Jethro Tull

In our first episode we ranked the albums of Gordon’s favourite band when he was an awkward teenager: Jethro Tull.

John first got into them just after The Broadsword and the Beast came out, and Gordon followed a couple of years later having spent several months raiding John’s record collection, looking for inspiration to help him move on from his early Shakin’ Stevens fixation. Over the next few years, we saw them live dozens of times – the first being in 1986 when they supported Marillion at Milton Keynes Bowl and the “20 Years of” concert at Wembley Arena in 1987, the last being in Madrid in 2019.

In each podcast episode we talk through the artist’s history chronologically, picking our favourite tracks and ranking the albums as we go, so check that out if you want to know how we came to our decisions and why we picked the playlist tracks we did.

Our ranking and track picks are a compromise of our two different personal opinions, and of course we have to consider the Jeffrey Rulebook, it is also only a snapshot in time, so don’t take them too seriously! But do please comment below with your picks.

The Jethro Tull Jeffrey Podcast Playlist is also available here on Deezer.

See below for our full list:

21: Under Wraps (1984)

The 1980s was a cruel decade to many rock bands who, having flourished in the 1970s, sought to embrace new electronic sounds and the latest production trends.

You’ve got to tip your hat to any artist trying new things and refusing to get stuck in a musical rut or repeating the same old successful formula, but more often than not experiments fail, and this experiment fails big time – in short, ignore this album.

(Many Tull fans blame then keyboardist Peter-John Vettese who, unusually for Tull, gets quite a few writing credits across the two albums he appears on, for leading Ian and the band down the wrong path. In this interview on the Classic Rock Review channel Vettese disagrees, he sees this as Ian Anderson’s historical revisionism, arguing that Ian was keen to explore the new sounds and techniques of the decade himself).

Our pick: Heat

20: Rock Island (1989)

After the success of 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest of a Knave album, the band had a more settled line-up and sound, and seemed to have found their place again after a rocky period … and then they spaffed out this nonsense. It feels like a formulaic attempt to copy its predecessor, but is devoid of any of the charm or depth that made Crest work.

Our pick: Strange Avenues

19: J-Tull Dot Com (1999)

As with Rock Island, this feels like an attempt to copy its more-successful predecessor rather than create anything new or different. As with Rock Island, it misses its target by some margin, reaching a musical nadir with Hot Mango Flush, arguably the band’s worst ever song.

Our pick: Dot Com

18: Catfish Rising (1991)

A reasonably decent attempt to rediscover their bluesy-rock roots but in an up-to-date context. It’s inconsistent and mainly mines the obvious Tull tropes and although it has a few high points that are really worth listening to, on the whole it falls flat and feels overlong and just not very interesting.

By this point, the band has officially settled into being a four-piece with Anderson, Barre and Pegg now officially joined by regular drummer Doane Perry.

Our pick: Rocks on the Road

17: This Was (1968)

Jethro Tull’s debut album is not a bad album by any means, but it doesn’t sound much like a Jethro Tull album. The influence of guitarist and songwriter Mick Abrahams (who left after this album, to be replaced by Martin Barre) looms large, and Ian Anderson has yet to fully find his sound. It’s OK, and has some high points, but there’s much better stuff in the Tull catalogue to wrap your lugs around.

Our pick: A Song for Jeffrey

16: War Child (1974)

Another transition album that doesn’t quite work. The band was moving on from their early 70s prog-rock sound to a folkier and moodier feel. This album came out of the infamous Chateau d’Isaster tapes and includes some remnants of that period, as well as bits left from The Passion Play sessions. It definitely has some enticing atmospheric good bits (especially the title track), but mostly feels flat and humdrum in a way that Jethro Tull had never been up to this point.

Our pick: Skating Away On the Thin Ice of the New Day

15: A (1980)

An Ian Anderson solo album that turned into a Jethro Tull album for marketing reasons, and therefore became the breaking-point for that classic 1970s line-up – well, that’s the official story.

From this moment on Jethro Tull ceased to be much of a band and became Ian Anderson and whoever was standing behind him. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sound much like a Jethro Tull album.

The breakup may have been inevitable anyway as the increasingly exhausted band, grieving the tragic loss of bass guitarist John Glascock, needed a change. Drummer Barrie(more) Barlow had agreed with Ian that it was time for him to move on, and Dee Palmer’s time had come to an end too, but keyboard-player John Evan(s) was mega-miffed about the way he was treated. His larger-than-life personality and stage presence were sorely missed from this point.

The A line-up doesn’t feel like Jethro Tull at all, and Eddie Jobson (keyboards) and Mark Crainey (drums) only stayed for this one album, although new bass player, Dave Pegg, goes on to establish himself as a solid member of the team.

Our pick: Black Sunday (obviously!)

14: Songs From The Wood (1977)

The first of the late-70s folk-rock trilogy is a decent album, albeit too twee for its own good at times (Jack in the Green) – and with some quite uncomfortable pervy lyrics (Hunting Girl). Despite this, the sheer pleasure of hearing this cracking line-up of musicians at the top of their game, and hearing them develop a new sound that is really starting to click into place, makes this otherwise mediocre album worth spending some time with.

The concert below from The Capital Centre gives you a flavour of what we’re on about.

Our pick: Songs from the Wood

13: Stormwatch (1979)

The final installment of the folk-rock trilogy was recorded soon after the death of John Glascock (bass) and has a darker, more industrial feel. Consequently it’s not as accessible and takes a few more listens to get into it, but it’s worth the trouble of doing so. Not having a proper bass player for many of the songs (Ian Anderson fills in) is a drawback as Tull’s trademark bouncy bass-lines are missing. It could easily be switched in this list with Songs from the Wood, and probably should be, but we’re not re-recording the podcast now.

Our pick: Home

12: Too Old to Rock’n’Roll: Too Young to Die (1976)

Originally conceived as a musical, and recorded around the same time as A Minstrel in the Gallery, this is a solid rock concept album with surprisingly little flute playing for Tull. It has some fun poppy highlights, such as the title track, acoustic lovelies like Salamander, and the surprisingly moving vocal performance on the album’s closer: The Chequered Flag.

This is the first album to feature John Glascock on bass as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond retired to spend more time with his paintbrushes (and presumably drop the fake double-barreled surname).

The 1976 Tampa Bay Concert below nicely captures where the band were around this time, and it’s a jolly impressive place.

Our pick: The Chequered Flag

11. Heavy Horses (1978)

Easily the most successful of the folk-rock trilogy, this is a great album packed with loads of depth and atmosphere. The live album “Bursting Out” was recorded on the subsequent tour and nicely showcases the band’s strutting magnificence around this period.

Our pick: … And the Mouse Police Never Sleeps

10. The Broadsword and the Beast (1982)

The most successful of the early 1980s albums, this absurdly-titled gem managed to keep hold of the folk-rock vibe of the late 1970s but place it inside a more up-to-date electronic-y overcoat. Ian Anderson was reportedly always open to musical ideas from the rest of the band, but this is the first (since 1968’s This Was) that has significant writing credits for anyone other than IA himself – in this case, new keyboardist Peter-John Vettese.

The Steven Wilson remaster helps a lot, skimming off some of the worst 80s production nonsense.

Gerry Conway (drums) is the fifth member, but he only stays for this album. The following two albums don’t have proper drummers, but Doane Perry becomes their regular live drummer before joining the band proper.

Our pick: Slow Marching Band

9. Crest of a Knave (1987)

This Grammy-award-winning Dire-Straits-y one is a very decent follow-up to 1984’s underwhelming Under Wraps. Since Peter-John Vettese’s departure, the band had settled into being a three-piece (Anderson, Barre and Dave Pegg on bass) with soon-to-be regular drummer Doane Perry not yet properly established. The new sound is partly a result of Anderson’s vocal range being severely limited by damage to his voice on the Under Wraps tour – another reason to dislike that album – and partly just the band was finding a new direction. It works brilliantly, with a nice balance of atmospheric depth (Farm on the Freeway especially), obvious pop-song (Steel Monkey) and frivolous fun (Jump Start).

Our pick: Jump Start

8. Roots to Branches (1995)

A surprisingly good album for this late stage in their career. Roots to Branches manages to be a lot tenser and more interesting than any of the albums around it – nothing twee going on here – but its more worldly flavours see off the band’s longest-serving bass player, Dave Pegg, who, having become financially secure, picked this moment to head back to Fairport Convention full-time (Steve Bailey covering his absences on the album, but to be replaced properly by Jonathan Noyce).

This is the first album since 1984’s Under Wraps to feature an official keyboard player, Andy Giddings.

Our pick: Dangerous Veils

A very good album hiding away in their mid-1970s transition phase, less-good albums either side of it. Ian Anderson had always cut the jib of a Minstrel-type character, and in this album that trope becomes explicit, with the band exploring more medieval musical styling and ideas. It mostly works really well, although the noisy rocky title track feels a bit out of place.

The album would rank higher if Side One lived up to the lofty heights of Side Two.

Our pick: One White Duck / 010 = Nothing At All

6. Stand Up (1969)

The follow-up to the debut is a wonderfully fresh energetic bluesy-rock gem that sounded like nothing else at the time. It’s packed full of great tunes and jaunty energy, although feels a bit like a big bag of ace songs rather than a solid coherent album.

Original guitarist Mick Abrahams left before this was made (to be replaced by Martin Barre), and so already Ian Anderson is taking on the role of songwriter and undisputed band leader.

Our pick: We Used to Know

This also includes one of our favourite album covers:

Stand Up (Jethro Tull)

5. A Passion Play (1973)

A moody and odd successor to Thick as a Brick, this weird album is a bit inaccessible, and ruined by the ridiculous (but amusing) The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles, but once you do manage to break in, it is an incredible album, full of wonder and guile. Not one for the casual fan, and we wouldn’t pop it into anyone’s Jethro Tull starter-pack, but if you’re in for the long haul, you need to get to grips with this beast.

Our pick: Forest Dance (you can’t pick a single song because most of it is one long song, but this is a typical bit that gives you an idea)

Probably our favourite album cover:

A Passion Play (Jethro Tull)

4. Living in the Past (1972)

Not really a Tull album, but a collection of early non-album singles and b-sides, with one side lifted from a Carnegie Hall concert featuring two absolute crackers (Dharma for One and John Evan’s brilliant piano homage By Kind Permission Of …) but … despite not really being a proper album, it’s so bastard good that we decided to include it anyway because sometimes we just like to break our own rules – yes, life can get pretty dangerous on the Jeffrey Podcast.

Our pick: Life is a Long Song

3. Benefit (1970)

I can’t imagine how good this must have sounded in 1969, the original mix of blues, rock and acoustic is just gorgeous and it flows more coherently as an album than its predecessor. It feels a bit lost in their catalogue given the massive album that follows it, and perhaps isn’t as easily accessible as its neighbours, but it’s a beaut that needs your undivided attention.

It features John Evan and Dee Palmer, although neither are official members of the band – the 1970 Tanglewood concert below shows them morphing into the band that would release the mighty Aqualung the following year.

Our pick: With You There To Help Me

2. Aqualung (1971)

The first album to formally include John Evan(s) on keyboards in the band (an excellent move) and exclude Glenn Cornick on bass (a bad move), but the album is such an energetic cracker that it manages to survive the loss of such a wonderful musician. it doesn’t sound much like any of their previous albums, being a much less bluesy and more straight rock scattered with those short acoustic songs that were to become a Tull trademark.

Cornick’s replacement is Ian’s pal from Blackpool, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (after whom this podcast is named). Hammond is not really a musician (just as we’re not really music critics), to the frustration of the other members of the band, but he’s a lovely fella who brings a level of humour and bonhomie that helps keep the band afloat. John Evan – another Blackpool friend – also officially joins the band.

Our pick: Wind Up (but it could easily have been any track)

1. Thick as a Brick (1972)

After critics labelled Aqualung a concept album, Ian Anderson got a bee in his bonnet about concept albums and so produced the mother of all concept albums to satirise the genre and prog rock more generally. The satire fails because the band instead produce one of the most brilliant prog rock concept albums of all time.

The first to feature the final piece of the Blackpool puzzle, the wonderful Barrie(more) Barlow on drums – he replaced Clive Bunker who, having found love, didn’t want to be away constantly touring.

Our pick: Really Don’t Mind (you can’t really pick a song, because the entire album is a song, so just chose the first movement).

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