Jethro Tull, ‘Aqualung’ – Lyrics Uncovered
Happy birthday to Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson! The Scottish rocker/flautist turns 64 years old today (Aug. 10), so to celebrate we’re digging up the dirt on one of his band’s most famous hits — ‘Aqualung,’ from the 1971 album of the same name. It’s a song that’s been spoofed by the likes of Conan O’Brien, Ron Burgundy, and Howard Stern, but the original version is still alive and well on rock radio stations today.
“The idea came about from a photograph my wife at the time took of a tramp in London,” Anderson told ‘Guitar World‘ in a 1999 interview. “I had feelings of guilt about the homeless, as well as fear and insecurity with people like that who seem a little scary. And I suppose all of that was combined with a slightly romanticized picture of the person who is homeless but yet a free spirit, who either won’t or can’t join in society’s prescribed formats.”
“Sun streaking cold / An old man wandering lonely / Taking time the only way he knows.”
“So from that photograph and those sentiments, I began writing the words to ‘Aqualung,'” Anderson continues. “I can remember sitting in a hotel room in L.A., working out the chord structure for the verses. It’s quite a tortured tangle of chords, but it was meant to really drag you here and there and then set you down into the more gentle acoustic section of the song.”
“Do you still remember / December’s foggy freeze / When the ice that clings on to your beard is screaming agony.”
Jethro Tull recorded the song at the same time Led Zeppelin was recording their untitled fourth album. Guitarist Martin Barre talked about playing the song’s epic solo. “The only thing I can remember about cutting the solo is that Led Zeppelin was recording next door, and as I was playing it, Jimmy Page walked into the control room and waved to me. How I didn’t stop playing I don’t know, but I carried on somehow.”
The band never released the song as a single. “Because it was too long, it was too episodic,” Anderson explained to Songfacts.com. Radio host Howard Stern has immortalized ‘Aqualung’ by creating a game in which you have to begin sentences with the song’s opening riff, or the famously syncopated melody of “Sitting on a park bench / Eying little girls with bad intent.” Most of his “lyrics” are too raunchy to post here, but you can listen to a clip of the game — with Ian Anderson in studio — Here.
Watch Jethro Tull perform ‘Aqualung’