Morning Music: Locomotive Breath

Jethro Tull - Aqualung

I asked Will for a recommendation for a song and he mentioned Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” I’m deeply divided about the band. On the one hand, they’re like the best bar band ever, and Ian Anderson is great on the flute. On the other hand, they’re like the best bar band ever, and Ian Anderson is great on the flute.

They are still worth listening to now and then. But Anderson grates on me after a short while. And his songwriting doesn’t thrill me in my mid-50s, but I will admit that it did thrill me in my mid-teens.

After reading a bit about “Locomotive Breath,” I find I have a problem with it too. Don’t get me wrong, I like it. It’s exactly the kind of song that the band was meant to play. I could do without the stupid introduction but once it gets going, it’s great.

But I read that Anderson wrote it to express his concern about over-population. Really?! I don’t see how anyone was supposed to get that from the lyrics. I wish artists wouldn’t talk about their work. It always makes it worse.

But okay. It’s fine. “Gonna rock ya!”

Jethro Tull Aqualung cover via Wikipedia under Fair use.

6 thoughts on “Morning Music: Locomotive Breath

  1. not a big Tull fan, but “Heavy Horses” is great. They also put out a very good live album, “Bursting out”.

    • The band is solid. I stopped paying attention when Ian Anderson fired everyone and formed a new band. I think he is what most annoys me. But he’s also pretty great. I seem incapable of saying anything positive or negative without providing a caveat. I don’t know of another band that drives me crazy like this!

  2. I would never have guessed overpopulation either. If anything, maybe pollution? The song has a chugga-chugga guitar riff, like smoke piping out of an engine.

    Quite right about Tull being the best bar band with a flute. I generally ease my way out when a bar band starts playing (you don’t want to be obviously insulting the artists, of course). But if I was in, say, a hotel bar, and some band started doing hard rock numbers with a flute, I’d definitely stick around rather than go back to my room and watch cable.

    The best band I ever saw in a bar was this thing called “Cordelia’s Dad.” They did only old songs, and I mean REALLY old — 18th/19th century stuff, some older. But not as a nostalgia act. More that some old songs are about rage, murder, sex, VD, quite contemporary if you tweak the arrangement a bit.

    Interestingly, although I saw that band in Portland, the lead singer briefly taught “shape note” singing at the University of Minnesota. It’s a form of musical notation which is simpler than regular music notation, and intended to make printed music easier to read for non-musicians who just want to sing together. Church choirs, etc. It was a big thing in the 19th century. He did a free public instructional bit about it on the lawn of the teeny music school across from my St. Paul apartment.

    I had no idea this was going to happen. I just walked out the door one day, and there was this guy whose band I’d enjoyed in a Portland bar giving singing lessons to 10 passers-by about 19th-century music notation. (This is why, despite shitty landlords, urban living is cool; some nifty weird stuff occasionally happens.) I recognized his voice immediately, it’s very distinct.

    Anyhoo, I could recommend ten Cordelia’s Dad songs, but I’ll go with the opening number they played at that Portland bar. It’s about workers being treated horribly, how quaint:

    • Yes, life in a city is interesting — even magical.

      Another thing I like about Tull is that the band isn’t pretentious. Anderson is! But I’d definitely listen to that band. Of course, Anderson fired everyone in 1980, I think.

      That’s a nice song. Maybe I’ll go with them tomorrow. Right now I have to write something about John Prine.

      • I was going to do a Prine bit, but you’ll do it better.

        Mine was halfway about how he said his songs “Jesus: The Missing Years” and “Sabu Visits The Twin Cities Alone” were nuts. I believe those are genuinely great songs. Prine only thought they were nuts as he wrote the things. Surprise surprise, a lot of listeners liked them.

        Prine also refused to take credit on a song he wrote with best friend Steve Goodman, a parody of every country-music cliche. It became a country-music hit. Goodman sent Prine a jukebox full of country 45s as a joke in return.

        • I’d love to see something you write about Prine. The truth is, I’m feeling super stressed. I don’t have the time to get everything done that I need to. Or rather, I don’t when the rest of my life changes a little bit. I certainly don’t think I’ve done a good job with him.

          I’d like to hear that song!

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