheney. He didn't badmouth them, but you could tell from his book that he was circumspect, I think, in hindsight, about some of the things that he was given to work with. 

He wasn't a great president, but he certainly wasn't a bad one. The world would be a much better place, right now, with George W. Bush as U.S president, than the previous one. And we are at this point, now, where we've got your oldest president—or to become president—the oldest man in historical terms to probably serve only a single term, before he has to hand it over to younger blood. 

But boy, did he inherit the second-worst gig on planet Earth right now! In a pandemic year, or two, to try to gradually bring America back to some kind of prosperity, and a degree of normalcy, against all the odds. And everybody's waiting to find every potential failing to try and make him look ineffectual. It's the second toughest gig on planet Earth.

And in case you weren't going to ask me, "Well, who's got the worst gig on planet Earth?" I'll tell you. It's Frank! Pope Francis! It's a really rough time to be the Pope. Because you're presiding over what appears, to many, to be a sinking ship. Catholicism throughout the world is losing ground rapidly, and his role can't be to overturn things at a single throw. It's got to be gentle and gradual.

Just like the U.S president has to work with the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Pope has to work with his cardinals, and indeed, throughout the world, with a lot of people who view him as being far too liberal. So, it's a tough gig, and I don't envy his role at all. Nonetheless, I think he's definitely, in my world, a great improvement over the last few.

You just laid out nuanced portraits of complicated, often vilified figures. To me, that spirit of conciliation runs deep in Aqualung. And Steven Wilson's excellent remix [from 2011] means we can commune with that message more directly than ever.

I'm not sure that it demonstrates itself as well as it might, when you listen to it only on Spotify, let's say.

What Steven has done, being a sensitive and careful person, with great respect for the music as it was originally unveiled, all that time ago—not just our music, but other people that he's worked with, on remixing. What he does is to clarify, to put a little sparkle into the audio by cleaning everything up, to get rid of all those hums and buzzes and clicks and bits of spurious noise between passages of music that the analog world couldn't do.

In digital terms, you can create so much more transparency with the old analog tapes, if you just patiently go back, tidying everything up, so that you hear what you hear, only when it has something to say, rather than being 24 tracks of crumbling, rumbling, spurious tape noise and hiss.

But he doesn't mess too much with either the stereo layout of the instruments or, indeed the balance of the instruments. He takes the original mixes as his model and refines it with great care and discipline, and above all, I think, respect for the original work. It's at its best when you hear it in a high-quality digital format, but for most people, of course, it's an MP3, or it's streaming from some platform. 

You probably still discern the differences, but it's at its best when you listen to it in higher quality. Even a very well-cut and -pressed vinyl album has a certain quality about it, these days. Much better than it did, back when I used to do it, in the '70s. Even though they're still using 1960s Neumann cutting lathes in the studios of the world, are still cut, master lacquers, for the industry. Even though it's ancient equipment, it's better understood, and it's maintained meticulously by people who are invariably music fans.

These days, you go into a cutting room, there's no smoking, there's no everything, it's air-conditioned, clean air, no dust, no mess, nothing to potentially ... It's more like laboratory conditions. And I saw that, actually, in Japan, when I went there, to JVC studios, in the early days of quadraphonic sound, and cutting the very first quadraphonic albums. Everybody was wearing face masks and white coats!

And I loved doing it back then; back in the early '80s. But the reality is that, these days, people take it so much more seriously, to get a good, clean, tidy cut. And they can do it. But, in the '70s, George "Porky" Peckham, one of the most famous cutting engineers that I used to work with, cut all the Led Zeppelin albums, as well as Jethro Tull, and a whole host of... everybody, I suppose, at that time. 

He always had a cigarette in his mouth, and he would lean over the master lacquer, peering through the microscopy to check the grooves, with ash dropping onto the master. So it would probably be true to say there are probably some Led Zeppelin albums where you can't smell George Peckham's cigarette, but you can hear it! Little bits of ash that found their way into the groove and had got pressed!

That's all I've got, Ian. Thank you so much.

Well, nice to talk to you. Take care. Hopefully, in months and years to come, the music industry will be back to some kind of positive and fruitful level of activity again in the U.S.A. We're nowhere near that yet, that's for sure. Maybe six months from now, I think, you should be, hopefully, in a position to begin to do concerts again.

We have a U.K theater tour booked in September, which I'm hopeful we will be able to do. But, every week that goes by, we cancel or postpone concerts into 2022, which we've already postponed since 2020. We're having to push them even further away since they're not going to be feasible for the next three or four months. 

We'll try and keep optimistic, and hope that we can all get back on the road.

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