Friday, February 17, 2017

INTERVIEW: The Real Story Behind Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung'

by Joe Bosso, Music Aficionado:!/article/the_real_story_behind_jethro_tull_aqualung_by_joebosso

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
Jethro Tull had already hit the top spot on the U.K. charts with their 1969 release, Stand Up, but success in America was a harder nut to crack.

Their third album, 1970's Benefit, came this-close to the U.S. Top 10, but stopped one mark short, landing at No. 11. It wasn't until the band issued their landmark album Aqualung in 1971 that the doors to mainstream acceptance flung open in a big way, with the record going all the way to No. 7.

The album, a deft mix of pastoral folk-rock, thundering proto-metal and nascent prog, is generally regarded as Jethro Tull's undisputed masterpiece. But as Ian Anderson tells Music Aficionado, he wasn't initially sure that the record's broad blend of styles was a slam-dunk.

"We were getting quite esoteric on the album, and I felt that we might have pushed things too far in that regard," he says.

"What gets you noticed in one territory might not have the same appeal elsewhere. The record had a lot of more acoustic singer-songwriter material on it, and Jethro Tull had become thought of as more of a rock band. The riffy rock material had a pretty immediate appeal to live audiences, so I felt reasonably confident and gratified. But you never know until you put it out, and then the record did very well, so it all worked."

Many fans have called 'Aqualung' a concept album, but you've always maintained that it isn't anything of the sort.

It was never a concept album in my eyes. Yes, it certainly set out with the idea that there would be a few songs that kind of hung together, but there were a whole bunch of songs that didn't have anything to do with the others. When it came to the artwork for the album cover, which I rather left in terms of the pictorial images to our then manager, Terry Ellis, I thought that that would be best illustrated in terms of text by trying to give it some sense of order, by making it hang together a little bit more as a package. I guess that's what made people think it was a concept album.

I've always felt it a little difficult to deal with in response to the allegations that it was a concept album. As I said, it wasn't. There were just a few songs as I say that were in a similar vein and on a general topic of, I suppose, religion and growing up, and I still to this day would not call it a concept album by any means. Of course, speaking to the concept album question, I said, "I'm going to get my comeuppance next time around," and we did with Thick as a Brick, something quite surreal and preposterous - and we got away with it [Laughs].

As you mentioned, 'Aqualung' has some incredible riffs, like the title track, Hymn 43, Cross-Eyed Mary and Locomotive Breath. What was your process for writing them?

Oh, just sitting with a guitar in a Holiday Inn or somewhere on tour, and hoping that I came up with something. I was probably sharing rooms with [bassist] Glenn Cornick at that point - we weren't able to afford separate rooms then. Luckily, Glenn was a party guy, so he liked to go out a lot and meet people and do things, and I could sit in the room if it was a day off and try to come up with some tunes. But they all began very much on the acoustic guitar, and then you try to imagine taking them into the world of large-scale rock rather than hearing them as singer-songwriter acoustic-y things.

You've talked about being influenced by people like Roy Harper and Bert Jansch. Were those guys in your mind when you wrote the acoustic-oriented tracks?

Yes, there was certainly an influence from both of those people. I knew Roy Harper a bit. We'd done some shows together and appeared, I think, at the very first concert in Hyde Park. It was Jethro Tull, T.Rex, and, I think, Pink Floyd and Roy Harper. The previous year I'd met Bert Jansch, and I think we saw Pentangle play somewhere in Boston when they were staying in the same Holiday Inn as we were. I was aware of those guys, and some of them I liked and some of them I didn't, but the other thing was that I was never at that point really into any of the equivalent singer/songwriter, acoustic guitar type act in the U.S.

Simon and Garfunkel just passed me by, and even when I first heard Bob Dylan, he rather grated on my ear. I found his very Americana-Midwest kind of lyric and singing style rather … it didn't appeal to me. Later on I appreciated what an important artist he is, of course. But the English artists who were in that vein, who drew upon some of the more original English kind of themes or traditional English and Scottish and Irish folk music, I don't think they were ever as successful as were those two or three American artists who did big things with an acoustic guitar and carefully thought-out voices.

This was the first album with keyboardist John Evan as a full-time member, the first with bassist Jeffrey Hammond, and it was the last album with drummer Clive Bunker. What was the general mood in the studio?

It was a rather dark mood, actually, and it was a bit frustrating for me because the recording was being done in the then new Basing Street Studios, which was a converted church that Island Records had bought and turned into a pair of studios. Led Zeppelin were working in the smaller studio downstairs, which is a much nicer acoustic room - much cozier and more like a proper recording studio. Upstairs it was the big, cavernous church hall, which had a rather spooky and threatening atmosphere. It was quite difficult acoustically and technically - there were problems and shakedown issues with the equipment and wiring. It was a real struggle.

All of which makes it more difficult when you're trying to convey to other musicians what you're driving at. We had stepped away from the early Jethro Tull sort of music, and Clive Bunker found it sometimes beyond his points of reference. For Jeffrey Hammond, it was his very first album, so he was kind of just being given a list of notes and told how to play them. I was confident he would get it, but it was a little nerve-racking for him. Here, too, it was a little frustrating for me, trying to convey things to the other guys, which is why I just recorded some things on my own and then they came and overdubbed their bits afterwards.

"Locomotive Breath" was a particularly hard song to record because we just couldn't get a metronomic, solid feel. It just kept being kind of a bit scrappy and whatever, so I went out and played tambourine or something, or maybe I clicked two drumsticks together or something. I played bass drum and hi-hat all the way through the song, and everybody overdubbed their parts to that. I think I played one of the electric guitar parts as well, just to try and get something that would convey the feel of the song to the other guys. Then John went out and recorded the introduction part, which we edited onto the body of the song. But yeah, it wasn't a great atmosphere. By the end of it, I was quite relieved to get out of there.

You mentioned the religious theme to some of the songs. Did you ever get any flack from the Bible Belt in the States?

Yes, but that was the only place. It just happened a little bit in America where we got some fairly negative stuff and people were burning the album. But I also got from the U.S.A., as I did elsewhere, a lot of very positive and supportive comments from members of the clergy, from priests who understood what I was saying and why I was saying it, and who felt some empathy for the essential criticism of organized religion and the essence of not turning religion into a sort of power game for those in charge.

When writing lyrics, did you ever edit yourself at all? I remember the line in "Hymn 43" - "Jesus saves, well, He'd better save Himself." That's a strong line.

Yes, there were strong lines in "Hymn 43" and My God, some fairly strong sentiments, and I can understand people getting a bit bent out of shape. But back then we were all empowered with a kind of rather mouthy, Trumpish tone, and it was expected that you could get away with it, whereas I think today in a more politically correct world, while Mr. Trump himself would appear to get away with it at least half of the American public, most other people are absolutely appalled by it.

Sometimes to shock is a valid approach in the arts. I'm much more nervous about causing offense today than I was back then. Strangely, the place where I never really got any flack was in Italy, in the heart of Catholicism. The Italians loved those songs. I think in Spain we had a little bit of an issue for one particular line - "Got him by the balls," in "Locomotive Breath." They weren't too comfortable with that one.

When you were working on the record, did members of Zeppelin ever drop by? Did you pop into their sessions at all?

I think I might have popped my head downstairs. Some people quite like it when they get visitors, and they rather enjoy the camaraderie, but I felt like it would be very intrusive to go in while somebody else is doing a session, whether they're working on a backing track or doing overdubs or whatever.

Once or twice we did manage to get some work done in the studio downstairs when Zeppelin weren't in. The only time I remember seeing anybody from that band is when Jimmy Page came in when Martin Barre was recording the guitar solo for "Aqualung," and Jimmy sort of was standing behind me in the control room and waving some support to Martin. Maybe that enthusiasm imparted itself to Martin's playing on that recorded take.

What did you think of Iron Maiden's cover of "Cross-Eyed Mary"?

Oh, it was a very spirited rendition. I didn't hear it until much later on - I think they did it early on in their career, when Bruce Dickinson was probably quite new in the band. He, like some of the other guys, grew up in their early performing years listening to Jethro Tull, so I guess it was one of those cover pieces they might have played on stage. They did a high-energy version of it, and Bruce, as he does, went for the full-on high notes and big vocals and that I can't do. It was entertaining hearing them do a high-octane version of it.

'Aqualung' has gone on to be the band's biggest seller. Are you OK with that, or do you wish that distinction were for a different record?

Well, I'm glad it was that album and not some other ones. It was at a time when there was kind of a maturity coming about in terms of my writing and my understanding of music, so for me it was a very important album. It marked my move towards a more dynamic range in music, my understanding of creating more tension between loud and quiet passages, between simple and more complex pieces.

Indeed, those are things I probably learned the year before from being on tour and playing a number of shows with Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page got all that figured out, so there were good lessons to learn from him as a writer, arranger and record producer, how the dynamics of rock music could be so exciting.

But yeah, I'm very happy how successful 'Aqualung' has been. It wasn't a huge hit out of the box, but it was a steady seller over the years, and that continues to this day. It's clocked up a lot of mileage, which has put it in that sort of top echelon of rock albums from that era. I'm quite happy with how it's regarded.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Doors, Dead, Cream Debuts Turn 50

by , Psychedelic Sight:

Doors' psychedelic first album1967 ushered in the psychedelic era, loudly announced by a series of historic recordings.

Fifty years on, we’re invited to celebrate the debut albums by the Doors, the Grateful Dead and Cream via splashy deluxe editions.

Other key reissues due in the year’s first quarter come from Soft Machine, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, the Yardbirds, Procol Harum and Pink Floyd.

The Doors’ debut album - home of “Light My Fire” and “The End” - returns March 31 in a three-CD plus LP package dubbed “The Doors: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.”

The reissue features the compact disc premiere of the original mono mix, which also can be found on the box set’s vinyl disc. The package includes a CD of the “The Matrix” live performance from March 1967, made up of eight songs from the debut album. The live tracks hail from the “recently unearthed” tapes from that San Francisco gig, apparently a vast improvement over those sourced for the 2008 Matrix album.

The stereo mix of the studio debut album - “remastered for the first time in nearly 30 years” - takes up the other CD. The box set includes a 12-inch-square hardback book with liner notes from critic David Fricke.

The pricey package - pre-ordering for about $65 on Amazon - isn’t thrilling the Doors’ faithful, many of whom have the complete Matrix show on bootlegs, as well as the mono mix of the debut album on a Record Store Day vinyl release from a few years back. “There is not one second of previously unreleased material in this box,” one fan griped upon reading about the new box set.

Rhino is releasing “The Doors: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.” The usual downloads also will be available.

Cream debut album 

Cream’s debut album, “Fresh Cream,” celebrates its 50th year with a three-CD and Blu-ray set. Mono and stereo versions of the power trio’s album, plus outtakes, alternate takes and demos, etc. Various BBC sessions. The Blu-ray offers 24/96 high-res versions of the U.S. mono and stereo albums along with bonus tracks. Jan. 27 via Polydor. A Japanese version is planned with SHM-CDs subbing for the three CDs. A vinyl version also is expected in several months. 

The Grateful Dead also debuted in 1967, and their spotty first album returns on two CDs, fortified by early live recordings. “The Grateful Dead: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” contains the original album - newly remastered from the original tapes by David Glasser - featuring key tracks “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” “Good Morning Little School Girl” and “Morning Dew.” The bonus disc of live Dead comes from P.N.E. Garden Auditorium in British Columbia, late July 1966, about six months after the Dead became the Dead. Also on offer, separately, is a vinyl picture disc, limited to 10,000 copies. Jan. 20 via the Dead’s marketing arm. 

The Who’s “My Generation” album also marks a half century (albeit a bit late) with a three-LP edition. “A disc of mono mixes, another containing mono bonus tracks and a third with 11 demos.” Eighty-page book and new liner notes from Pete Townshend. Geffen, Feb. 13.

Jimi Hendrix. Stand by for “the lost 1969 Jimi Hendrix single.” The song is familiar enough - “Stone Free” - but this version hails from April 1969. The story goes that Reprise was to release that version of the song as a single, but called an audible and issued the 1966 take that remains familiar today. The 1969 version saw light only after Hendrix’s death in one of those overdubbed versions. Sundazed has revived the 1969 “original performance” as a 7-incher, backing it with “Lover Man.” Both sides feature Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Due Jan. 13. 

Soft Machine heats up takeaway “vindaloo for the ears” on “Live at the Paradiso,” a live set from March 1969. Then a trio - of Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge and Hugh Hopper - Soft Machine would later release much of this material as “Volume Two” later that year. Real Gone’s vinyl debut of the Amsterdam live set comes in a “soft” purple edition limited to 1,000 copies. Feb. 3. Also, the group’s hard jazz album “4” re-released on CD, Jan. 20 (import). 

The Flaming Lips return to studio action with “Oczy Mlody,” their follow-up to 2013’s “The Terror.” The spin doctors say they’re getting back to writing songs (12 of them). Enjoy on a standard vinyl disc or on two discs of orange vinyl (both with downloads). Via Warner Bros., Jan. 13. 

The Monkees‘ psych-soundtrack “Head” was strange enough, but along comes the new “Head Alternate,” with “first-time vinyl versions of ‘Porpoise Song,’ rarities like ‘Can You Dig It’ with Peter Tork’s vocal, ‘Daddy’s Song’ remixed with Davy Jones’ slow verse, and the rare stereo mix of ‘Circle Sky.'” Gold vinyl with gold foil cover. From Friday Music, March 3. 

More Dead: The 2017 subscription series Dave’s Picks closes Jan. 19. The picks so far: Vol. 21, a complete show from April 2, 1973, in Boston. Vol. 22, Dec. 7, 1971, at the Felt Forum in New York (“featuring the return of Pigpen”). The 2017 Bonus Disc will feature the bulk of the Dec. 6, 1971, New York show (other two picks TBA). These are limited numbered editions on CD. 

Rick Wakeman, the prog rock keyboard wizard, takes a break from his sonic explorations with an album of cover versions. “Piano Portraits” offers classic rock fare such as “Life on Mars,” “Space Oddity,” “Help!” “Eleanor Rigby” and “Stairway to Heaven,” as well as some actual classics: “Clair de Lune” and “Swan Lake.” Available on CD and on a double-disc vinyl. Feb. 3 via UMe. 

Sly & the Family Stone churned out a steady feed of hits in the late 1960s and early ’70s. They’re all here on “Anthology”: “Dance to the Music” through “Que Sera, Sera.” So what’s new? Two discs of translucent gold vinyl as a limited edition. Jan. 13 via Friday Music.

Sun Ra space rock 

Sun Ra was famed for his instrumentals, but any fan knows the man from Saturn loved to mix in singing and chanting, too. “The Space Age Is Here to Stay” touches down with 16 vocal tracks, including “Space Is the Place,” “Enlightenment,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Interplanetary Music No. 1.” With sci-fi artwork by Chesley Bonestell. One CD or two LPs. From Modern Harmonic, Jan. 13. Also available: A package of three 7-inch Ra singles: “Saturn,” “El Is a Sound of Joy” and “Plutonian Nights.” And “Spaceways,” live on vinyl from 1966-68 (previously only Record Store Day), Feb. 10 via ORG Music. 

Attilio Mineo put together “Man in Space With Sounds” for the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair. “Beautifully textured space sounds with period-perfect narration” combine for a “cosmic eruption.” On “cosmic swirly green and yellow vinyl” or CD. Jan. 13 via Modern Harmonic. 

The Yardbirds turned psychedelic in their twilight years, due in large part to the guidance of Jimmy Page. The album “Sounds I Heard” (previously a Record Store Day title) returns on vinyl with some of their classic head-spinners: “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Dazed and Confused.” Comes with a single-side 7-incher of Page’s showcase “White Summer.” Most tracks from BBC in “improved audio versions.” From Easy Action, Jan. 27 (UK) and Feb. 10 (US).

Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” pushed the English highbrow band into a commercial success of sorts. The nautical-themed album returns Feb. 24 on a Mobile Fidelity SACD. The title track, “The Milk of Human Kindness” and “The Devil Came From Kansas” remain highlights. The song “A Salty Dog” featured an orchestra, anticipating the band’s greater successes with that expanded sound. 

John Lord: Deep Purple keyboardist recorded “First of the Big Bands” with his pal Tony Ashton. The 1974 album’s supporting cast included Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, Peter Frampton and Cozy Powell. Also, 1982’s solo project “Before I Forget.” Both on CD, Jan. 27. 

Jethro Tull’s most popular songs are spun through the classical cycle with “The String Quartets.” John O’Hara arranged the music for the Carducci string quartet, recorded live in gnarly old churches with Ian Anderson doing the sermonizing. Two CDs or two vinyl LPs. Due March 24 via BMG. 

Pink Floyd staggered forward without Roger Waters on 1987’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” Mixed reviews met the loose collection of songs, many originally intended for David Gilmour’s solo project. Most were recorded with minimal participation of the other two band members. The album memorably features the return of cover artist Storm Thorgerson. On vinyl, Jan. 20 via Legacy.

Also, “The Final Cut”: Roger Waters did the heavy lifting on this 1983 concept album about war. “You can hear the mad tension running through it all,” Waters said of the recording sessions marked by band infighting. Keyboardist Richard Wright is totally MIA. On vinyl, Jan. 20 via Legacy. 

Mountain’s live “Twin Peaks” spread the epic and masterful “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” over two sides. The band’s second live album also included the classics “Theme for an Imaginary Western” and “Mississippi Queen.” Recorded in Osaka, Japan, in 1973. Via Music on Vinyl, Jan. 13. 

Larry Coryell’s second album of electric guitar music finally resurfaces, making its CD debut via Real Gone. The heavy-jazz album features Ron Carter, Bernard Purdie and Albert Stinson. A must for fusion fans. Feb. 3. 

Also of interest: “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds on colored vinyl (Jan. 27); “Joe Cocker” (debut) on SACD (Jan. 27) and “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” on vinyl (March 17); “All the Colors of the Spectrum” by the Spectrum on two CDs (import, Jan. 27); “Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come: Manchester Free Trade Hall 1973” on two CDs (import, Jan. 20); “Little Live Rooster” by Atom Rooster (Vincent Crane) on CD (import, Jan. 27); “Stand Up” (Steven Wilson remix) by Jethro Tull on single CD or vinyl (import, Feb. 17); and “Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman” by John Zorn on vinyl (Jan. 27) …

Also: “Live in Tokyo” by Weather Report on red vinyl (Feb. 17); “Flowers in the Dirt” by Paul McCartney on vinyl (March 24); “Finest” by Funkadelic on vinyl (“January”); “Magnetic Waves of Sound” by the Move on CD and DVD (import, Jan. 27); “The GWR Years: 1988-91” by Hawkwind on three CDs (import, Jan. 27); “Return to Ommadawn” by Mike Oldfield on CD, vinyl and DVD (import, Jan. 20); and “Going for the One” by Yes on a picture disc (Jan. 20). 

To be announced: From the sugar-shock shack known as TBA: “James Gang Rides Again” on SACD and vinyl; “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek & the Dominos on SACD and vinyl; “Shady Grove” by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman on vinyl; “Taste” (Rory Gallagher) on vinyl; “30 Seconds Over Winterland” by Jefferson Airplane on vinyl; “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” by Miles Davis on SACD; “When Doves Cry” by Prince and the Revolution on 12-inch single; “BBC Sessions” by the Zombies on vinyl; and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “The Muffin Man Goes to College” by Frank Zappa - both two volumes. 

Note: Release dates for vinyl and SACD titles remain fluid until they actually ship. This record roundup will be updated through the quarter. SACDs are all hybrids unless specified otherwise; they’ll work on a CD player not offering advanced resolution.