Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath

Jethro Tull - Locomotive Breath

‘Locomotive Breath’ is a song by British progressive rock band Jethro Tull from their 1971 album, Aqualung. Written as a comment on population growth, the song was meant to replicate the chugging rhythm of a train. In addition to its release on Aqualung, ‘Locomotive Breath’ saw two different single releases and has been a live favorite. It is one of Jethro Tull's best-known songs.

Written by Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, the locomotive in this song is running out of control, and is a metaphor for societal problems. Anderson gave a detailed explanation of the song in a 2013 interview with Songfacts, where he said: "When I wrote it, I wasn't deliberately setting out to write a piece of music on a particular subject. But it evolved during the writing process into being not terribly specific, but about the issues of overcrowding - the rather claustrophobic feel of a lot of people in a limited space. And the idea of the incessant unstoppable locomotive being metaphor for seemingly the unstoppable population expansion on planet Earth.”

He continued, “When I look at it today, it does, for me, become very crystallized in being a song about unmanageable population expansion. It's something that concerns me even more today than it did back when I wrote it, when the population of planet Earth was only about two thirds of what it is today. So in my lifetime alone, we've seen an enormous increase in population, and an enormous increase in the degree to which we devour our limited resources. So the idea of population planning and management is something that I think we ought to be thinking about a lot more than we do. Does that mean I think we should sterilize everybody after the age of 30? No, of course not. The size of the family you want to have is going to be your choice. But, you should make that choice knowingly, wisely, and responsibly."

‘Locomotive Breath’ was released on Jethro Tull's 1971 album Aqualung in 1971. An edit of the song was released in the US as a single in 1971, backed with ‘Wind-Up’, though it did not chart. A 1976 single release of the song, backed with ‘Fat Man’, was more successful, reaching number 59 on the Billboard charts and number 85 in Canada. The song was also released as the B-side to ‘Hymn 43’. Since its initial releases, the song has appeared on multiple compilation and live albums, including Living in the Past, M.U. - The Best of Jethro Tull, and Bursting Out. The song receives frequent airplay on classic rock radio stations.

Ian Anderson ranked ‘Locomotive Breath’ as one of his top 10 Jethro Tull songs. Billboard regarded the song to be Jethro Tull's best purely rock song in some time, saying that it had a similar theme and feel to ‘Aqualung.’ Cash Box praised the "incredible flute work from Ian Anderson." Ultimate Classic Rock named the song Jethro Tull's third best, saying, "This tune covers the length and breadth of Anderson’s songwriting talents, beginning with a bluesy John Evan piano intro so discreet one can barely hear it at times, before crashing into some of the most bombastic hard rock display of the band’s career."

Labels – Reprise (original US), Chrysalis/Capitol (US re-issue)
Songwriter – Ian Anderson
Producers – Ian Anderson, Terry Ellis


[Verse 1]
In the shuffling madness
Of the locomotive breath
Runs the all-time loser
Headlong to his death
He feels the piston scraping
Steam breaking on his brow
Old Charlie stole the handle
And the train it won't stop going
No way to slow down
[Verse 2]
He sees his children jumping off
At the stations - one by one
His woman and his best friend
In bed and having fun
He's crawling down the corridor
On his hands and knees
Old Charlie stole the handle and
The train it won't stop going
No way to slow down
[Flute Solo]
[Verse 3]
He hears the silence howling
Catches angels as they fall
And the all-time winner
Has got him by the balls
Oh, he picks up Gideon's Bible
Open at page one
I said, God, he stole the handle and
The train it won't stop goin'
No way to slow down
No way to slow down
No way to slow down
No way to slow down
No way to slow down
No way to slow down
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