~ Rock Island ~



An introduction to
"Rock Island"

After the great success of "Crest Of A Knave" (and of the "20 Years Of Jethro Tull" box set, released in 1988) it was almost impossible to write and record a new album that would meet the same high standards. Although "Rock Island" - released in Spemtember 1989 - used the same approach as "Crest Of A Knave", it was not at all a remarkable album. It contains some excellent songs, while others are rather mediocre compared to earlier albums. All of them appear to be thorough and sturdy, almost massive. Most of the material has a hard rock feel, featuring Martin Barre's electric guitars. What the album lacks is humor and lightness, which makes it all seem too serious. Anderson has been the first one to admit that. The same happened to earlier albums like "Benefit" and "Heavy Horses" and are by fans sometimes refered to as "the dark albums".

When we look at the lyrics much of this album deals with themes of alienation and loneliness, separation from the mainstream of society and wandering down strange avenues. The result is one of the more unsettling Tull albums - there's nothing on here to compare with the warmer, more comfortable stuff we've seen previously. The theme is continued in "Catfish Rising" to an extent, but there it's tempered slightly - 'White Innocence' e.g. is musically and lyrically much more easy to cope with, for example - as if there the narrator is accepting the situation rather than being miserable or angry about it.

All songs were written by Anderson, recorded at his home studio and most of the percussion was recorded at Dave Pegg's Woodworm's studio. To apply different keyboard playing styles, Ian invited Martin Allcock, Peter Vettese and John Evans, but the latter refused having lost his interest in music years before.

"Rock Island" was introduced to the fans through a year long world tour in 1989-1990.
* Julian Burnell, Jan Voorbij

Top of page

The "Rock Island" tour programme (1989).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh
(Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).



Kissing Willie

  • The first thing we see with the song is that Ian wrote it in a first-person perspective i.e. the narrator, telling the story, is directly involved in it. The second thing we see is the 3-way relationship between the narrator, Willie and the "she" person. The first question to ask is who is Willie, or rather what is Willie? Well I don't know if Ian has a friend called Willie (don't think so!) and Ian usually writes about true events, so perhaps this is one of his story-songs. The title and the line "She shows a leg, shows it damn well", already shows that there is a mild sexual context to the song, so maybe if we look for more we will find it.
  • Another thing to keep in mind, is that the narrator doesn't seem to mind being cheated on. He's not angry at her at all, in fact it seems as if he quiet enjoys it, "Well, she's a nice girl, but her bad girl's better"! And why is this? Again, if we don't look at "Willie" being a person's name we can see a reason for this in the line "My best friend, Willie". It is said (not by me!) that many men build up a special bond between themselves and their private parts, you could almost call it, a friendship! So, perhaps this is what Ian is referring to in that line.
  • So if we believe all that about Ian's use of the word "Willie" in this song, we see an almost totally new meaning to the line "now she's kissing Willie". No longer is it just innocent osculation between two lovers but in fact: fellatio! Look at the line "She eats filet of sole and washes it down" again, to see what I mean!
    * Oran Fitzgibbon

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The Rattlesnake Trail

Ears Of Tin

  • "Island in the city. Cut by a cold sea.
    People moving on an ocean. Groundswell of humanity."

    This describes the narrator's anticipa ted loneliness in the city, out of his home environment. He expects to feel like a solitary island in the ocean of the everyday concerns of urban dwellers. I read the phrase "cut by a cold sea" in two ways. It could mean that he expects the urban people to be cold and unfriendly, too wrapped-up in their daily concerns to accept an outsider. Alternatively, the narrator thinks that he'll find himself 'cut-off' and unable to identify with the urban people, because his upbringing next to the cold seas around Skye gave him a different outlook on life.

Waterfall near Glen Shiel, Scotland In Focus Picture Library

The Five Sisters Of Kintail (Source unknown)


1. Barbara Espinoza: "Driving In Diverse, A Collective Profile Of Jethro Tull" (Kearney, NE, 1999); 2. K. Schram (ed.), Gerard J. Burns:" The Jethro Tull Songbook" (English-German edition; Heidelberg, Germany, 1997); 3. Greg Russo: Flying Colours, The Jethro Tull Reference Manual (Floral Park, N.Y., 2000)


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Forward to the "Rock Island" annotations page 2



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Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)

August 31 - 2000