[Review] Jethro Tull: This Was (1968)

What do you get when you cross Cream with a one-legged flautist? This (was).

Kronomyth 1.0: Cream de Bouree.

Welcome to what has historically been my least-favorite album by my favorite band, Jethro Tull. The prophetically titled This Was is an altogether different album than those that followed. Here, the band is entrenched in the British blues-rock of the time, fitting stylistically between Cream (particularly in the drumming by Clive Bunker) and Traffic (in the flute playing of Ian Anderson)—not exactly a rock and a hard place, given the success of those two bands at the time.

Anyone looking for the signature sound of the future Jethro Tull, which I assume would be most people, will find glimpses of it on Beggar’s Farm and My Sunday Feeling. The rest of the record spends its time airing out textbook blues originals (Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You, It’s Breaking Me Up), covers (Cat’s Squirrel, Serenade to a Cuckoo) and instrumental workouts (Dharma for One). Already, the band sounds remarkably confident, and you can literally hear Anderson’s sharp wit being honed in the process. But the fact remains that This Was is very much a band effort, and what followed was Anderson in a spotlight.

At the time of its release, Mick Abrahams was still in play as the band’s possible frontman. He cowrote much of the material, takes lead vocals on the likeable and vaguely Kinksian Move on Alone and even dares to follow in the fretsteps of Eric Clapton on “Cat’s Squirrel.” But there was Ian with his long hair and longer overcoat, one-legged flauting and wise-beyond-its-years sardonic wit, and Abrahams must have known his days in the spotlight were numbered.

I rarely listen to This Was these days. When I do, I’m usually struck by Clive Bunker’s superlative drumming. In Bunker’s world, everything gets struck: drums, rims, horns, passersby. He’d make my shortlist of underrated drummers, a list that would include Procol Harum’s B.J. Wilson and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. Abrahams is a more-than-serviceable lead guitarist, Glenn Cornick a solid bass player, but Clive and Ian were something special.

Over the years, This Was has received remasters, collectors’ editions and, in a frankly unwarranted show of affection, a 50th anniversary edition featuring the original mono and stereo mixes, Steve Wilson remixes, unreleased recordings and sundry singles, which they might just as well have called This Was More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Jethro Tull’s First Album.

Original elpee version

A1. My Sunday Feeling (Ian Anderson) (3:38)
A2. Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You (Ian Anderson) (2:42)
A3. Beggar’s Farm (Mick Abrahams/Ian Anderson) (4:19)
A4. Move on Alone (Mick Abrahams) (2:00)
A5. Serenade to a Cuckoo (Roland Kirk) (6:01)
B1. Dharma for One (Ian Anderson/Clive Bunker) (4:11)
B2. It’s Breaking Me Up (Ian Anderson) (4:56)
B3. Cat’s Squirrel (traditional, arr. by Mick Abrahams) (5:36)
B4. A Song for Jeffrey (Ian Anderson) (3:18)
B5. Round (Ian Anderson/Mick Abrahams/Clive Bunker/Glenn Cornick/Terry Ellis) (0:50)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. One for John Gee
12. Love Story
13. Christmas Song

2CD Collectors Edition
A1-A10. Mono versions of original album, remastered
A11. So Much Trouble (BBC sessions)
A12. My Sunday Feeling (BBC sessions)
A13. Serenade to a Cuckoo (BBC sessions)
A14. Cat’s Squirrel (BBC sessions)
A15. A Song for Jeffrey (BBC sessions)
A16. Love Story (John Peel session)
A17. Stormy Monday (John Peel session)
A18. Beggars Farm (John Peel session)
A19. Dharma for One (John Peel session)
B1-B10. New stereo mixes of original album
B11. Love Story (new stereo mix)
B12. Christmas Song (new stereo mix)
B13. Sunshine Day
B14. One for John Gee
B15. Love Story
B16. Christmas Song

The Players

Mick Abrahams (guitar, nine string guitar and singing), Ian Anderson (flutes, mouth organ, claghorn, piano and singing), Clive Bunker (drums, hooter and charm bracelet), Glenn Cornick (bass guitar) with David Palmer (arrangement on A4). Produced by Terry Ellis and Jethro Tull; recording engineered by Victor Gamm.

The Pictures

Cover concept by Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis. Photography by Brian Ward.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on October 28, 1968 in the UK (Island, ILP/ILPS-9085), on February 3, 1069 in the US (Reprise/Chrysalis, RS 6336) [two-tone steamboat label] and Australia (Reprise, RS-6336) and in 1969 in Italy (CR International/Island, SLIR 22.031) and Japan (Reprise, SJET-8129) with gatefold cover. Italian elpee features different cover. Reached #10 on the UK charts and #62 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1970 in the US (Reprise/Chrysalis, RS 6336) [tan steamboat label] with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US and Japan (Chrysalis, CHR 1041) [green label] with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Island, 85 683 IT).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Chrysalis, CHR 1041) [blue label] with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1983 in the US (Chrysalis, PV 41041) with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1986 in the US (Chrysalis, F2/F4 21041).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Chrysalis, VK 41041).
  8. Re-issued on elpee in 1990 in Brazil (Chrysalis, 321041 1).
  9. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2001 in the US (Capitol/Chrysalis, 5 35459 2) with 3 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on Collectors Edition expanded, remastered 2CD in 2008 in the UK (EMI) with new mix and bonus tracks.
  11. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2014 in Europe (Parlophone, 225646307807) feat. 2008 remix.
  12. Re-released on 50th Anniversary Edition 3CD+DVD in 2018 in the US (Chrysalis) with original mono and stereo mixes plus Steven Wilson remix and bonus tracks.
  13. Re-released on 50th anniversary edition 180g vinyl elpee in 2019 in the US (Chrysalis).

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