I was walking around with my Yes shirt on today, my day off, running certain errands. The first portion of these errands took me to Guitar Center, for a connector for my record player, and I saw a Dark Side of the Moon mug on sale there, which looked pretty bitchen, really. The tour next took me to Martin’s, our grocery store here, where the bagger complimented me on my shirt, hence initializing a three-minute conversation about classic rock. The girl working the register said her parents had listened to Pink Floyd so much that she now hated them. The bagger said he thought Led Zeppelin was weirder than The Wall, which is an unsettling thought, to say the least. Somehow, it never occurred to me to bring up Jethro Tull. And maybe that’s their formative trait.
I mean, they are still absent from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in a probably all-time egregious display of “politics” infiltrating artistic survey. The story, as far as I know, goes something along the lines of Jethro Tull having absenteed from the Grammys in the late ’80s, under the impression that they stood no chance of winning, to then unexpectedly outpace Metallica for the award, the band’s non-participation then not, apparently, sitting right with certain bigwigs in Cleveland, who’d be inclined to rub shoulders with the award-doling genteel, in true “rock and roll fashion,” of course. They’re also a drug-free work environment, interestingly enough. Ian Anderson has been known to express ambivalence for his band’s failure to make it into the hall, saying things along the lines of “I don’t make American music.” Surely, anyone who doubts that the British invented classic rock needs a significant bolstering of perspective.
So Jethro Tull is like the Olivia Newton-John of classic rock, enit? Well, hold up here: one feather in their cap is that Stand up (1969), probably their best album this side of Benefit (1970), has been the beneficiary of two “re-release” treatments, which, between the two of them, span seven CD’s and a total of 106 tracks. Someone out there seems to be a fan of Jethro Tull other than me and my mom, in other words. Coulda fooled me.
But along with the obstinately uncooperative sneer from the RRHOF, I just noticed, troublingly, that Tull doesn’t seem to be played on any radio station here in “Michiana,” which is the corny word for, basically, the greater South Bend area encompassing parts of both Indiana and Michigan. A decade or two ago, we had 95.3 WAOR (which I believe stood for adult-oriented rock), which, I remember, held “Aqualung” in its back pocket as a go-to ace, along with “Living in the Past” and “Locomotive Breath,” to name just a few, as auxiliary royalty. Today, basically, there are two of what I’d like to call “corn-ball oldies” stations, each of which dishes out a nauseating peal of Phil Collings, Elton John and Styx and crap like that, and then 107.1 out of Benton Harbor, which is kind of like if a pack of Marlboro Reds became anthropomorphic and started a radio station. They would no doubt view Jethro Tull as “sissy.”
But is Jethro Tull really “sissy”? I mean, “Aqualung” rocks out like a world-class Clydesdale, that solo from Martin Barre, who, mind you, beat out Tony Iommi for the spot in the band, probably one of the more underrated solos in classic rock. The first song on the dynamic, indefatigable Stand up is pretty much heavy metal, in style, and not a moment late in such an interface, coming as it did in 1969, before Sabbath’s first album and roughly concurrent with Zep’s first. Cream was already old news, at this point, for Christ’s sake.
Anyway, as far as I know, there’s nothing leaping out at me to ensure me that anybody in the year 2071 will know who the Heck this band is. We’ve just, after all, passed the 50-year anniversary of Benefit, an undeniable classic album, and nobody seemed to particularly care that that was happening. To my fault, I was kind of late getting into Benefit, favoring the brightly textural madness and pastoral euphoria of Stand up. Just a second ago, I listened to “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” again, the second track on this album. There’s just simply not a mundane sound on the entire track. Martin Barre chimes in on this liquid-y, otherworldly electric guitar, with Ian Anderson answering promptly on flute, for bongos and bass then to arrive as the only additional two instruments. The song plays as a veritable orchard of sound and beauty, though, epitomizing the general penchant of Ian Anderson to maximize his resources, a knack that must have snowballed in him growing up poor in Blackpool, England. But even if his band today remains the ostensible “red-headed stepchild” of classic rock, at least we know he wasn’t destined for a pauper’s grave, no matter how many times he’s changed the frickin’ lineup of his band over the years.