The Tull Ten: The Ten Greatest Jethro Tull Songs Of All Time
In honor of the great Ian Anderson’s birthday this week I give you the ten greatest Jethro Tull songs of all time.
I discovered the greatness of Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull the same way I discovered most of the classic rock artists played every day on i95 and that's through my older brother Marty. Marty is as big a Jethro Tull fan as there is. He's probably been to about 20 Tull concerts over the last three decades and a handful or so of Ian Anderson solo shows including those hosted by our friends at The Ridgefield Playhouse.
When I was just a kid Marty and his buddies from St. Thomas Junior High School in Southington formed their own Tull fan club you could say. I would see "Jethro Tull" written on my brother's book covers, he wore Jethro Tull concert t-shirts and had all his Jethro Tull albums propped up on display in front of the record player ready to be played at any time. The sound of the needle dropping on vinyl followed by the elegant piano opening of "Locomotive Breath" or the crunching guitar riff of "Aqualung" is permanently etched into my memory.
On many weekends Marty would throw a party at our house on Berkley Ave. He and his buddies would watch a Bruins game while cranking out Tull albums on the stereo. When a classic Ian Anderson flute solo kicked in Mart would usually go into his classic Ian impression. That's where he pretended to play a flute on one leg much like the great Ian Anderson would do in concert. I swear he was as into it as if it were Ian himself! It always led to a round of laughs and cheers from the guys.
Of course, as with most kids who first heard of Jethro Tull, I thought the guy with the flute was a guy named Jethro. Eventually, as I grew into my teen years, I not only got that his name wasn't Jethro but I also realized he was an amazing musician who created a slew of amazing songs. And so that leads me to this list.
P.S. I wrote this list while I was….SIT-TING ON A PARK BENCH!!!
"A New Day Yesterday" (1969)
This is Jethro Tull at their British Bluesy best. From 1969's 'Stand Up' album it is the first to feature Ian Anderson's long-time lead guitarist Martin Barre. The two had just begun their magical musical journey together and what a stellar way to begin.
"Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll, Too Young To Die" (1976)
Approaching the age of 30, Ian Anderson was already thinking about his future in the here today/gone tomorrow music business. He wrote this concept song about a character named Ray Lomas who was too old to rock 'n' roll but too young to die.
"Living In The Past" (1969)
Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have always taken pride in being different. Forget writing predictable music for the masses, choose the path least traveled. "Living In The Past" is a great example of that mindset.
Written in an unusual 5/4 time signature, the song defied the odds and climbed all the way to #11 on the US charts in the spring of '69.
"Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day)" (1974)
Some amazing acoustic guitar work on this track but the goose-bump time comes at the point you hear the "rabbit on the run" lyric. That's when the driving bass line kicks in and the song takes off.
Ian Anderson has admitted to writing this song with the sole purpose of creating a hit single. A very "un-Tull" like thing to do but, hey, if you're gonna write a pop song and it ends up sounding like this you can write all the pop songs you want Ian!
"Hymn 43" (1971)
The Jethro Tull album 'Aqualung' dominates the upper half of this top 10 list and for good reason. It is an undeniable classic.
This is one of Tull's most aggressive songs in their catalogue thanks to Ian Anderson's gritty vocals and Martin Barre's angst-filled guitar riffs.
"Thick As A Brick" (1972)
Ian Anderson calls 1972's 'Thick As A Brick' the "mother of all concept albums". The album is made up entirely of one song clocking in at 43:46. There is, however, this three-minute radio single version which is one of Jethro Tull's sweetest-sounding moments.
"Cross-Eyed Mary" (1971)
The next track on this list from the 'Aqualung' album includes my favorite Jethro Tull song-opener. About a school-girl prostitute, Anderson and his band lead in with a dark and devious arrangement followed by a killer Martin Barre riff.
"Locomotive Breath" (1971)
"Locomotive Breath" is a progressive rock classic. The classical piano opening, the menacing guitar riff and a flute solo by Ian Anderson that defies human logic. How can a flute possibly be considered rock and roll? Just listen to this song and you'll hear how.
This is the defining song of Ian Anderson's career. From the soft, contemplative moments of "Aqualung my friend don't you start away uneasy" to the aggressive muscle of "Sit-ting on a park bench!" Ian is masterful. Add the amazing musicianship of the classic Jethro Tull lineup and you have a masterpiece.
There are those few classic rock songs that have become as iconic as the band themselves. The Eagles have "Hotel California", Led Zeppelin has "Stairway To Heaven", Lynyrd Skynyrd has "Freebird" and Jethro Tull has "Aqualung".