When the U.K.'s highly eccentric young blues-rock quartet Jethro Tull cheekily posed for the cover photo of their 1968 debut in old-age makeup, they probably didn't have any idea they'd still be a touring band 40 years later, ultimately racking up some 60 million units sold. Of course, founder-frontman-flautist Ian Anderson is the only member on that disc who's still affiliated with Tull – and the group's sound has changed radically over the decades – but it's a testament to his singular sensibility that the Tull brand abides.
That first album, This Was, has just been reissued in a handsome double-disc set by Capitol/EMI, and it remains an intriguing snapshot of Tull's early style. Anderson's flute was closer to the blue-note acrobatics of jazzman Roland Kirk (whose "Serenade to a Cuckoo" is covered here) than to the symphonic-rock axe it became in the band's proggier days, and his vocals have a throaty, faux-bluesman overlay he subsequently abandoned. Guitarist Mick Abrahams left after this recording to form his own outfit, Blodwyn Pig, and was replaced by Martin Barre, who remains Jethro Tull's shredmeister to this day. But the outstanding rhythm section of bassist Glen Cornick and drummer Clive Bunker would stay on through several strong LPs and help establish the band's ability to deliver proto-metal thunder or baroque pop with equal power.
The original 10 tracks on This Was, including the signature tune "A Song for Jeffrey" and some energetic blues workouts, appear in both mono and stereo versions here, along with performances from BBC music guru John Peel's "Top Gear" show and various U.K. singles. It may be too much of a not-always good thing (the 12-bar formula wears thin, and Bunker's drum solo on "Dharma for One" is unlikely to make many iPod playlists), but it's a fascinating glimpse of a classic-rock legend's motley beginnings.
Besides, everything's coming up Tull; it's fruitless to resist. Exhibit B? Eagle Vision's DVD Jack in the Green: Live in Germany, featuring Deutschland concert footage from '70-'71, '82, '86 and '93. Though you're essentially seeing very different bands here, the disc shows what a reliably powerful arena-rock act the group became, whether dishing out epic psychedelia as young lions (notably the barn-burning "Nothing Is Easy") or mounting elegant (if cheesy) Renaissance riffage like "Hunting Girl" and "Heavy Horses" as grizzled vets. Perhaps most touchingly, they revisit "My Sunday Feeling," the opening track from This Was, in the '93 segment. Not that they were done by then, of course – Tull is hitting the road this summer (including several dates with Peter Frampton). Click here for tour dates.