Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” at fifty: An album that should have got them elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Saturday at 6:11 am
When you think about music from 1971, what comes to mind? Is it the legends of classic rock such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who, who are at the top of their game? Maybe the Singer-Songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, David Crosby and Graham Nash, who all released albums that sold in huge volumes.
What about Progressive Rock? It’s fairly down low in your thought process, but surprisingly 1971 was a big year for that genre of music. Emerson, Lake & Palmer released their second studio album, “Tarkus” and followed that up with their live album “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The band Yes also released two studio albums. First was “The Yes Album” followed later in the year by “Fragile.”
But the biggest prog album of 1971 belonged to Jethro Tull. “Aqualung” was their fourth studio album, but this was the record that put the band on the map. It was released to critical acclaim which led to huge record sales. Classic Rock has it at number thirty in their list of The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time. Rolling Stone magazine listed it at number 337 in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. “Aqualung” sold more than three million copies in the United States.
When you listen to the album fifty years later, it’s easy to understand all the accolades and sales. The songs that were great in 1971, hold up and are still great in 2021. “Cross-Eyed Mary”, “Hymn 43”, “Locomotive Breath” and the title track are still awesome rock and roll tunes. Yeah, the “sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent” lyrics of “Aqualung” were problematic back then and are even more so now, but the music of that song is so spectacular it makes you forget about the dude on the bench. The guitar solo from Martin Barre is legendary. In fact, the interplay between Barre’s guitar and Ian Anderson’s flute and vocals throughout the entire album is thrilling.
So the main question is how can a band that produced an album as great as “Aqualung” not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
If their only qualification was this album then their lack of membership might be questionable, but Jethro Tull produced an album each year from 1968 through 1980. Thirteen years, thirteen albums….many of them memorable and classics. Huge hits such as “Thick as a Brick”, “A Passion Play’, “Bungle in the Jungle” and “Too Old to Rock n Roll; Too Young to Die.” Altogether the band has dropped twenty-one studio albums with a new one due next year. Plenty of both quantity and quality.
One of the rumors concerning Tull’s non-induction was that Jann Wenner wasn’t a fan of the band. Wenner was one of the founders of the Hall and supposedly had a large influence on who was inducted. Many felt that he had too much influence.
Ian Anderson has also said many times that he doesn’t care about getting elected to the Hall of Fame. He said this in 1989 after winning a Grammy:
“It would be nice to be able to not talk about Grammys full stop, and even more so, the American Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. I mean, I find these (events) really rather tedious; it’s America, I don’t come from America, I don’t play American music, I don’t belong in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the Grammy thing was just a one-off little moment.”
You add those two things together and it’s understandable why Jethro Tull is not in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t make it right. Listening to the album “Aqualung” in its fiftieth year is a reminder of why they should have been elected years ago.
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