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Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson Shares the Story Behind the Iconic Riff From "Aqualung"

Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
“Aqualung” Aqualung (1971)

“I compose most of my songs on acoustic, and therefore the way I play the guitar impacts on the way the song sounds.

"I wrote the main riff [to ‘Aqualung’] in a hotel room in New York City. At the time I was trying to write songs that had [single-note] lines that would translate on the electric. I knew the ‘Aqualung’ riff would work well because it pretty much echoes the vocal melody.

"In this case, the riff I played for Martin Barre [Jethro Tull lead guitarist] on the acoustic instantly became the song’s electric part.”

Here's a live video of the band performing "Aqualung" at Madison Square Garden in 1978:

From the GW archive: This story originally appeared in the February/March 2005 issue of Guitar World Acoustic.

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Acoustic Nation is written by Laura B. Whitmore, a music industry marketing veteran, music journalist and editor, who has contributed to Parade.com (opens in new tab), Guitar World, and others. She has interviewed hundreds of musicians and hosts the She Rocks Podcast. As the founder of the Women’s International Music Network (opens in new tab), she advocates for women in the music industry and produces the annual She Rocks Awards. She is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Positive Grid, making the world safe for guitar exploration everywhere! A guitarist and singer/songwriter, Laura is currently co-writing an album of pop songs that empower and energize girls.