Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – 1972

I’m allowed to go out on a limb right? On the same year the Jethro Tull released the best Prog rock album ever Thick as a Brick, they quite possibly released one of the year’s best folk albums as well. I know, I know, weren’t Sandy Denny’s Sandy and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon released in this same year? I love those albums immensely as well but there’s just something so brilliant of Tull’s collection of curios, odds, and ends singles that they compiled for all their folk-rock loving friends. I don’t think enough people get exactly at Ian Anderson was driving at most of the time, and when he keeps it dead simple you start to get this a-ha moment…oh, this is what he’s trying to do.

Living in the Past album cover.

Thick as a Brick was supposed to be their supremely tongue-in-cheek poke at Prog’s increasingly love of length and complexity. However they poked so hard that found a way to make it their own masterpiece. In Ian Anderson’s hand he’d put down one song (you couldn’t make a song go further than that, I think) and use that song to tackle a very universal theme of non-conformity with all the wonders of a satirical jester using folk and rock idioms to turn everything you thought as not acceptable on its head. Like a real life fox, you’d start to joke about its length and complexity, then decide to put it on, and then find yourself unable to resists its charms. It helps he had genius collaborators like Tony Iommi and Dave Pegg (who you’d hear in other great folk-rock recordings).

Life is a Long Song EP.

It’s this charm and nuance in tomfoolery that allowed this Blackpool native to dust England’s charts with some of the most concisely gorgeous, uplifting, and brilliant folk songs from the bands inception through the time of their Living in the Past compilation. The title and cover itself taking a poke at English folkies who were deemed too stuck in the past to keep up with the current time. In a way, he was poking fun at himself. His style, and predilection to go all in performances precluded many would-be fans from actually enjoying his insane talent. Guy could play flute, guitar, piano, and nearly anything you could throw at him, in whatever style anyone would think of. I think, his true love was always folk music.

You hear this affection easily, in the first track of this comp 1968’s “A Song for Jeffrey” with its brilliant mix of southern fried blues, and Ian’s extremely English flute work. Its one exploratory work of what English folk could sound like when mixed with other sonics. Then the following track “Love Story“, also from 1968, which features future Black Sabbath guitar wiz Tony Iommi presents another interesting English neo-folk sound, imagine the Incredible String Band meeting up with the Stooges, its all so interesting, very interesting.

What’s so revelatory is that nearly all the great songs on this comp, all of them which owe a huge debt to his English folk tradition were only ever released as singles and never on proper albums. It wouldn’t be until 1977’s Songs from the Wood, that he’d actually go back in time (by then a loser’s proposition) and completely devote himself to that neo-folk sound. If, you ever listen to Songs from the Wood (don’t, if you can avoid it!) you’ll know he was better stuck living in the past, rather than try to reclaim it. For now, check out some of the truly genius work he did back then. More 1972 tomorrow though…

Listen to the selections from Living in the Past at Grooveshark.