What's in a Name? Jethro Tull's 'A'

Ian Anderson and Martin Barre in 1980
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Paul Natkin/Getty Images

When Jethro Tull fans first dropped the needle on the band's first album of the '80s, they were in for quite a surprise. Perhaps the title made that clear - it was simply named A - and the story behind it made it even clearer.

The truth is, it was never meant to come out under the now-legendary prog-folk band's name at all.

"It was mainly to be a foray into a more hard-edged electric and less quaint music that energized me to write and arrange the material," frontman Ian Anderson explained in 2004. Indeed, guitarist Martin Barre and bassist Dave Pegg, who'd joined the band on tour the previous year after John Glascock's sudden death, were the only Tull members to feature on this record. Joining the "band" in the studio was Eddie Jobson, a keyboard/violin virtuoso who'd logged time with Curved Air, Roxy Music and Frank Zappa; and his friend, drummer Mark Craney.

But Anderson's intentions were to release this material under his own name: hence the title, a reference to where the tapes in the studio were filed (under "A" for "Anderson"). But the record company had other plans, and A became the first in a bold new era for Tull, marked by increased electronics and a few other future-forward flourishes like the ensuing Slipstream long-form music video, featuring live performances and some avant-garde images. (Anderson and company wearing white jumpsuits is a striking image for Tull fans around this period!)

In 2021, under the title A (A La Mode), Tull's "solo album that wasn't" was remixed by Steven Wilson for its 40th anniversary, packed together with both Slipstream as well as the audio of the concert that was recorded for the video. It's a fascinating listen for prog-rock fans, and for Memorial Day weekend, the fine folks at Rhino are offering 15% off on the set, along with free shipping on all orders over $50. That makes this the perfect time to give yourself an A for effort. You deserve it!

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