But as Ian Anderson tells Music Aficionado, its success was far from a sure thing. "I knew it was going to be a struggle to convince people that Jethro Tull weren't just a straightforward 12-bar blues band," he says. "We did lose a few original fans, but we gained a lot more than we lost. My own feeling is that it was the right album at the right time."
By replacing guitarist Mick Abrahams, a blues purist, with the relatively inexperienced but open-minded Martin Barre, Anderson was free to move beyond the British blues of the band’s debut album, This Was, and incorporate pastoral English folk, frenetic proto-jazz-fusion, blistering hard rock, along with classical and Middle Eastern music into a fresh new potpourri, laying an important brick in the foundation of what the UK press was starting to call "progressive rock."
In the pantheon of Jethro Tull albums, how do you rate 'Stand Up'?
I would certainly put it as one of my top five albums in terms of achievement, and in a sentimental way, it probably goes to number one or two, simply because it was the very first album of music that I had written. It was like the first creative thing that I've really done.
Artists like Eddie Vedder, Joe Satriani and Joe Bonamassa have called the album one of their favorites. You've heard this?
That's always nice to hear, of course. You know, in 1969, there were a number of British bands that were expanding the basics of blues and R&B and trying out their eclectic ideas. They, and we, were a precursor to what became progressive rock, so I guess you could say the genre had its real beginnings in this period. In fact, by 1970, the term "progressive rock" was used in the British press to talk about music that was moving past American rock music and bringing in influences from classical music, folk, jazz and even world music. And that's where we were going. It's where I wanted to go.
You were writing the music and the lyrics for the first time by yourself. Did this come easily to you?
Pretty much. When Jethro Tull began in February of 1968, we were jumping on the underground blues bandwagon, which was common not just in London, but throughout England. Most towns at that time had a blues club. You'd play these clubs or in the back rooms of pubs, and it was a way to get noticed. It wasn't really what I wanted to do creatively long-term, although it was my love of black American blues—mainly acoustic blues—that brought me into music.
But I didn't want to be a poor imitator of something that culturally, musically, and in terms of ethnicity, was a million miles away from my own experiences growing up in England. And when there was a glimmer of hope from record company interest that we could be a little more original, I started writing the music for 'Stand Up.'
So I had a bunch of ideas, but the only problem was trying to get musicians who could play them. Our original guitar player wasn't interested in anything that went outside conventional rock 'n' roll and blues—that was his thing. So it was either going to be a choice between my music or Mick Abrahams as a guitarist. He knew I was unstoppable in my pursuits, so he realized it was time to move on.
Did your relationship with Mick become acrimonious?
It was acrimonious in the sense that Mick didn't want to work more than three days a week, and he didn't want to travel because he was afraid of flying. The rest of us, of course, had a completely different work ethic, and so things did come to a head because of Mick's unwillingness to undertake a certain degree of commitment.
Martin was also an interesting one. He had the least experience as a guitar player of anyone else, but he had the enthusiasm and energy to try to find a way to work with the songs that I had presented to him. He was a good choice because he and I were both learning on the job. We were a good match then and for the next 40-odd years we worked together.
What did you immediately notice working in the studio with Martin as opposed to working with Mick?
The difference was that Martin would always admit when he didn't know how to play something, and we would sit down and work it out together, whereas Mick would play what Mick would play. He couldn't do anything else and he didn't like to be confronted with something new. Martin was interested in learning and evolving. We both had steep learning curves, but we just decided to get going and get things right.
Did your record label have any input into what you were doing?
They just took gratefully what was presented to them and kept their fingers crossed that it would sell a few copies. We were assigned to the fledgling Chrysalis Records; in fact, we were the basis of the label, because the first album had come out on Island Records in Europe and Reprise in the U.S. The deal that Chrysalis had with those record companies was if we surpassed a certain threshold of record sales, that would trigger their right to have a label identity. That's how we evolved together, so Warner Brothers, which owned Reprise, and Island Records didn't really have any say. There was no involvement with us in the A&R side of things. Everybody just did their job.
You really expanded your instrumentation on 'Stand Up.' On the song "Fat Man," you even played the mandolin.
I know that Roy Harper was a big influence on you. One can hear that in the song "Reasons for Waiting."
Some people have pointed out the similarities of the chord progression in "We Used to Know" and "Hotel California."
In no way do feel any remote sense of having been taken advantage of whatever. Sometimes people try to plant those ideas in my mind as if I should be taking out a lawsuit for plagiarism, but far from it. I think the Eagles came up with one of the best pop-pock songs that we've ever witnessed. It's an excellent song—excellent lyrics, finely sung and played. What more can I say?
You worked with Andy Johns on the record. How important was his contribution to the sound?
Andy was a delight to work with, but he was also a little nerve-racking. He had an older brother, Glyn, who was working with the Rolling Stones and Traffic, and Andy was desperate to step out of his brother's shadow. We were the first band he engineered. He'd been a tape operator prior to that, but he talked our manager, Terry Ellis, into letting him engineer our sessions.
Andy made up for his lack of experience with lots of enthusiasm. He even played bass guitar on one track. He was a fast worker, which suited me. We did quite a lot in a short space of time. Of course, he went on to become a very important engineer and record producer. Sadly, I think the lifestyle and the excesses of one thing or another got the better of him, so he didn't fare as well in later years as he should have.
When you heard that 'Stand Up' went to number one, were shocked, surprised, elated—all of that?
I remember the moment when I found that out. I was sitting in a dining room in Loews Manhattan Hotel on 8th Avenue having breakfast, and Joe Cocker, who was also staying in the hotel, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, congratulations. Your album went to number one in the UK." I said, "Oh, wow. That's terrific news, Joe. Are you going to eat all of that toast, or can I have a slice?"
So you were blasé about it?
Pretty blasé, but back then, it was kind of cool to be blasé and not be too triumphant about such things.
If someone told you right now that an album of yours went to number one, would you still be blasé?
At this point of my life, it would be very shocking that such a thing would occur. Honestly, though, I've never really been terribly moved by charts positions. That's always seemed to be a reflection of sales in a short period of time. And we all know how record companies can manipulate charts, so I don't take the whole thing too seriously. I think the more important figure is when you look at the cumulative sales over a longer period of time and you see whether something has reached out to people in different parts of the world in varying degrees.
Getting gold records can feel a bit cheesy, but I know other people are hugely moved by the feeling of success they have when they receive these tangible forms of evidence of their popularity. For myself, I'm always more moved by walking onto a stage and seeing an audience of smiling faces. That's worth far more than chart positions and gold albums at the end of the day.