Some heavy music die-hards may think of Jethro Tull — the ever-shifting rock institution led by the flute-flaunting, prog-indulging Ian Anderson — with bewilderment, disdain, or both. But that bias may be unfairly ingrained, tied in part to broader rock lore.

In February 1989, the Grammy Awards caused a cultural kerfuffle, awarding the band’s most recent LP, Crest of a Knave, with "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance" — beating out more obvious nominees like Metallica, Iggy Pop and Jane’s Addiction. "There was a two-minute pause, then everybody broke out laughing," presenter Alice Cooper recalled to Classic Rock, part of a full-blown history devoted to the event. "They thought I was doing a joke."

It might as well have been one — a reality that pretty much everyone accepted immediately. But even if the slick Crest of a Knave isn’t better (or heavier) than, say, …And Justice for All, Jethro Tull still brought the thunder back in the day. In fact, there’s a strong correlation between the band’s inventiveness and intensity: On classic early '70s LPs like Stand Up and Aqualung, they balanced prog flair and folk sensitivity with some of the most aggressively hooky hard rock riffs of their era.

Of course, no one’s confusing Jethro Tull with Black Sabbath — even if the reference does make sense on occasion. But as Anderson has continued to evolve and experiment, flirting with electronics and Eastern sounds and, yes, Christmas music, he hasn’t lost his heavy side: You’ll even find occasional fretboard fireworks on the 21st century Tull records, including 2022’s The Zealot Gene and 2023’s RökFlöte.

Still, most metal-heads and fuzz junkies seek out the band’s first decade — and so, naturally, that’s where we’ll focus this list of the 10 Heaviest Jethro Tull Songs.

10. "Saturation"
From: War Child (1974)

If you were to rank rock bands by their outtakes, Jethro Tull would have to be near the top. "Saturation," cut from their underrated seventh LP, War Child, is a quirky little thing: There are plenty of deliciously bluesy riffs and ornate drum flourishes, and the arrangement occasionally quiets down into sections of creepy synth and marching snare. Meanwhile, have you ever heard a more hilariously heavy lyrics? "They burned my books and they broke my car / And gave the dog to a man who used him for breeding," Anderson laments. "They felled my trees and they trampled flowers / And threw the kitten into my new pool."


9. "To Cry You a Song"
From: Benefit (1970)

When Jethro Tull get heavy, it’s often due to the gusto of guitarist Martin Barre: a devoted fan of the bluesy and neck-breaking. On this ripping cut from the band’s third LP, Benefit, we’re treated to multiple Barres through the stair-stepping, sleazily harmonized main riff and some wicked lead lines that are stacked and stereo-panned for maximum '70s-rock edge.


8. "Cat’s Squirrel"
From: This Was (1968)

Even back in their more ragged early days, Anderson was weaving in the jazz and folk influences that soon enough set his band apart. But the band’s debut LP, 1968’s This Was, was sort of its own beast, powered by the brash blues-rock energy of guitarist Mick Abrahams. The cranked-up instrumental "Cat’s Squirrel" — popularized by Doctor Ross and also covered by Cream — is a full-on Abrahams showcase, peaking with a multi-minute torrent of soloing midway through.


7. "No Lullaby"
From: Heavy Horses (1978)

"No Lullaby" isn’t heavy like This Was is heavy. Much of the weight here comes from subtleties and tensions: Barre fills cavernous spaces with echoing, bent-note licks and harmonic pings; the rhythm section crawls and then suddenly explodes; and a gravelly voiced Anderson sings ominous warnings like an evil spirit from an ancient text: "Keep your eyes open / And prick up your ears / Rehearse your loudest cry / There’s folk out there / Who would do you harm."


6. "Urban Apocalypse"
From: Stormwatch (1979)

Granted, this track — a somewhat obscure leftover from Tull’s already overlooked 1979 LP, Stormwatch — does feature a classical piano intro and some genteel tuned percussion toward the end, not to mention a breeze of delicate synthesizer and clean guitar that may inspire you to frolic through your nearest meadow. Elsewhere, though, it’s a hard prog beast: Anderson belts every word with wide-eyed mania ("You hold the reins of the apocalypse"), and Barre’s quasi-metal riffs plow through all the time and tempo changes with gleeful bombast.


5. "Hymn 43"
From: Aqualung (1971)

Jethro Tull’s fourth album, Aqualung, is a balancing act of acoustic reveries and revved-up riffs, spiked with plenty of biting commentary on religious hypocrisy. The latter two lanes converge with "Hymn 43," anchored by the stomp of John Evan’s piano and Barre’s chorus riff. (The guitarist’s stammering, palm-muted pattern is a particularly savory bit of business.) "If Jesus saves, well, he better save himself," hollers Anderson at his most dramatic. "From the gory glory-seekers who use his name in death."


4. "Aqualung"
From: Aqualung (1971)


It’s the obvious set list staple on this list, and it’s earned its keep — despite technically never being issued as a single. "Because it was too long … too episodic," Anderson explained to SongFacts. "[I]t starts off with a loud guitar riff and then goes into rather more laid-back acoustic stuff." It’s indeed a dynamic piece, but a certain darkness and drama colors even the most major-key moments. Plus, there’s the reliably heavy work of Mr. Barre, from the almost demonic verse riff to a walloping guitar solo in the song’s second third.


3. "Minstrel in the Gallery"
From: Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)

If you’re craving only the cranked-amp stuff, you can skip right past the first two minutes, which find Tull at their peak of pastoral folkiness. (You shouldn’t skip it, by the way — it’s lovely.) From there, though, it’s a real hard prog barnburner: riffs that traffic in distortion and dissonance, some of Anderson’s chestiest belting, interjections of Evan’s nasty Hammond organ and the locomotive drumming of Barriemore Barlow.


2. "For a Thousand Mothers"
From: Stand Up (1969)

Not many Jethro Tull songs have an authentic psych-rock flavor, but this one comes close. "For a Thousand Mothers" wraps up the band’s second album, Stand Up, with a surge of frantically tumbling riffs, high-end-spraying cymbals and angsty lyrics that seem to address the family squabbles between a (possibly fictional) rocker and his parents. ("Did you hear father," Anderson sings, "Calling my name into the night / Saying I’ll never be what I am now?")


1. "A New Day Yesterday"
From: Stand Up (1969)

In a just world, Barre’s monster main lick would reverberate against the walls of every single Guitar Center — a grimy staple to sit alongside "Whole Lotta Love" and the like. Instead, it remains a classic deep cut from Stand Up, highlighting Barre’s thick slabs of fuzz, Anderson’s overblown flute and hair-raising harmonica, and the perfectly sloppy lurch of drummer Clive Bunker and bassist Glenn Cornick.

Jethro Tull Albums Ranked

Few bands have evolved in such a distinct way.

Gallery Credit: Ryan Reed

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