Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson talks ’70s concept albums but can’t comment on Quadrophenia



By Steve Newton

Although I have no documented proof that I’m related to either Beavis or Butthead, I do harbour a couple of hazy teenage memories that keep me pondering that possibility. The one that has me most worried goes back to Chilliwack Senior Secondary School, circa 1974. During one so-called study break I snuck into the library to play a scratchy, school-owned copy of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung on one of those crappy portable stereos with the clunky tonearms.

With the cheapo headphones snugly in place and the volume cranked, I accidentally sent the needle skidding across the vinyl, where it screeched loudly before finding the groove near the beginning of the title track. In my rush to be rockin’ out on school time I’d forgotten to plug the headphone jack into the stereo, though, and before I realized it Ian Anderson’s booming voice rang out loud and clear, shocking the studious types nearby with the choice line “Snot running down his nose!”

That red-faced ordeal notwithstanding, Aqualung remains my fave Tull record. I always thought it was a wonderful concept album that examined the antisocial antics of the grubby tramp on the album cover—whom I took to be Aqualung himself—and his outcast associates, such as “Cross-Eyed Mary”.

So I’m embarrassed yet again when Anderson calls from Poughkeepsie, New York, and informs me that—although there were three or four songs that “kinda hung together” on that album—it definitely wasn’t a concept album. It turns out that Tull’s first concept album was its next release, 1972’s Thick as a Brick, which was recently released in a remastered 25th-anniversary edition.

Aqualung had been widely viewed by the critics as a concept album,” explains Anderson, whose band plays the Orpheum Theatre next Thursday (October 30). “So when it came to the next album I thought, ‘Let’s have a little fun with everybody, and let’s pretend this was written by a 12-year-old boy. We’ll give them the mother of all concept albums, and make it a bit of a spoof on the concept-album genre.’

“So that was the raison d’être for Thick as a Brick, and it was, as far as it went, an okay thing. And I’m gonna be playing maybe 10 or 15 minutes of it in almost all of our concerts, so it still has its relevance as part of what we do. I will probably even have to play a snippet of it in about an hour’s time when I go to a local radio station and they expect me to get up and be, you know, Mister Party Man, spontaneously and live. It’s the sort of thing you just kind of pick up a guitar and do a little bit of, and people say, ‘Oh, I remember that one.’ ”

Anderson says that Tull only made two concept albums per se, the other being 1973’s Passion Play, although there were others that leaned toward the concept idea, such as War Child (which had some “common ground” among its songs) and Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll: Too Young to Die (“a bunch of songs deliberately written and put together around a certain character”).

If I had to pick one, my favourite concept album of all time would have to be The Who’s Quadrophenia, although mention of that historic treatise on ’60s Brit teen angst doesn’t elicit similar raves from Anderson.

“I’m not a Who fan,” he says bluntly, “so I can’t really comment on that. The Who were sort of okay as one of those British bands that kinda did stuff way back when, but I’ve never been really much of a fan of most British pop and rock music. There’s a few things that I think are pretty good. The Stones I liked, and I liked things like the Animals and Led Zeppelin.

“But probably the stuff that I liked in British music was much more influenced by black American music, which was my prime influence. Black American urban blues, ’50s and ’60s period. But then you add into that this mysterious and confusing contribution of Irish folk music, European classical music, Asian music, a bunch of other stuff, and it gets complicated after that.”

Anderson’s taste in music has remained diverse since Jethro Tull released its first album, the blues-based This Was, in 1968. The afternoon of our chat, the 50-year-old rocker was out buying a CD of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band recorded live in London in ’74. Prior to that, he’d invested in a disc by Indian percussionist Zakir Hussain, as well as the latest releases by Ben Harper and David Bowie.

Even though his band was one of the most successful concept-album purveyors of ’70s rock, you won’t find any copies of Yes’s Tales from the Topographic Ocean or the Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination on his personal playlist.

“Concept albums were always a bit sort of raised-eyebrow,” he figures, “because it was very pretentious and very precocious of naive rock musicians to get up and do such grand and aspirational music that would be requiring people to sit and pay attention for 40 minutes. I mean, thank God there weren’t CDs around then, otherwise they would have lasted 60 minutes! I just count our blessings.

“I remember the first thing I heard that I would have thought was a concept album in contemporary terms was the Moody BluesDays of Future Passed. I remember listening to that and going, ‘Wow, this is kinda serious stuff,’ and just thinking, ‘I’d rather be listening to Muddy Waters, you know, simple, three- or four-minute songs.’

“I still really feel that that’s the absolute thing in pop- and rock-music terms,” he adds, “this music that seems to have its vital, heart-and-soul value through its lasting three or four minutes. It’s a lot easier to write something that takes 10 minutes, because you can take things, you can develop them, you can extemporize, you can reiterate them—you can do all kinds of things to make something a lot broader. But if you want to distill all that down into just a few precious minutes of something really vital, it’s pretty tough to do.”


To hear the full 23-minute audio of my 1992 interview with Ian Anderson subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 275 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
Chris Whitley, 1991
Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
Bill Elm of Friends of Dean Martinez, 1995
Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
Aldo Nova, 1983
Steven Adler from Guns N’ Roses, 2011
Mick Ronson, 1989
Tom Morello, 2011
Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, 1993
Colin Hay of Men at Work, 1983
Mark Kelly of Marillion, 1986
Luther Allison, 1995
Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats, 2007
J. Geils from the J. Geils Band, 2006
Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, 1997
Jason Newsted of Newsted (and Metallica), 2013
Marshall Crenshaw, 2013
Dan Hartman, 1984
Sean Costello, 2006
Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, 1998
Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, 1993
Brian Blush of the Refreshments, 1997
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Craig Northey of Strippers Union, 2021
Melissa Etheridge, 1990
Joe Jackson, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
John Popper of Blues Traveler, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Ellen McIlwaine, 2001
Derek Trucks of Tedeschi Trucks, 2012
J.D. Fortune of INXS, 2006
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Dizzy Reed of Guns N’ Roses, 1992
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Gary Lee Conner of Screaming Trees, 1992
Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, 1985
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, 2003
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Mike Smith of Sandbox (and Trailer Park Boys), 1996
Dewey Bunnell of America, 1983
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Bill Payne of Little Feat, 2002
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Alejandro Escovedo, 1997
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
Jeff Healey, 1988
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

…with hundreds more to come

Leave a Reply