1. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
How does one review one of their favorite artists and the lyrics of one of their favorite lyricists without getting a little nervous about creating a new review of something that has been in the global marketplace for over 40 years? Yes, I am going to attempt to write an archive review of this album of classic Tull tunes 40 years after this music hit the streets.
There is a volume of reviews on this album in the marketplace, so I will try to take a different look at the album, with the understanding that I have history on my side as far as knowing what came next and the success of this band, unlike many reviewers who did not know what the future held.
The fact that we are writing about this album nearly 40 years later is proof enough that it held many treasures which are still relevant and interesting today. The album was well celebrated during its day, receiving number 3 chart rankings in the UK, and number 11 status in the USA charts.
It is an album of transition between the blues sound of Stand Up and the legendary career – making prog epic Aqualung. Ian’s liner notes from the 2001 remastered CD suggest, this was an effort to catch their breath after a successful US tour which saw them tour with such legends as Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and some future punk bands. Playing the blues and being surrounded by these artists whose music was steeped in the blues heritage of the Mississippi Delta probably gave Ian and the band an earful. The experience of traveling the massive entirety of the US during a 30 week tour of concerts and radio appearances brought them to a point of road weariness.
Ian and the band deserved and needed a moment of pause. Ian’s liner notes talk of the need to produce something different. They wanted to create music that was unique to Jethro Tull and not join the many followers in England and Europe who were trying to duplicate the success of some of the American based music they heard. So Benefit was a departure from the blues, as Ian describes, “blues were my favourite colour until I looked 'round and found another song that I felt like singing."
Jethro Tull’s first two albums are some of my favorites as I also profess a love of the blues. Jethro Tull’s ability to play the blues, folk, and of course prog make them one of my favorite bands, capable of bringing two of my favorite styles of music together. Only the legendary Procol Harum, lead by Gary Brooker is capable of comparison. But Procol Harum doesn’t have a ‘one legged’ flute player.
The flute and Ian’s lyrics make Jethro Tull a band worth listening to over and over again. The stories and observations Ian captures in his writing and the band’s productions are some of my favorites of all time.
This album is darker and coming from a harder time and place when the band was trying to find their direction for the future.
“After the tour finished in December 1970, Glenn Cornick left to start his own band, 'Wild Turkey”
“The "Benefit" tour included the famous U.K. Isle of Wight festival, often called the "English Woodstock." (J-Tull dot com 2010).
So let’s take a little trip back to 1970. It’s just after the famous Summer of Love of ’69. Syd Barrett released his Madcap Laughs. Diana Ross and the Supreme’s performed live together for the first time. John Lennon’s famous gallery exhibit of lithographs gets shut down by Scotland Yard. Simon and Garfunkel release their final album together, the legendary Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin leave us forever. Paul McCartney’s first solo album hits the streets in the same year that Let it Be is released. Blind Faith and the Beatles break up, while ELP, ELO, the Doobie Bros, and Aerosmith are in the process of forming, Jim Morrison is found guilty of indecent exposure…yes, allot happened in 1970. I wonder which artists or starts are right now writing their own futures as I write this...
Meanwhile, Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson went right on writing into their glorious future.
2. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. With You There to Help Me – That wonderful whistling “backwards played” flute opens this song and you know this album will be different than the opening from the last. Stand Up had opened with drums and the harmonica, but it closed with the wonderful flute of For a Thousand Mothers. I know few music lyricists and writers actually sit down to write an album in its entirety or in any particular order, but the band did arrange this album very well. From the notes on their website, Ian even played this opener live, with his back to the audience to complete the effect.
It is a solemn opening to this album, but the thought of this melody echoing through the forest of England truly sets the perfect mood. “In days of peace, sweet smelling summer nights of wine and song.” “Dusty pavements, burning feet.” Ian sets the trap.
Then, “Why am I crying?” “I want to know.” “How can I smile and then make it right?” “For sixty days and eighty nights and not give in and lose the fight.” The answer comes fast, “I’m going back to the ones that I know, with whom I can be what I want to be.” The ‘trauma’ of traveling around the USA and being pushed and pulled by record execs has taken its toll and rather than lash out bitterly, Ian sets his protest to music. And great fun is had by all. “And just one week for the feeling to go, and with you there to help me, then it will.” Back home and refreshed.
The forceful guitar riffs and consistent drums are a perfect juxtaposition of sound. A galloping feeling to the music, like a soft summer day, with the in and out grind of the guitar to remind that all is not as well as it seems. These contrasts in style and sound are not only a statement, there’re a foundational signature of this band. The flute supported with rocking and rollicking guitars, drums, clapping and bass. What more could you ask for? A little piano before the finale which builds and gets bigger with each note. An excellent start, especially the brilliance of that flute giving new meaning to the expression “the Hendrix” of the flute!
2. Nothing To Say – Ian Anderson, one of the best lyricists in all of rock with nothing to say? That is funny in itself. “Everyday there’s someone asking “What is there to do?” is it all the same to you?” But no, Ian says “I have the answer, proven to be true.” “But if I were to share it with you, you would stand to gain and I to lose.” Later in the song the real answer comes, “Climb a tower of freedom, paint your own deceiving sign.” “It’s not my power to criticize or ask you to be blind.” A reaction to the Summer of Love generation? Quiet possibly. Then, “I went your way ten years ago, and I’ve got nothing to say…”
You are probably seeing a pattern develop here. I cannot blend a review of the power of the lyrics from this ‘philosopher’ of “kitchen prose and gutter rhymes” and the music. I will handle them separately.
The acoustic nature of this song really highlights the power and simplicity of the message. Lyrics dominate this song, but the guitar brings out the snide, cynical nature of this song so perfectly. The drums and bass provide great support. The guitar solos in the background remind me of early King Crimson.
3. Alive and Well and Living In – This song is a peek into the future. It has allot of the feel and sounds of Minstrel in the Gallery and Living in the Past. The acoustic sounds and renaissance flute are perfect for relaxing and the enjoyment of the home life. Just what the doctor ordered after the extended tour they had just finished in the USA. The running and then dribbling piano is a wonderful accompaniment to the flute blazing along with guitar in the background. Ian and his first wife during relaxing on a sunny weekend.
“Nobody sees her here, her eyes are slowly closing.” “If she should want some peace, she sits there, without moving, and puts a pillow over the phone.” “And if she feels like dancing no one will know it.” “Giving herself a chance there's no need to show her how it should be.”
4. Son –Son -, on the other hand, jumps out at you as if to push you off the sofa. It is a song designed to show the generation gap that existed. That gap may be even larger today, with the advent of technology. The line, “ten days for watching the sunset; when I was your age, amusement we made for ourselves”, really hits home today. “Permission to breathe sir,'' “don't talk like that, I'm your old man.” That age old reminder that kids remain children of their parents at any age. The song takes on a whole new meaning now that most of us are old enough to have children of our own. The old work ethic and authority advice snarls its head again.
The music is also very good. The break in between the first stanza and the second is a sample of things we would hear in much more detail on the albums Passion Play and Thick as a Brick. The guitar, bass and drums of the first section set up a bluesy/rock feel. Then the second stanza brings a more acoustic sound with guitar and piano creating that core “feeling” and reality of presence along with the lyrics.
5. For Michael Collins, Jeffery and Me – One of the best songs on the album. That wonderful acoustic guitar summing up the feelings of the man left on the command module during the first lunar walk of man. Michael Collins selected to stay in the ship as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin make history as the first men to walk on the moon. “I'm with you boys, so please employ just a little extra care.” “It's on my mind I'm left behind when I should have been there.” “Walking with you.” “And the yellow soft mountains they grow very still witness as intrusion the humanoid thrill.”
The music captures that lonely effect from the beginning. The piano, drums and guitar later in the song, pick up and carry the elation of finally achieving the goal, but then slow down perfectly as the memory jars back to the fact that one did not join the others in this momentous occasion. The closing acoustic hits the mark perfectly.
6. To Cry You a Song – One of Jethro Tull’s best songs ever. That powerful bass riff and smashing drums really open this one perfectly. “Flying so high, trying to remember how many cigarettes did I bring along?” “When I get down I'll jump in a taxi cab driving through London town to cry you a song.” The return from their first cross – Atlantic tour. “Well I'm a glad bird.” “I got changes to ring.”
The jam sessions that take over after each refrain are wonderful. You just don’t want them to end. The ripping and buzzing guitars fill the air. I have played this song so many times over the years. Never gets old. Ian’s moderated vocals sound cool on this over 6 minute epic.
7. A Time for Everything? – Blasting drums, bass, lead guitar, and the wonderful flute again. “Once it seemed there would always be a time for everything.” “Ages passed I knew at last my life had never been.” “I'd been missing what time could bring.” Finally time to relax and plan the future. “Burn the wagon and chain the mule.” “The past is all denied.” “There's no time for everything.” “No time for everything.” Captured perfectly, the concept of the album.
8. Inside – Another of my favorite songs on the album. One last chance to sit, relax and reflect on what will be and where you’ve been, before the future takes full hold with Aqualung and all that will pass thereafter. “All the places I've been make it hard to begin to enjoy life again on the inside, but I mean to.” “Take a walk around the block and be glad that I've got me some time to be in from the outside, and inside with you.” The flute, acoustic and electric rollicking and rolling with the bass and drums. Wonderful summer time reflection song. “I'm sitting on the corner feeling glad.” “Got no money coming in but I can't be sad.” “That was the best cup of coffee I ever had.” “And I won't worry about a thing because we've got it made, here on the inside, outside so far away.” Appreciation for the quiet time missed during a hectic North American tour living out of small hotel rooms. Possibly a time to think of a new pastime, Ian would take on several part time jobs and ventures in the future. Thinking about one that would allow for more time with family, now that “old Jeffrey makes three.” “Take a walk in the park; does the wind in the dark sound like music to you?”
9. Play in Time – The thundering flute and bass along with drums and the Hammond organ bring this song to life. The backwards flute, organ, and the blistering guitars make this one of the most musically challenging songs on the album. The pressure to put out an album is reflected in Ian’s lyrics and the rewinding music sounds which sound knotted and full of pressure. “Got to take in what I can.” “There is no time to do what must be done, while I do some thinking.” “Sleeping is hard to come by.” Then the lines which stand out and help describe the nature of this album so well, “blues were my favorite colour, til I looked around and found another song.” “That I felt like singing.” The flute interludes mixed with the intricate grinding guitars really capture the pressurized feeling they must have been under trying to balance family life with the need to make something even greater than before. The closing guitars, flute and ripping sounds are just incredible and well performed.
10. Sossity: You’re a Woman – Hard to say which is the best song on the album. There are so many favorites, but this one really is a classic favorite of mine. “Hello you straight-laced lady, dressed in white but your shoes aren't clean.” “Painted them up with polish in the hope we can't see where you've been.” The lyrics can take you down many paths. I believe it is about the generation gap again. Society is stuck in the past, trying to retain its hold on change. I remember it well having lived though that transition between the 60s and 70s. “All of the tears you're wasting are for yourself and not for me.” “It's sad to know you're aging.” “Sadder still to admit I'm free.” “Your immature physical toy has grown, too young to enjoy at last your straight-laced agreement.”
Musically it is wonderful in its ability to capture that Renaissance like sound of acoustic guitars and organ. The flute, combined with tambourine and acoustic captures the imagination and really brings home the feeling. Few bands have ever had as many weapons in the arsenal. The album closer and a perfect way to leave the listener completely satisfied with the journey.
The following songs were included as bonus tracks on the re-mastered version of the album released on CD in 2001. These songs are so wonderful to me that I just have to write about them. Unfortunately when wax was dominant, bands could only include so many songs. According to the remastered sleeve notes, these were recorded weeks earlier than the rest of the album.
11. Singing All Day – A fun sing along song that is just wonderful. The grinding guitar and bass along with quiet drums. Sounds like a beat poet café sound which is perfect for Sunday mornings. The flute and psychedelic guitars create a surreal world of illusion which is very nice. Allot of fun captured and finally available to all of us on this version of the release. The start and stop of the flute and melody adds to the fun.
12. Witch's Promise – Another of my all time favorites. The soaring Valhalla like flute roaring out of the acoustic wilderness, supported by acoustic guitar is just wonderful. More of this would come through with Songs from the Woods, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch, but thanks for the early peek here. “Lend me your ear while I call you a fool.” “You were kissed by a witch one night in the wood, and later insisted your feelings were true.” Music with feeling. It almost sounds like Ian was recorded singing and playing the flute through the timbers of the Sherwood Forest. Music that puts you into its creative environment. The mood is always so well set. “Leaves falling red, yellow, brown, all are the same and the love you have found lay outside in the rain.” The piano also does a great job of providing that acoustic feeling. Nothing’s missing.
13. Just Trying to Be – A beautiful acoustic, vocal driven song with only bells and acoustic guitar for accompaniment. “There was a time when you were so young and walked in their way.” “They made you feel they loved you all-seeing they say.” “Unfeeling, feel lonely rejection.” “Unknowing, know you're going wrong.” Definitely captures this major time of transition in life and the work of a band.
14. Teacher (Original UK mix) – A major record over here in the USA. It is a great song, even if one of its authors is not a big fan. The cool bass that catapults this one to an opening is famous. Often imitated but never duplicated. The drums never miss a beat and really help carry this song along. The story of a run in with a “teacher” who promises lots of fun, abandoning all your possessions and living on the run. “ Jump up, look around, find yourself some fun, no sense in sitting there hating everyone.” “No man's an island and his castle isn't home, the nest is for nothing when the bird has flown.'' Many people assume the story is about higher education. A teacher can also be a spiritual leader or just a good friend who thinks they know best. The song’s protagonist pays for the “teacher’s” trip only to find the teacher take off on new adventures without him. A song about being used. But the music does perfectly capture that lying there with beer in hand beach flavor. The flute solos are very cool as Ian and Martin get into a couple of great jam sessions.
3. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
It was a time of transition from the blues based music they had made on their first two albums to something different, which was much harder to classify. Being the album that came before Aqualung, it is less well publicized or remembered. But in its day it did very well in the charts.
If it were released today would it receive the same high ratings? I think so. It captures a mood, which can be just as alive today as it was in 1970. Change and transition, encapsulated in an album.
4. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Rating: 9/10 – Although this is a great sample of the future of Jethro Tull, it is a transition album for the band. This was one of the most difficult reviews I have ever worked on, but also one of the most fun to write. It took me back to a time in my childhood when I remember my father also balancing time between family and his job. It was a time for me that was full of adventure with few cares. The natural environment which comes through in the acoustic nature of many of the songs brings back memories of walking through the forests while thinking of this music. It is a wonderful gift to be able to go back in time and appreciate classics like this that are as good now as they were then.
Reviewed by Prof on May 25th, 2010