Aqualung (Jethro Tull album)

For other uses, see Aqualung (disambiguation).

Cover art by Burton Silverman
Studio album by Jethro Tull
Released 19 March 1971
Recorded December 1970 – February 1971
Studio Island Studios, Basing Street, London
Genre Progressive rock, folk rock, hard rock
Length 42:55
Label Chrysalis/Island (Europe)
Reprise (America, Japan and Oceania)
Producer Ian Anderson, Terry Ellis
Jethro Tull chronology
Thick as a Brick
Singles from Aqualung
  1. "Hymn 43"
    Released: July 1971
  2. "Locomotive Breath"
    Released: 1971 (US and Europe, UK excluded)

Aqualung is the fourth studio album by the rock band Jethro Tull. Released in 1971, Aqualung, despite the band's disagreement, is regarded as a concept album featuring a central theme of "the distinction between religion and God".[1] The album's "dour musings on faith and religion" have marked it as "one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners".[2] Aqualung's success marked a turning point in the band's career, who went on to become a major radio and touring act.

Recorded at Island Records' studio in London, it was their first album with John Evan as a full-time member, their first with new bassist Jeffrey Hammond and last album featuring Clive Bunker on drums. Something of a departure from the band's previous work, the album features more acoustic material than previous releases; and—inspired by photographs of homeless people on the Thames Embankment taken by singer Ian Anderson's wife Jennie—contains a number of recurring themes, addressing religion along with Anderson's own personal experiences.

Aqualung has sold more than seven million units worldwide according to Anderson, and is thus Jethro Tull's best selling album. The album was generally well-received critically, and has been included on several music magazine "best of" lists. The album spawned two singles, "Hymn 43" and "Locomotive Breath".[3]


After an American tour in 1970, bass player Glenn Cornick was fired from the band,[4] and was replaced with Jeffrey Hammond, an old friend of Ian Anderson's.[5] Aqualung would be the first recording Hammond would do with the band. It would also mark the first time John Evan had recorded a full album with the band, as his only prior involvement was to provide several keyboard parts on the previous album, Benefit. The album was one of the first to be recorded at the newly opened studios of Island Records in Basing Street, London. Led Zeppelin were recording their untitled fourth album at the same time. In an interview on the 25th anniversary edition of the album, Tull's bandleader Ian Anderson said that trying to record in that studio was very difficult, because of its "horrible, cold, echoey" feel.[6] There were two recording studios at the location; Led Zeppelin worked in the smaller studio while Tull got the larger,[7] which was the main body of a converted church. The orchestrals were arranged by David Palmer, who had worked with the band since 1968's This Was, and would later join as a keyboard player. Aqualung would be the last Jethro Tull album to include Clive Bunker as a band member, as he retired shortly after recording to start a family.[6]

Musical style

The songs on the album cover a variety of musical genres, with elements of folk, blues, psychedelia and hard rock.[8] The "riff-heavy" nature of tracks such as "Locomotive Breath", "Hymn 43" and "Wind Up" is regarded as a factor in the band's increased success after the release of the album, with Jethro Tull becoming "a major arena act" and a "fixture on FM radio" according to AllMusic.[2][9] In a stylistic departure from Jethro Tull's earlier albums, many of Aqualung's songs are primarily acoustic. "Cheap Day Return", "Wond'ring Aloud" and "Slipstream" are short, completely acoustic "bridges", and "Mother Goose" is also mostly acoustic. Anderson claims his main inspirations for writing the album were Roy Harper and Bert Jansch.[6]


Aqualung has widely been regarded as a concept album, featuring a central theme of "the distinction between religion and God".[1] The album's "dour musings on faith and religion" have marked it as "one of the most cerebral albums ever to reach millions of rock listeners".[2] Academic discussions of the nature of concept albums have frequently listed Aqualung amongst their number.[10][11][12]

The initial idea for the album was sparked by some photographs that Anderson's wife Jennie took of homeless people on the Thames Embankment. The appearance of one man in particular caught the interest of the couple, who together wrote the title song "Aqualung".[13] The first side of the LP, titled Aqualung, contains several character sketches, including the eponymous character of the title track, and the schoolgirl prostitute Cross-Eyed Mary, as well as two autobiographical tracks, including "Cheap Day Return", written by Anderson after a visit to his critically ill father.[14]

The second side, titled My God, contains three tracks—"My God," "Hymn 43" and "Wind-Up"—that address religion in an introspective, and sometimes irreverent, manner. However, despite the names given to the album's two sides and their related subject matter, Anderson has consistently maintained that Aqualung is not a "concept album". A 2005 interview included on Aqualung Live gives Anderson's thoughts on the matter:[15]

I always said at the time that this is not a concept album; this is just an album of varied songs of varied instrumentation and intensity in which three or four are the kind of keynote pieces for the album but it doesn't make it a concept album. In my mind when it came to writing the next album, Thick as a Brick, was done very much in the sense of: 'Whuh, if they thought Aqualung was a concept album, Oh! Okay, we'll show you a concept album.' And it was done as a kind of spoof, a send-up, of the concept album genre. ... But Aqualung itself, in my mind was never a concept album. Just a bunch of songs.

Drummer Clive Bunker believes that the record's perception as a concept album is a case of "Chinese whispers", explaining "you play the record to a couple of Americans, tell them that there's a lyrical theme loosely linking a few songs, and then notice the figure of the Aqualung character on the cover, and suddenly the word is out that Jethro Tull have done a concept album".[6]

The thematic elements Jethro Tull explored on the album—those of the effects of urbanisation on nature, and of the effects of social constructs such as religion on society—would be developed further on most of the band's subsequent releases.[16] Ian Anderson's frustration over the album's labelling as a concept album directly led to the creation of Thick as a Brick (1972), intended to be a deliberately "over the top" concept album in response.[17]

Other songs

"Lick Your Fingers Clean" was recorded for Aqualung, but was not included on the album. The song was drastically re-worked as "Two Fingers" for Tull's 1974 album, War Child. "Lick Your Fingers Clean" was eventually released in 1988 on the 20 Years of Jethro Tull collection. It was then released as a bonus track on the 1996 and 2011 reissues of Aqualung.

Another song, "Wond'ring Again" was recorded in early sessions in 1970 and considered for release on the album before Anderson decided to drop it from the final track listing. It was subsequently released on the compilation album, Living in the Past, in 1972. However, elements of the song—essentially its coda—were included on Aqualung as "Wond'ring Aloud". Glenn Cornick played bass on the song and says it is his favourite song he recorded with the band.[6] Cornick also played bass on early studio recordings of "My God" and "a couple of other songs", though he did not say which they were.[6]

Album cover

The album's original cover art by Burton Silverman features a watercolour portrait of a long-haired, bearded man in shabby clothes. The idea for the cover came from a photograph Anderson's wife took of a homeless man on Thames Embankment, and Anderson later felt it would have been better to have used the photograph rather than commission the painting.[13] Ian Anderson recalls posing for a photograph for the painting, though Silverman claims it was a self-portrait. The artwork was commissioned and purchased by Chrysalis Records head Terry Ellis. Artist Silverman claims the art was only licensed for use as an album cover, and not for merchandising; and approached the band seeking remuneration for its further use. Silverman and Anderson have different accounts of level of enmity involved in this. The original artwork for both the front and back covers are now privately owned by an unknown family, apparently having been stolen from a London hotel room.[6]


In April 1971, Aqualung peaked at number four on the UK Album Chart; when the CD version was released in 1996, it reached number 52.[18] It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Music Charts' North American pop albums chart;[19] the single "Hymn 43" hit No. 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[20] The album would go on to sell over seven million copies, and is the band's best-selling album.[21] Aqualung was one of only two Jethro Tull albums released in quadraphonic sound, the other being War Child (1974). The quadraphonic version of "Wind Up", which is in a slightly higher key, is included on the later CD reissue of the album as "Wind Up (quad version)".[21]

The single "Hymn 43" was released on 14 August 1971, and reached number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, spending two weeks in the chart.[20] The song was the first single released by the band in the United States.[21] It was later included in the video game Rock Band 2 as downloadable content;[22] which also featured the album's title track.[23]

The album was re-released in a 40th anniversary edition on 31 October 2011. The release contains a new stereo and 5.1 surround remix of the album by British musician and producer Steven Wilson, and comes in two different editions—a "collector's edition" containing the album on LP and two CDs, as well as DVD and Blu-ray discs and a hardback book; and a "special edition" containing the two CDs and an abridged version of the book.[24] Justifying the remix, Steven Wilson said: "Jethro Tull's Aqualung is ... a masterpiece, but was sonically a very poor-sounding record. So, some didn't rate it as highly as they should have. What we did with Aqualung was really make that record gleam in a way it never gleamed before. I think a lot of people, including myself, have come around to thinking that the album is a lot better than they even gave it credit for previously. So, there is certainly something very gratifying about being able to polish what was already a diamond and making it shine in a way it never has before".[25] Additionally, according to mastering engineer Steve Hoffman there were tape stretching problems with the original session mixdown master, implying that many editions of the album used multigeneration copies as their source.[26][27]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Robert ChristgauC+[28]
Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide[29]
Record Collector[31]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[32]
Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time[29]

Aqualung received mixed to favourable reviews from contemporary music critics. Rolling Stone magazine's Ben Gerson lauded its "fine musicianship", calling it "serious and intelligent", although he felt that the album's seriousness "undermined" its quality.[1] Sounds said that its "taste and variety" made it the band's "finest" work.[33] Aqualung was voted the 22nd best album of 1971 in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[34] Robert Christgau, the poll's creator, was more critical of the album in a 1981 review, and described Anderson's undeveloped cultural interests and negative views on religion and human behaviour as both boring and pretentious.[28]

In retrospective reviews the album is generally lauded and viewed as a classic.[29][31] AllMusic's Bruce Eder called Aqualung "a bold statement" and "extremely profound".[2] In a review of the album's 40th anniversary re-release, Sean Murphy of PopMatters said that Aqualung "is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did—and does—exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period". Murphy also praised the additional material featured on the release, finding that the new content was "where a great album gets even better".[30] Steve Harris, the bass player for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden, has called Aqualung "a classic album", lauding its "fantastic playing, fantastic songs, attitude [and] vibe". Iron Maiden would go on to cover "Cross-Eyed Mary" as the B-side of their 1983 single "The Trooper".[6]

Aqualung has also been appraised highly in retrospective listings, compiled by music writers and magazines (see Accolades). Even Martin Barre's solo on the album's title track was included in Guitarist magazine's list of "The 20 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time" at number 20.[35]

Track listing

1971 original release

All tracks written by Ian Anderson, except where noted. 

Side one – Aqualung
No. Title Length
1. "Aqualung" (Ian Anderson, Jennie Anderson) 6:34
2. "Cross-Eyed Mary"   4:06
3. "Cheap Day Return"   1:21
4. "Mother Goose"   3:51
5. "Wond'ring Aloud"   1:53
6. "Up to Me"   3:15
Side two – My God
No. Title Length
1. "My God"   7:08
2. "Hymn 43"   3:14
3. "Slipstream"   1:13
4. "Locomotive Breath"   4:23
5. "Wind-Up"   6:01

Note that original North American Reprise Records pressings of Aqualung contained a slightly edited version of the title song, with its first three seconds (i.e., the first repetition of the song's signature riff) removed. These pressings correspondingly list the song's length at 6:31.[36]

1996 CD release

2011 40th anniversary release

The 2011 edition was remixed by Steven Wilson and mastered by Peter Mew. The mastering received some criticism, so in April 2016 a new version was released - this time mastered by Wilson.[37]


Jethro Tull
Additional personnel



Year Chart Peak
1971 Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[38] 3
1971 Canadian Albums (RPM)[39] 5
1971 German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[40] 5
1997 German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[41]
1996 re-release
1971 Italian Albums (FIMI)[42] 2
1971 Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[43] 3
1971 UK Albums Chart (OCC)[18] 4
1996 UK Albums Chart (OCC)[18]
1996 re-release
1971 US Billboard 200[19] 7


Year Single Chart Position
1971 "Hymn 43" RPM100 Singles (Canada)[44] 86
Billboard Hot 100 (USA)[19] 91


Country Organization Year Sales
USA RIAA 1989 3x Platinum (+ 3,000,000)[45]
Germany BVMI 2008 Gold (+ 250,000)[46]
UK BPI 2013 Gold (+ 100,000)[47]


Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
The Village Voice US The 1971 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll[34] 1972 22
Classic Rock UK The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time[32] 2001 30
Rolling Stone US 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[32] 2003 337
The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s UK [48] 2004 90
Q UK 40 Cosmic Rock Albums[49][50] 2005 7
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die US [51] 2005 No order
Guitarist UK The 20 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time[35] 2011 20
Prog UK The 100 Greatest Prog Albums of All Time[52] 2014 43


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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Eder, Bruce. "Jethro Tull - Aqualung review". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
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  4. Nollen 2001, p. 61.
  5. Nollen 2001, p. 63.
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  14. Nollen 2001, p. 67.
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  28. 1 2 Christgau 1981, p. 1981.
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  41. " – Top 100 Longplay". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
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