Jethro Tull – Aqualung

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Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

  • An incredible copy of Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides
  • The sound is KILLER from start to finish – big, punchy, present, tubey and bursting with Rock and Roll energy
  • A Better Records Top 100 title that still floors us on the better copies, with sound that will jump right out of your speakers
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… one of the most astonishing progressions in rock history… the degree to which Tull upped the ante here is remarkable… Varied but cohesive, Aqualung is widely regarded as Tull’s finest hour.”
  • If you’re a Tull fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Folks, for hard-rockin’, Tubey Magical, ’70s Arty Proggy Rock in ANALOG, it just does not get much better than Aqualung. You need the right pressing to bring it to life though, and this one is certainly up to the task.

Aqualung checks off a few of our favorite boxes:

This vintage Reprise pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What The Best Sides Of Aqualung Have To Offer Is Not Hard To Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Martin Barre’s Guitar Wizardry

Clarity/resolution are important to getting the most out of this album. The subtle harmonics of the gently strummed acoustic guitar at the opening of “My God.” The air in Anderson’s flute throughout the album. The snap to Bunker’s snare. And how about all the fuzz on Barre’s fuzzed-out guitar on the song “Aqualung”? Sure, there’s guitar fuzz on the typical pressing, but there’s SO MUCH MORE on the truly elite copies.

When you can hear it right the sound of that guitar really makes you sit up and take notice of just how amazing Barre’s solos are. The guy is criminally underrated as both an innovator and technically accomplished guitarist. The distortion is perfection and so is the playing.

This is what a Hot Stamper is all about: more life, more energy, more character to the music, all brought about by better sound.

And the other key to the sound is bass. Most copies of this album lack bass. They either lack bass or they lack highs. It’s the rare copy that has both.

What We’re Listening For On Aqualung

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Robin Black in this case — would have put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Mother Goose and Locomotive Breath

Drop the needle on “Mother Goose” for some serious Tubey Magical Analog. The reproduction of the flute and the acoustic guitars on the better copies shows you just how well the album was recorded. The drums are huge, punchy, and natural, and the immediacy of Anderson’s vocals is striking.

Like we’ve noted so many times before, this British band, like many of their brethren, had their master tapes sent to America to make our much-maligned domestic pressings. I maligned them myself, wrongly I now realize. It takes an amazing stereo and a top-quality Hot Stamper pressing to get this music to work its magic. If you are lucky enough to have those two things, you will not believe how good this album sounds, so much better than you ever thought possible.

It’s not perfect, but with the right pressing, you can hear why Anderson, his bandmates, the engineer and producer all thought they had put a real winner down on tape. They had, but it took us a long time to find a good LP and be able to play it right.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

A Must Own Rock Record

We consider this album (along with Stand Up) a Masterpiece. It’s a Demo Disc Quality recording that should be part of any serious Rock Collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.


Side One

Cross-Eyed Mary
Cheap Day Return
Mother Goose

For those of you who have the MoFi, here’s a little “challenge.” I’m not sure if that’s really the right word. It’s actually more of a test, truth be told. But I’m guessing most people don’t like being tested by their record dealers so we’ll call it a “challenge.”

Play Mother Goose. If you don’t find anything seriously objectionable about the sound, if you don’t find the kind of MoFi EQ I decry at every turn, then something is very very wrong. In my humble opinion.

Side Two

My God 
Hymn 43 
Locomotive Breath 
Wind Up

AMG Review

The leap from 1970’s Benefit to the following year’s Aqualung is one of the most astonishing progressions in rock history. In the space of one album, Tull went from relatively unassuming electrified folk-rock to larger-than-life conceptual rock full of sophisticated compositions and complex, intellectual, lyrical constructs. While the leap to full-blown prog rock wouldn’t be taken until a year later on Thick as a Brick, the degree to which Tull upped the ante here is remarkable.

The lyrical concept — the hypocrisy of Christianity in England — is stronger than on most other ’70s conceptual efforts, but it’s ultimately the music that makes it worthy of praise. Tull’s winning way with a riff was never so arresting as on the chugging “Locomotive Breath,” or on the character studies “Cross Eyed Mary” and “Aqualung,” which portray believably seedy participants in Ian Anderson’s story. The fable imagery of “Mother Goose” and the vitriolic anti-authoritarian sentiments of “Wind Up” both serve notice of Anderson’s willful iconoclasm and his disillusionment with the spiritual traditions to which he was born.

Varied but cohesive, Aqualung is widely regarded as Tull’s finest hour.

Other Pressings

The big shootouts we did in 2009 and 2010 involved a number of British imports, including a handful of sides with 1U, 2U, and 3U stampers — the kind that go for big dollars on eBay no matter what they sound like. The British copies with the right stampers can sound amazingly rich and sweet, but they can’t ROCK the way the best domestic pressings do — not even close. Having heard so many by now, we don’t make much of an effort to buy them or play them these days. They are simply no longer competitive

Highlights from an Interview in 2011

Max Mobley

You have very pure tones on your recorded work. Do you use much processing or EQ in the studio?

No, I don’t use any EQ. I only want the sound of the guitar coming out of the amplifier—nothing else. When I go to any studio, I insist the EQ is either turned off or set to null.

The tone on your solo work, while it doesn’t sound processed, is quite different from your tone with Jethro Tull.

Well, in Jethro Tull, I get one or two hours and that’s it. If I haven’t got it by then, then my solo is going to be a flute solo. On my solo albums, I have the luxury of spending as much time as I want to experiment with different guitars, different sounds, and mics. It’s a different process and there is no pressure. With Jethro Tull, there’s always somebody waiting to record their part, so there is a bit of pressure on you.

I don’t spend a lot of time doing guitar parts, because I want them to be fresh. But I think that if something doesn’t work in one or two takes, that bit of music doesn’t work or you’ve got to completely rethink what you are doing. You can’t just keep bashing away at the same idea.

You used a 1958 Les Paul Junior on Aqualung. Why that guitar?

We did a tour with Mountain. Back then, bands weren’t particularly friendly with one another, and Mountain was the first band that we really became friends with. I just loved Leslie West’s playing and they truly were a great “feel” band with the way they fed off each other live. He’s probably the only guitarist who has influenced me directly. He played a Les Paul Junior, so that’s why I bought mine.

The solo on the song “Aqualung” has received as many accolades as any rock guitar solo in existence. Was that composed, one take, or a composite?

It was a one-off and I did it first take. I’ve never learned licks—especially at that point of my career—and I never, ever used the blues licks. All the other guys were doing that and I wanted melody. In my mind, I can hear a melody, and then I can play it. That’s what I’ve always loved about playing an instrument. You hear where you want to go in your head, and your fingers can go there for you—it’s sort of a direct connection. I don’t have any sort of hang-up about having to play a B.B. King or Freddie King lick. I love the blues as well, but in those days, it was a very free approach. I just played.

Ian wanted a guitarist that with no pre-conceived style. He didn’t want a blues guitarist. He had already had one in Mick Abrahams, who went on to form Blodwyn Pig. Ian wanted someone with an open mind who would try stuff out and go to a different place without questioning it. So it worked out perfectly.

As a self-taught guitar player, how were the complex parts that make up a Jethro Tull song communicated?

I knew everything they knew. I was taught flute professionally before I joined Jethro Tull, so I could read music and I understood music. We were all at the same level musically.