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Top 10 Jethro Tull Songs

How good was Jethro Tull? If you don’t know, then sit down and take a listen. Tull was unique; there was nothing like them before and nothing since. So, I decided to try and select the Top 10 Jethro Tull songs, but that is easier said than done.

They originally became known in the Luton area, just north of London, and they began to play the London clubs a year later. The original members had attended school together in Blackpool. Ian Anderson was born in Scotland, and his family moved to Blackpool before his teenage years.

They started playing in the northwest but moved down to Luton in 1967. People generally thought they were okay playing their mixture of blues, rock, and jazz. I was fortunate enough to see them in 1968, and I would agree, they were pretty good.

But then, there was a change… 

Micky Abrahams was replaced on lead guitar by Martin Barre, and suddenly they weren’t “okay” anymore. They were now very good. That change brought the best out of the flutist, acoustic guitarist, composer, and singer of Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson.

Top 10 Jethro Tull Songs

Progressive Rock On One Leg

The sound became Progressive Rock in its purpose but contained elements of Folk Music and Jazz. They became almost medieval with their look and some of the music. It was a sensation at the time and still is. On stage, they were something else, as you can see here, Progressive Rock on only one leg. Okay, I’ll carry on after you’ve got your breath back.

The early 70s was probably their high point. As time went on, there were personnel changes and a difference in style. But, Jethro Tull’s live shows always contained the best of what they had produced. So, let’s take a look at what that was and try to narrow it down to just Jethro Tull’s Top 10 songs.

Top 10 Jethro Tull Songs

10
Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die

This is a track from their 1976 album of the same name. It was a concept album that followed the life of an aging rocker who finds fame later in life as musical trends change. It features an array of instruments. And changes styles between the Folk-Rock we know them for to a softer ballad style that includes strings.

The Concept

The idea behind the song and the album is that all things in music go in circles. What is in favor today can become irrelevant quickly. But it will come around again.

Some people thought this was a bit of a poke at the Punk Rock movement. Its emergence changed the style of music and pushed Tull to the sidelines in terms of popularity. The album wasn’t a great success critically. But it still reached #25 on the UK album chart and #14 in America.

9
Hymn 43

Let’s make our first visit to what many believe was Jethro Tull’s best albumAqualung, from 1971. Musically, there is so much going on in this track. Some great piano playing and a Martin Barre riff, of course. It is a Rock song in anybody else’s hands. With Tull, it manages to retain a little of the Folk-Rock feel they were creating in the early 70s.

Anderson grew up in a religious household. He showed little sympathy for mainstream Christianity, but he was interested in the religion’s Jewish roots.

Classic Anderson

The song takes a potshot at the “Jesus culture” that exists in America, how people use the name to make money. And also how people kill and justify it similarly by using a name. 

It is a classic Ian Anderson song, despising the hypocritical culture that surrounds organized religions. Note the plural “religions.” So, it applies to all of them that use a belief system to get control over people.

It isn’t an anti-religious song; rather, it is an anti-hypocrite song. Those that complained the loudest fell into one of the categories. “Hymn 43” was released as a single, but needless to say, it wasn’t a commercial success.

8
My God

Let’s stay with Aqualung for another song and another of Anderson’s compositions laced with religious imagery. In contradiction to those who aimed attacks at the song about being “anti-God,” it is no such thing. It is anti-hypocrisy, something he quite rightly saw as inherent, especially in Christianity. 

A ‘pop’ at the religious establishment…

He refers to how people bend the meaning of religion to line their pockets. He refers to the Church of England and the blood they historically have on their hands. 

Some neat acoustic guitar takes us into an almost Sabbath-like riff and feel. Morose and rather heavy, the music highlights the dark lyrics. As the song progresses, there is still room for some good Martin Barre guitar and a fascinating and highly-skilled flute solo. Then we return to the main theme.

7
To Cry You A Song

A track taken from their third studio album, Benefit, released in 1970. This is a track that is often voted as one of people’s favorite Jethro Tull songs. It has plenty of what you expect. And, once again, Martin Barre comes up with a very recognizable and balanced riff.

It is a song that portrays Anderson’s feelings as he gets off a plane and returns home to his family. We must assume after a tour or some time away. And, when he sees his wife, he says that the smile in her eyes “was never so sweet before.” A different side to the writing of Ian Anderson for this track.

6
The Witch’s Promise

This is a track that was not included in an album. Instead, it was meant to be the follow-up to the singles “Living In The Past” and “Sweet Dream,” both of which had been successful. It was recorded at Morgan Studios in West London and reached #4 on the UK chart. Later, it was included in a compilation album, Living In The Past.

“The Witch’s Promise” moved them away from their Blues-influenced tracks and incorporated more of a Folk sound. Plenty of acoustic guitars and a flute added to an almost medieval-like vocal. It becomes a little more Rock-influenced as the song progresses. But, it never really moves away from its Folk origins. Great track and so typical of them.

5
War Child

An interesting choice for the Top 10 Jethro Tull songs, I would think. This wasn’t ever released as a single and is the opening track taken from the 1974 album of the same name.

“War Child” does not follow the style of Tull that we had grown accustomed to. That is the reason I have included it here. The song starts with the sound effects of wars and battles.

Following on from “Passion Play,” it was always going to be hard to match that and their previous albums. The critics didn’t like the album, or most of the tracks on it. Commercially, though, it did okay, reaching #2 in America and #14 in the UK.

4
Living In The Past

Just like “The Witches Promise,” this popular Jethro Tull song was a non-album single released in 1969. “Living In The Past” rose to #3 on the UK chart making it Jethro Tull’s most successful single.

Once again, a very medieval-type style with some great flute and melody. It is written in 5/4 time, which adds a little to the interest value. Anyone who can remember this was released will always drift back to the late-60s and early-70s. It was later included in a compilation album of the same name in 1972. That album reached #8 on the UK album chart and #3 in America. 

3
Wind Up

For my top three, I am going back to the magical album, Aqualung. Released in 1971, it was a musical work that defined Jethro Tull in many ways. It is a song that is full of imagery of Anderson’s childhood. Especially his religious upbringing. He was taught to listen and not question anything. The song is aimed at those who just go through the motions of their religion.

He talks about leaving there with “their God” tucked under his arm. Then, he makes possibly the most profound statement of any of his songs. He says he asks their God a question, and God replies that he ain’t the sort you have to “wind up on Sundays.” Presumably, like a clock to make it work. A scenario Anderson would have been very familiar with from his youth.

The Title?

It was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, it is the last track on the album, Winding Everything Up. Secondly, Anderson knew it would “wind up” the leaders of the mainstream churches. He loved to do that on occasion.

As a famous Jethro Tull song from the early 70s, we inevitably get a Martin Barre riff halfway through, and away we go. The lyrics are still meaningful but now with some musical power to emphasize them. 

It ends the way it started, with a nice piano part. And Anderson’s parting shot saying that he doesn’t believe you because you have got the “whole damn thing all wrong.” Ouch! More than a great track; a great song with a whole lot of truth to it.

2
Aqualung

The opening song and one of the most powerful lyrically. I am not sure some of the lyrics, especially in the first verse, would get by the censors today. But that’s another story.

The inspiration for the song came to Anderson through visual images of homeless people his then-wife had taken. She had taken the images on the embankment of the River Thames. Anderson admitted homeless people always scared him as a child, which brought forth a rather stereotypical album cover.

Another great track with style changes, and back again. And, of course, the by-now ever-present guitar riff that Martin Barre always seems to be able to create. Those riffs added an extra dimension to some very Folk-based songs.

1
Locomotive Breath

And so, to my choice for the best Jethro Tull song. A powerful song with another great riff that, along with the bass and drums, drives the song along. The hammer-and-slide bass notes behind the verse are especially creative.

It is a song about a man who is watching his life fall apart around him, and Anderson’s lyrics do require a little bit of thought. The piano intro from John Evan, which in my opinion, deserves an award on its own, starts us off. Then, the track goes into an all-out Rock song with a frantic flute solo (on one leg, of course) in the middle.

Someone once said to me about the production and how good it was. Plenty going on, but no instrument stepping all over something else. And a great guitar sound, given the time. A devastatingly brilliant track and the perfect ending to the list.

Want More Great Music From the 70s?

Well, check out our thoughts on the Best 70s Rock Songs, the Best 70s Rock Bands, the Best 70s Songs, the Most Famous Singers Of The 1970s, and the Most Famous Black Singers Of The 1970s for lots more incredible song selections.

Top 10 Jethro Tull Songs – Final Thoughts

How good was Jethro Tull? That’s the question I broached in the first line of this article. Well, very good indeed is the answer. It must be said that Ian Anderson, singer, flutist, and, of course, composer was the driving force. On stage, he was mesmerizing. Twirling the flute in one hand like Pete Townshend twirled his guitar. And playing it like a virtuoso.

But they all played a part in creating the sound of Jethro Tull. None more so than Martin Barre, whose lead guitar work was always very special. A great band, with great songs, and this list just scratches the surface.

Until next time, happy listening.

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