Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001

Reviewed: October 14, 2002
By: Scott Allen Nollen
Publisher: McFarland & Company, Publishers
360 pages, $69.95

One of the joys of the internet has been the ability it gives a person to follow up his or her musical tastes. Just because a band drops of the popular radio radar doesn’t mean that it ceases to exist, and over the past few years I’ve tracked down and filled in the gaps in a number of parts of my music collection. With a band as long-lived as Jethro Tull this can be a bit of a chore. Sometimes you need a reference book.

That’s where Nollen joined my shelves. I could fault the book for being less about the band than it is about its albums, but that suited my purposes just fine. Once you get past the brief two chapters at the beginning, the bulk of the book is an album by album account of the band’s musical adventures, beginning with “This Was Jethro Tull” (1968) release that signalled the band would be forever changing, and concluding with “Jethro Tull Dot Com” (2000) Ian Anderson’s third solo album, “The Secret Language of Birds” (2000).

There’s an awful lot of material in between those bookends, and a bit more since.

Nollen’s basic pattern is to discuss the general direction, personnel changes and themes of each album, then to take the songs by one. I found I enjoyed these musical discussions and they added a lot to my enjoyment of the material, even when it involved albums I had owned and listened to for years. Each sections concludes with an account of the supporting tour for the album. It’s often in these sections that you learn the most about the personal lives of the band members.

Oddly enough, Nollen is not just a Tull super fan, having also produced books on such pop culture subjects as Laurel and Hardy, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes films, Robert Louis Stevenson on film and the work of Boris Karloff.