Aqualung is a song by Jethro Tull which is a bum with poor hygiene. Jethro Tull vocalist and flute player Ian Anderson wrote it about a character he made up based on actual photographs of transient men. Ian's wife at the time, Jennie, was an amateur photographer and had brought the pictures for Ian to look at. Many of the lyrics are Ian describing the men in the pictures. (thanks, Matthew - Fountain Valley, CA)
Anderson called this "a guilt-ridden song of confusion about how you deal with beggars, the homeless."
The character Aqualung is mentioned in another song on the album, "Cross-Eyed Mary," which is also a character Anderson created.
Ian Anderson's wife Jennie got a songwriting credit on this and receives royalties from the song. She and Anderson divorced in 1974.
The album cover had a drawing of Aqualung. Some fans thought it was supposed to be Anderson.
This is Jethro Tull's most famous song, but it was not released as a single.
- Ian Anderson told us why: "Because it was too long, it was too episodic, it starts off with a loud guitar riff and then goes into rather more laid back acoustic stuff. Led Zeppelin at the time, you know, they didn't release any singles. It was album tracks. And radio sharply divided between AM radio, which played the 3-minute pop hits, and FM radio where they played what they called deep cuts. You would go into a album and play the obscure, the longer, the more convoluted songs in that period of more developmental rock music. But that day is not really with us anymore, whether it be classic rock stations that do play some of that music, but they are thin on the ground, and they too know that they've got to keep it short and sharp and cheerful, and provide the blue blanket of familiar sounding music and get onto the next set of commercial breaks, because that's what pays the radio station costs of being on the air. So pragmatic rules apply."
An "Aqualung" is a portable breathing apparatus for divers. The character in the song has a breathing problem, which is why he is known as "Aqualung." Learn more about an Aqualung and how it relates to diving in Song Images.
The unusual audio effect you hear in this song is called "telephone burbles" where you remove all frequencies except for a narrow band around the 1,000 hertz mark. This is to reproduce the sound of a telephone. As Ian Anderson told us: "It's also like when you're addressing a crowd through a megaphone. Or even perhaps the tinny sound of a voice trumpet, which is a non-active megaphone. It's a form of address. It's the sound that woke up young pilots in 1941 and sent them into the skies to battle the Hun. This is the sound of the Tannoy, the calling to arms of young men going up in their Hurricanes and Spitfires. It's something that's very much part of the blood of an Englishman."
This song is mentioned in the movie Anchorman after Will Ferrell plays a riff from it on his Jazz flute and says, "Hey, Aqualung." (thanks, Brad Nash - Rochester Hills, MI)