May 1 and Sunday, a good opportunity to run a classic. Today we take a closer look at a disc that came out 40 years ago.
Aqualung is the fourth studio album by the rock band Jethro Tull, released in 1971. It was their first album with John Evan as a full-time member, their first with new bassist Jeffrey Hammond and last album featuring Clive Bunker on drums. Aqualung has sold over 7 million units worldwide, and is thus Jethro Tull's best selling album.
The album was one of the first to be recorded at the newly opened studios of Island Records in Basing Street, London. Led Zeppelin were mixing their untitled fourth album at the same time. In an interview on the 25th anniversary edition of the album, Tull's bandleader Ian Anderson said that trying to record in their studio was very difficult, due to its "horrible, cold, echoey” feel. There were two recording studios at the location; Led Zeppelin worked in the smaller studio while Tull got the larger, which was the main body of a converted church. The orchestrals were arranged by David Palmer, who had worked with the band since This Was, and would later join as a keyboard player.
In a stylistic departure from Jethro Tull's earlier albums, many of Aqualung's songs are primarily acoustic. "Cheap Day Return", "Wond'ring Aloud" and "Slipstream" are short, completely acoustic "bridges," and "Mother Goose" is also mostly acoustic. Anderson claims his main inspirations for writing the album were Roy Harper and Bert Jansch.
The first side of the LP, titled Aqualung, contains several character sketches, including the eponymous tramp of the title track, and the schoolgirl prostitute Cross-Eyed Mary, as well as two autobiographical tracks; including "Cheap Day Return," written by Ian Anderson after a visit to his critically ill father. The second side, titled My God, contains three tracks — "My God," "Hymn 43" and "Wind-Up" — that address religion in an introspective, and sometimes irreverent, manner. However, despite the names given to the album's two sides and their related subject matter, Anderson has consistently maintained that Aqualung is not a "concept album”.
A 2005 interview included on Aqualung Live gives Anderson's thoughts on the matter:
I always said at the time that this is not a concept album; this is just an album of varied songs of varied instrumentation and intensity in which three or four are the kind of keynote pieces for the album but it doesn't make it a concept album. In my mind when it came to writing the next album, Thick as a Brick, was done very much in the sense of: 'Whuh, if they thought Aqualung was a concept album, O-O-K, we'll show you a concept album.' And it was done as a kind of spoof, a send-up, of the concept album genre. ... But Aqualung itself, in my mind was never a concept album. Just a bunch of songs.
The album's original cover art by Burton Silverman features a watercolour portrait of the title character, Aqualung. Ian Anderson recalls posing for a photograph for the painting, though Silverman claims it was a self-portrait. The rear cover shows a less-lecherous looking portrait of the same character sitting on a street-curb with a dog, a scene reminiscent of the band's photographic portrait with age make-up and a pack of dogs on their first album, This Was. The inner art on the fold-out cover showed portraits of the five band members in typical stage attire performing irreverent acts in a chapel. The original artwork for both the front and back covers are now privately owned by an unknown family, apparently having been stolen from a London hotel room.
Todays tune "Aqualung” is the title track from their Aqualung album. The song was written by the band's frontman, Ian Anderson, and his then-wife Jennie Franks. Like many of Jethro Tull's songs, "Aqualung" tells a story —in this case, the story of a homeless man who's pedophilic, dirty, and dripping snot. The original recording runs for 6 minutes and 34 seconds, the first six notes of "Aqualung" may well demonstrate Anderson's clear interest in Beethoven and his fifth symphony. Also, the song contains what might well be considered Martin Barre's most stunning and melodic guitar solo in his entire career. Twenty years later, after he laid down that solo, he said:
The only thing I can remember about cutting the solo is that Led Zeppelin was recording next door, and as I was playing it, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and waved to me. How I didn't stop playing I don't know, but I carried on somehow.
Aqualung performed live by Jethro Tull live at the Hippodrome in London on February of 1977
More info @ Jethro Tull Official Website
Listen to ”Jethro Tull - Aqualung" on Spotify here!
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