10 Jethro Tull Songs That Will Turn Old Haters into New Fans

Jethro Tull‘s lineup has changed dramatically through the decades—perhaps most notably in 2012, when Martin Barre, the group’s guitarist for 43 years, was replaced. At the time, the publicist for Jethro Tull told American Songwriter that the change was made because founder, songwriter, and frontman Ian Anderson wanted to work with more varied musicians.

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Although the departure of Barre and other longtime bandmates has disappointed many fans, Ian Anderson has kept the band evolving, adding more folk, jazz, classical, blues, and rock to Tull’s repertoire. Ever since the band’s 1968 debut album, This Was, which featured a blues-influenced sound, the band has re-imagined its artistic approach while remaining in the progressive rock genre.

Jethro Tull concerts often feature a setlist that dips back into the group’s most well-known songs, including “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath,” and “Cross-Eyed Mary.” Although those are among the band’s most commercially successful tunes, there is much more to Jethro Tull’s catalog than those anthems.

As corny as it sounds, Tull has a song for just about every music lover. Here’s a selection of stand-out Jethro Tull tracks (minus the best-known, commercially successful ones), listed in chronological order, that are must-listens for those skeptics who are new to the band.

1. “Dharma for One” from This Was (1968)

Ian Anderson and the band’s first guitarist, Mick Abrahams, wrote the song “Dharma for One,” which is heavy on blues and jazz, which has been a mainstay of the band’s original sound. The song is mainly instrumental, but the lyrics reference Eastern philosophy and spirituality. The band has re-recorded this one a few times and often plays it live, often in a jam-band style.

2. “Reasons for Waiting” from Stand Up (1969)

This album is from the band’s sophomore album, which was the first after Martin Barre joined the group. “Reasons for Waiting” is a gentle, melodic love song with intricate arrangements around acoustic guitars, flute, and a string section. Fans often mention “Reasons for Waiting” as a prime example of personal introspection told through music.

3. “To Cry You a Song” from Benefit (1970)

“To Cry You a Song,” from the album Benefit, returns Jethro Tull’s sound to blues with doses of progressive rock and folk. The uptempo song has some lyrics that fit in with the hippie era of the 1970s, while also likely mourning the loss of a relationship. The best way to illustrate the flavor of the song is to consider these opening lyrics: 

Flying so high, trying to remember
How many cigarettes did I bring along?

When I get down, I’ll jump in a taxi cab
Driving through London town
To cry you a song

4. “Sweet Dream” from Living in the Past (1972)

Concertgoers likely won’t hear Jethro Tull play this song. Ian Anderson, now age 76, tends to avoid songs that may be better sung by younger singers. But “Sweet Dreams” is definitely a stand-out track, especially in these days of civil unrest. The music is a blend of rock and blues—heavy on the rock—and the lyrics touch on escaping the harsh realities of life and conformist attitudes.

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Longtime fans know that Anderson is often called “The Minstrel in the Gallery” due to his high-energy performances in which he often stands on one leg while playing the flute. The song’s lyrics harken back to medieval times when minstrels entertained but often felt solitary and isolated. The song stands out due to the intricate acoustic opening that leads into a heavier electric section, which some critics think represents the world’s chaos.

6. “Velvet Green” from Songs from the Wood (1977)

The album Songs from the Wood is arguably Jethro Tull’s most British folk-centric album. The song “Velvet Green” blends rock and traditional folk and is another example of the band’s romantic bent. The lyrics tell the story of a couple walking through the English countryside and sharing intimate moments. Youth, love, and nature’s beauty are among the themes. (Siiiigh…)

7. “Dun Ringill” from the album Stormwatch (1979)

Anyone who loves fantasy like Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter series of novels will enjoy the song “Dun Ringill” from Stormwatch. It’s been said the song is one of the band’s most atmospheric, as it outlines the beauty of Scottish Highlands and a storm-worn shoreline. The music is serene and haunting.

8. “Broadsword” from the album Broadsword and Beast (1982)

The song “Broadsword” from Broadsword and Beast is another tune that takes the listener back to medieval times with lyrics that encompass “dragons,” “knights,” “shields,” and other Game of Thrones-type imagery. This song is a call to spiritual arms to battle various threats and challenges in life. It’s a consistent fan favorite.

9. “Farm on the Freeway” from the album Crest of a Knave (1982)

This song exemplifies Jethro Tull’s movement into more contemporary rock with a mix of folk. The song is about progress that often comes at a cost to workers, especially. The piece is engineered so that Anderson’s passionate lyrics are in front of the instrumentation, giving them more power.

10. “Beside Myself” from the album Roots to Branches (1995)

Those looking for comfort in the face of grief, social injustice, regret, and introspection will find it in “Beside Myself” from Roots to Branches. The song combines elements of rock and folk with Indian music, which gives it a broad appeal to those looking back and searching for answers.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

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