Deep Cuts From 1971: ‘Aqualung’- Jethro Tull. 1971 was a big year for Jethro Tull. Their album Aqualung their 4th studio album became their first U.S. Top 10 album- even though there wasn’t a hit single from the album. From listening to AOR in the late 70’s I would have thought the title track and “Locomotive Breath” had been hits but no. ‘Aqualung’ was written by Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson and his wife at the time Jennie. The song is the story of a homeless man named Aqualung.
This song deals with our reaction to the homeless population. Jethro Tull vocalist and flute player Ian Anderson wrote the song and called it “a guilt-ridden song of confusion about how you deal with beggars, the homeless.” Elaborating in the 40th anniversary reissue of the album, he said, “It’s about our reaction, of guilt, distaste, awkwardness and confusion, all these things that we feel when we’re confronted with the reality of the homeless. You see someone who’s clearly in desperate need of some help, whether it’s a few coins or the contents of your wallet, and you blank them out. The more you live in that business-driven, commercially-driven lifestyle, you can just cease to see them.In this song, Aqualung is a homeless man with poor hygiene. Ian Anderson wrote it about a character he made up based on actual photographs of transient men. Ian’s wife at the time, Jennie, was an amateur photographer and had brought the pictures for Ian to look at. Many of the lyrics are Ian describing the men in the pictures.
Jennie also wrote a few lyrics to go with the pictures, which earned her a songwriting credit, so she receives half the royalties from the song. She and Anderson divorced in 1974.