Genre: Progressive Rock
Preceded by: This Was (1968)
Followed by: Benefit (1970)
Related to: not available yet
Old bearded men playing endless symphonic compositions and singing about all kind of mystical themes: progressive rock. A genre in music history which is praised as many times as it’s feared. I myself am a big fan; Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake &Palmer, King Crimson, Yes and even Genesis, I loved it all from the start. Somebody once asked me which ‘prog’ album I would recommend him as he wanted to learn to know the genre. The guy liked bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, The Doors,… and I could only come up with one album that could soothe the transition from that world of music into one including all the achievements of progressive rock: Stand Up.
Progressive rock originated in the late sixties, heavily influenced by psychedelic rock from the US. Bands like Procol Harum (with it’s hit ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’) and The Moody Blues (with it’s album Days of Future Passed) started to incorporate elements from classical music into their work. Other (mainly British) bands followed by going beyond the standard verse-chorus based song structures with complex instrumental ‘songs’. They frequently brought these songs together on so called concept albums, with all lyrical contributions treating a specific theme or telling stories with epic proportions.
In contrast with bands like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull didn’t have its origins in psychedelic rock but in blues rock instead and that’s exactly what makes Stand Up such an accessible prog album. Tull’s debut basically was a mediocre blues album featuring a flute. Singer Ian Anderson decided to start playing this instrument after he realized he couldn’t outbid Eric Clapton as a guitar player so he picked an instrument no rock star had played before to become the world’s best at it. Together with this new instrument he started to put in all kind of new influences into the group’s sound after taking full control of the band. He wrote all the tracks on the album, which pushed Tull in the direction of progressive rock.
The first track on the album (with awesome artwork) is the raw, bluesy ‘A New Day Yesterday’. Together with ‘Nothing Is Easy’ (track 6 on the album), these songs are juiced with some solid guitar riffs and sound like the hard rock of Cream, completed with some energetic flute loops. The album also delivered Tull’s first classic: ‘Bouree’. It’s a very jazzy reinterpretation of the classic composition ‘Bourrée in E minor’ by Bach, with Anderson’s flute replacing the piano. Also noteworthy is the delicious bass solo in the middle of the song.
The album continues with ‘Back to the Family’, a song which Anderson must have written to prove that he also had a great voice besides his capabilities as flute player. Moreover, guitarist Martin Barre performs a great solo towards the end, something he repeats in an even better way on the next track, the ballad ‘Look Into The Sun’. But just like last week’s album, the best songs are saved for the second part. ‘Fat Man’ reinvents blues by inserting eastern instruments like the sitar and the notorious balalaika. But it even gets better.
For me personally, the last three songs of the album are the best ones. The most melodic of them all is ‘We Used To Know’, on which Anderson performs the best melancholic vocals I’ve prolly ever heard. It’s chord progression and even the guitar solo in the end was used later by the Eagles for their monster hit ‘Hotel California’, as they liked the song very much while supporting Tull on their tours in the seventies. ‘Hotel California’ might have become the greatest hit, ‘We Used To Know’ is the real stuff. Make your own judgment on that one. The song gets a melancholic sequel on ‘Reasons For Waiting’, a love song which blends the acoustic guitar and the flute beautifully together.
The album doesn’t fade out after this one because you’ll be shaken completely around again by it’s final piece: ‘For A Thousand Mothers’. Anderson’s flute is more aggressive than ever on this uptempo track and just when you think the storm has ended he strikes back one more time with a solo. Certainly check out the album if you don’t know it because if you like it, there’s a lot more waiting for you.