Classic Rock Review

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Jethro Tull Stand Up (1969)


As I said, Abrahams quit right after cutting This Was and was replaced by… Martin Barre? Nope, by Tony Iommi; and that’s not a stupid joke. Tony even played a couple of gigs with them, you can even see him on the Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus. Imagine what could happen if he’d decide to stay! Jethro Tull embracing heavy metal and Satanism? At least, there would be no Black Sabbath, that’s for sure… (Mind you, I’m nor saying that would be a good possibility. I’m trying to be careful in order not to offend any Black Sabbath fan. I just have a bone against evil music, that’s all…)

However, history can’t be re-written, so we have to digest the fact that Tony didn’t really get along with Ian. So Martin Barre came along – forgetting his amplifiers and spilling coffee on his guitars. He also played them – and did it much better than Mick Abrahams and maybe even better than Tony Iommi; at least, in the early days he had some incredible guitar tones, a good knack for mighty riffage and a heavy fuzzy lead attack that could have easily rivalled Jimmy Page’s and sometimes even beat it. Before he switched over to generic crappy metal in the late Eighties, that is.

Meanwhile, Ian got some more flute practice, wrote some more songs and finally decided they just had to develop a style – it was 1969, by gum, and if you didn’t have a style back then, you pretty much sucked. Those were the days, eh? To that end, there’s just one blues number on the entire record, and even so it is an absolute Tull classic. And why? Because of the great ‘double-descending’ riff which you don’t hear that much on a generic blues number.

Of course, I’m speaking of ‘A New Day Yesterday’ – what else could I possibly be speaking about? And you just don’t know how I love an original and memorable guitar riff every now and then – helps me more than aspirin. The leap from ‘My Sunday Feeling’, the ‘blues groove’ that opens This Was, to ‘A New Day Yesterday’, the ‘blues groove’ that opens Stand Up, is indeed astonishing: the band now sounds like a rip-roarin’ blues tank, with a skillfull mastery of overdubs, a steady twin-guitar-flute attack and Clive Bunker’s perfected drumming style.

And the other numbers? Hard to believe it, but they’re all absolute rippers. For starters, there’s a couple of resplendent ballads in a glossy pop style which Ian has never been able to reproduce again: even though ‘Look Into The Sun’ and ‘Reasons For Waiting’ sound rather alike, they are just beautiful oh so beautiful, with some strings popping out now and then in the right moments and Barre’s acoustic guitar shining through, with subtle shift of dynamics (watch, for instance, the solemn and tender verses of ‘Reasons’ seamlessly flow into the ominous, strangely menacing flute refrain, then just as seamlessly flow back into the main guitar melody – that’s what perfection is).

And the album’s main highlight is Anderson’s flute arrangement on Bach’s ‘Bouree’, one of the most stunning rock-classic fusions ever. The flute, bass and guitar mingle together to incredible effect on here; the song is thus like an ‘elder brother’ to ‘Serenade For A Cuckoo’, but it’s a trillion times more effective, catchy and beautiful.

Taken on the album scale, however, it’s the hard numbers that really make this record. People might rave on about Aqualung, but it’s Stand Up which is doubtlessly their most hard-rockin’ album before the infamous metal period in the late ’80-s, and they really could play ‘hard rock’ (as opposed to ‘heavy metal’) better than almost any of their contemporaries – better than Beck, better than Led Zep! In order to be convinced, just take a listen to the gargantuan coda on ‘Nothing Is Easy’, with that bitchin’ aggressive interplay between Barre’s guitar and Ian’s flute (another trademark, that one), and to the accelerating drum pattern in the end (the one that goes ‘bang – bangbang – bangbangbang – bangbangbangbang’, and the ‘stone-rolling-down-a-hill’ conclusion).

Nobody made music that rocked so bleedin’ hard in mid-1969! ‘Back To The Family’ is another fearless rocker with Ian spitting out satirical lines about how he’s being neglected in the forkin’ suckin’ society before the final frantic battlecharge of all the instruments; ‘We Used To Know’, whose eerie melodical connection with ‘Hotel California’ has often raised many weird hypotheses, features breath-taking, cathartic wah-wah solos; and ‘For A Thousand Mothers’ closes the album on another hard note, even though I don’t like it quite as much as the other numbers, maybe because of the fact that Ian’s vocals are unexpectedly buried down deep in the general chaos.

And finally, I nearly forgot to mention the Indian-flavoured ‘Fat Man’ with Ian complaining about his gaining weight. It is certainly to be considered the ‘groove’ of the record: some jolly sitar-imitating lines contribute to the funny atmosphere, while the lines ‘Don’t want to be a fat man/People would think I’m just good fun/Would rather be a thin man/I’m so glad to go on being one/Too much to carry around with you/No chance of finding a woman who/Will love you in the morning and the night time, too’ are probably among Ian’s best lines of all time.

I’ll admit right here and now that I do not consider him a great poet (all the prog-rockers liked to think of themselves as tremendous lyricists when in reality they were just overbloated humbugs), but for the time being he was no prog-rocker ‘cos prog-rock didn’t exist as yet which meant he actually had to take pains to think over his lyrics instead of committing to paper all the nonsense that came into his head.

In fact, this is certainly the best advantage of this album, and the reason I prefer it to Aqualung: this is no prog rock, just a great collection of rock’n’roll songs. Buy it now, if you haven’t heard it you’ve no idea of how great they once were. Hell, Melody Maker nominated them second best of 1969, right after the Beatles but even before the Rolling Stones. I wouldn’t go as far, but it’s definitely a fabulous album all the same, and certainly the best ‘hard-rock’ record of the year, if not all time. Prog-rock? Forget it!

January 4, 2014 Posted by | Jethro Tull Stand Up | | Leave a comment