Jethro Tull – This Was
With many bands that go on to achieve a degree of success, their debut efforts are looked back upon as lacking or even amateurish in their songwriting, musicianship, production, or some combination of the three. But some start strong right out of the gate. I consider Jethro Tull’s This Was, released 50 years ago this day in the US (Feb. 3, 1969 in the UK), to be one of the better debuts among bands from the era.
This Was IS different from what came after, and it’s mainly to do with personnel. Whereas Jethro Tull is known as Ian Anderson’s band, on this first record he collaborated with guitarist Mick Abrahams, who brought a heavy R&B and jazz flavor to the songs. Abrahams would subsequently depart to form Blodwyn Pig, leaving Anderson as the driving force going forward in an English folk and prog direction. Abrahams wrote or co-wrote three and arranged one of the album’s tracks. His lead vocal on Move On Alone is the only Jethro Tull vocal that would ever be done by someone other than Ian Anderson.
Blues-based English groups in the 1960’s were plentiful, but the ones who garnered the most attention brought a unique twist to their recordings and appearance. As BBC reviewer Sid Smith noted on the album’s 40th anniversary, “… what made Tull stand out from the great-coated crowd was the high-visibility of frontman Ian Anderson’s on-stage Tourette’s-inspired hyper-gurning and Mick Abraham’s ferocious fretwork…Anderson’s presence though is of course undeniable and extensive.”
Contemporary reviews in Melody Maker and New Musical Express were quite positive, whereas Robert Christgau, henceforth to be known as Oscar the Grouch on this blog, hated it. (Seriously, I’ve had about enough of that guy!) The album features the traditional tune Cat’s Squirrel, a raucous affair which was a popular live choice for various bands including Cream, who also recorded it for their debut a couple of years earlier.
Most of the songs were written by Anderson or Abrahams, except one traditional tune (Cat’s Squirrel) and one by jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Serenade to a Cuckoo). Ian Anderson learned the flute from listening to the latter. The sound of the opener, My Sunday Feeling, has been compared to that of the Graham Bond Organization (the group where Jack Bruce and Ginger resided pre-Cream). In my mind it has a hint of Davey Graham as well. In other words, it’s very English sounding blues.
Concert staple Dharma for One features a Clive Bunker drum solo I find more interesting than most rock drum solos, especially on studio recordings. Anderson’s A Song for Jeffrey is the most widely known track of the bunch, as the band partially mimed it for their performance on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. I really don’t hear a weak track on this album. I also think it benefits from the shorter overall length, as did many others at the time. Jethro Tull came on to the scene, made their first relatively brief statement, and moved on to the next album. This was alluded to in their choice of the album’s title. This was what they were, but they would be something different going forward.
- My Sunday Feeling
- Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You
- Beggar’s Farm
- Move on Alone
- Serenade to a Cuckoo
- Dharma for One
- It’s Breaking Me Up
- Cat’s Squirrel
- A Song for Jeffrey