Like most of the great prog-rock bands that survived beyond the ’70s, Jethro Tull didn’t have the luxury of sitting still. Synthesizers, sequenced rhythms, shifting public tastes — it all had an effect (sometimes subtle, sometimes not) on the flute-favoring Ian Anderson and his rotating cast of players.
But few of these groups evolved in such a distinct way. Every Jethro Tull sounds clearly like Jethro Tull, but it’s also easy to separate their catalog by sonic pivot points: the early blues-leaning material (1968’s This Was), the famous prog run (1973’s A Passion Play), the folk-rock trilogy (1978’s Heavy Horses), the flirtation with electronic-rock (1984’s Under Wraps), the dicey return-to-rock ’80s stretch where Anderson sounded remarkably like Mark Knopfler (1987’s Crest of a Knave), the later experiments with ethnic fusion (1995’s Roots to Branches), a modern revival nodding to their ’70s peak (2022’s The Zealot Gene).
That combination makes certain albums easy to underrate. For example, many die-hard fans react to Under Wraps like someone with a peanut allergy handling a pack of M&M’s. But it’s mostly a production concern: Wipe away the sequenced sheen, and those songs aren’t too far removed from the Tull of old.
The same goes for overrating. The definitive Jethro Tull sound started to blossom on 1971’s Aqualung, home to future live staples like the title track and “Locomotive Breath.” But in retrospect, the arrangements feel almost tentative compared to the robust complexity of Thick as a Brick or Songs From the Wood.
All that to say: It’s somewhat likely that you, Jethro Tull fan, will disagree with every ranking on this list. But that’s part of what makes this catalog so unique. A few select clunkers aside, this band has made interesting music for a very long time.
Jethro Tull Albums Ranked
Few bands have evolved in such a distinct way.