Jethro Tull: “Living in the Past” (1969)

Tull’s timeless song about choosing the past over the present gave them their first big hit.

Kronomyth 1.8: Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

This is Jethro Tull’s first hit single and perhaps the song most likely to be laid on the turntable when Ian Anderson passes from this green pasture into the next. Me, I’ll play “From a Deadbeat to an Old Greaser” or perhaps “Requiem” (being a bit too literal for my own good), but I’m a saturnine creature by nature. Living in the Past features orchestration (ably provided by Lou Toby) and an interesting time signature. It’s also a sign of the wonderful, Traffic-inspired progressive folk music to come. And its anti-social message is just icing on the cake for someone like me.

When first released in the waning days of Spring 1969, the song was paired with the nonalbum Driving Song, an electric blues number that found its inspiration rather in Cream. On it, Anderson complains of being driven too hard while Martin Barre relates his displeasure on the electric guitar. It’s not one of Tull’s better tracks, although the band’s electric blues beginnings always seemed like a false start to me.

A few years later, the band packaged its singles, unreleased songs and live tracks under the title of Living in the Past. From this set “Living in the Past” and Christmas Song were pulled as the promotional single and nearly cracked the US Top 10. In some ways this is a double A side single, as “Christmas Song” is a perennial favorite among fans and just as likely to turn up on the radio as “Living in the Past” these days.

When the greatest hits album, M.U. The Best of Jethro Tull, was released, “Living in the Past” was again cleverly pressed into service as the single, this time with Requiem from Minstrel in the Gallery on the flip side. In the 1980s, Old Gold combined “Living in the Past” with The Witches Promise as a retro twofer.

Original 7-inch single version

A1. Living in the Past (Ian Anderson) (3:24)
B1. Driving Song (Ian Anderson) (2:47)

US 7-inch single version
A1. Living in the Past (Ian Anderson) (3:18)
B1. Christmas Song (Ian Anderson) (3:04)

7-inch single version (1976 M.U. reissue)
A1. Living in the Past (Ian Anderson) (3:18)
B1. Requiem (Ian Anderson) (3:41)

Back-to-back hits 7-inch single reissue
A1. Living in the Past (Ian Anderson) (3:18)
B1. The Witches Promise (Ian Anderson) (3:44)

The Players

Ian Anderson (flute, vocals), Martin Barre (guitar), Clive Bunker (drums, percussion), Glenn Cornick (bass guitar) with Lou Toby (string arrangements, conductor). Produced by Terry Ellis and Ian Anderson, “Christmas Song” produced by Terry Ellis and Jethro Tull.

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch single on May 2, 1969 in the UK and Sweden (Island, WIP-6056), Germany (Island, 388 851 UF), Italy (Island, SIR-IL 20.102) and the Netherlands (Island, 6056 WIP) with regional picture sleeve. Reached #3 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on 7-inch single in Spain (Island, 14.972) with picture sleeve.
  2. Re-released with “Christmas Song” on 7-inch single on October 10, 1972 in the US (Chrysalis, CHS 2006) and Australia (Reprise, R3578) and New Zealand (Reprise, RO.3578). Reached #11 on the US charts (charted on November 4, 1972 for 14 weeks).
  3. Re-released with “Requiem” on 7-inch single on January 16, 1976 in the UK (Chrysalis, CHS 2081).
  4. Re-released with “The Witches Promise” on back-to-back hits 7-inch single in August 1987 in the UK (Old Gold, OG 9673).
Spanish 7-inch single reissue
Island 14.972 picture sleeve

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