Jethro Tull: Aqualung (1971)

Aqualung is the fourth studio album by the rock band Jethro Tull. Released in 1971, Aqualung, despite the band's disapproval, is regarded as a concept album featuring a central theme of "the distinction between religion and God". The album's "dour musings on faith and religion" have marked it as "one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners". Aqualung's success marked a turning point in the band's career, who went on to become a major radio and touring act. Recorded at Island Records' studio in London, it was Jethro Tull's first album with keyboardist John Evan as a full-time member, their first with new bassist Jeffrey Hammond and last album featuring Clive Bunker on drums. Something of a departure from the band's previous work, the album features more acoustic material than previous releases; and —inspired by photographs of homeless people on the Thames Embankment taken by singer Ian Anderson's wife Jennie— contains a number of recurring themes, addressing religion along with Anderson's own personal experiences. Aqualung has sold over 7 million units worldwide and is thus Jethro Tull's best selling album. The album was generally well-received critically, and has been included on several music magazine best of lists. The album spawned one single, "Hymn 43".


After an American tour in 1970, bass player Glenn Cornick was fired from the band, and was replaced with Jeffrey Hammond, an old friend of Ian Anderson's. Aqualung would be the first recording Hammond would do with the band. It would also mark the first time John Evan had recorded a full album with the band, as his only prior involvement was to overdub several keyboard parts on the previous album, Benefit. The album was one of the first to be recorded at the newly opened studios of Island Records in Basing Street, London. 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, because of its "horrible, cold, echoey" feel. The orchestrals were arranged by David Palmer, who had worked with the band since 1968's This Was, and would later join as a keyboard player. Aqualung would be the last Jethro Tull album to include Clive Bunker as a band member, as he retired shortly after recording to start a family. The songs on the album cover a variety of musical genres, with elements of folk, blues, psychedelia and hard rock. The "riff-heavy" nature of tracks such as "Locomotive Breath", "Hymn 43" and "Wind Up" is regarded as a factor in the band's increased success after the release of the album, with Jethro Tull becoming "a major arena act" and a "fixture on FM radio" according to AllMusic. 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  folk musicians Roy Harper and Bert Jansch.


Aqualung has widely been regarded as a concept album, featuring a central theme of "the distinction between religion and God". The album's "dour musings on faith and religion" have marked it as "one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners". Academic discussions of the nature of concept albums have frequently listed Aqualung amongst their number. The initial idea for the album was sparked by some photographs that Anderson's wife Jennie took of homeless people on the Thames Embankment. The appearance of one man in particular caught the interest of the couple, who together wrote the title song "Aqualung". The first side of the LP, titled Aqualung, contains several character sketches, including the eponymous character 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, Oh! Okay, 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."

Cross-Eyed Mary

Drummer Clive Bunker believes that the record's perception as a concept album is a case of "Chinese whispers", explaining "you play the record to a couple of Americans, tell them that there's a lyrical theme loosely linking a few songs, and then notice the figure of the Aqualung character on the cover, and suddenly the word is out that Jethro Tull have done a concept album". The thematic elements Jethro Tull explored on the album, those of the effects of urbanisation on nature, and of the effects of social constructs such as religion on society, would be developed further on most of the band's subsequent releases. Ian Anderson's frustration over the album's labelling as a concept album directly led to the creation of Thick as a Brick (1972), intended to be a deliberately "over the top" concept album in response.

My God

"Lick Your Fingers Clean" was recorded for Aqualung, but was not included on the album. The song was drastically re-worked as "Two Fingers" for Tull's 1974 album, War Child. "Lick Your Fingers Clean" was eventually released in 1988 on the 20 Years of Jethro Tull collection. It was then released as a bonus track on the 1996 and 2011 reissues of Aqualung. Another song, "Wond'ring Again" was recorded in early sessions in 1970 and considered for release on the album before Anderson decided to drop it from the final tracklisting. It was subsequently released on the compilation album, Living in the Past, in 1972. However, elements of the song, essentially its coda, were included on Aqualung as "Wond'ring Aloud". Glenn Cornick played bass on the song and says it is his favourite song he recorded with the band. Cornick also played bass on early studio recordings of "My God" and "a couple of other songs".

Album cover

The album's original cover art by Burton Silverman features a watercolour portrait of a long haired, bearded man in shabby clothes. The idea for the cover came from a photograph Anderson's wife took of a homeless man on Thames Embankment, and Anderson later felt it would have been better to have used the photograph rather than commission the painting. Ian Anderson recalls posing for a photograph for the painting, though Silverman claims it was a self-portrait. The artwork was commissioned and purchased by Chrysalis Records head Terry Ellis. Artist Silverman claims the art was only licensed for use as an album cover, and not for merchandising; and approached the band seeking remuneration for its further use. Silverman and Anderson have different accounts of level of enmity involved in this. 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.

Locomotive Breath


In April 1971, Aqualung peaked at number 4 on the UK Album Chart; when the CD version was released in 1996, it reached number 52. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Music Charts' North American pop albums chart. The album would go on to sell over seven million copies, and is the band's best-selling album. Aqualung was one of only two Jethro Tull albums released in quadraphonic sound, the other being War Child (1974). The quadraphonic version of "Wind Up", which is in a slightly higher key, is included on the later CD reissue of the album as "Wind Up (quad version)". The album's only single was "Hymn 43", which was released on 14 August 1971. It reached number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, spending two weeks in the chart. The song was the first single released by the band in the United States. It was later included in the video game Rock Band 2 as downloadable content; which also featured the album's title track. Aqualung received favourable reviews from contemporary music critics. Rolling Stone magazine's Ben Gerson lauded its "fine musicianship", calling it "serious and intelligent", although he felt that the album's seriousness "undermined" its quality. Sounds said that its "taste and variety" made it the band's "finest" work. Aqualung was voted the 22nd best album of 1971 in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll. In a retrospective review, Allmusic's Bruce Eder called Aqualung "a bold statement" and "extremely profound". Steve Harris, the bass player for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, has called Aqualung "a classic album", lauding its "fantastic playing, fantastic songs, attitude and vibe". Iron Maiden would go on to cover "Cross-Eyed Mary" as the B-side of their 1983 single "The Trooper". In a review of the album's 40th anniversary re-release, Sean Murphy of PopMatters said that Aqualung "is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did and does exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period". Rolling Stone included it on their list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", at number 333, whilst UK magazine Q listed it a number 7 in their "40 Cosmic Rock Albums" countdown. Martin Barre's solo on the album's title track was included in Guitarist magazine's list of "The 20 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time" at number 20.

Track listing:
Side 1–Aqualung
1. Aqualung (6:34)
2. Cross-Eyed Mary (4:06)
3. Cheap Day Return (1:21)
4. Mother Goose (3:51)
5. Wond'ring Aloud (1:53)
6. Up to Me (3:15)
Side 2–My God
1. My God (7:08)
2. Hymn 43 (3:14)
3. Slipstream (1:13)
4. Locomotive Breath (4:23)
5. Wind-Up (6:01)


Jethro Tull:
Ian Anderson–vocals, acoustic guitar, flute
Martin Barre–electric guitar, descant recorder
John Evan–piano, organ, mellotron
Jeffrey Hammond–bass guitar, alto recorder and odd voices (and backing vocals on "Mother Goose")
Clive Bunker-drums and percussion

Additional personnel:
John Burns–recording Engineer
David Palmer–orchestral arrangements and conduction
Burton Silverman–album artwork