Jethro Tull – “Locomotive Breath”

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“Locomotive Breath” is a song that starts slowly, beginning with a bluesy intro. John Evans piano intro is so discreet one can barely hear it at times, before crashing into some of the most bombastic hard rock displays of the band’s career.” This is such an incredible song with a bang of a beat that I was completely blown away with. After listening to this song, I can truthfully say that this song, along with several other Jethro Tull songs have rocked their way into my heart and onto the playing list of my favorite songs!

Written by Jethro Tull front man 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 our 2013 interview, 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.

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.”

“Old Charlie,” who appears in the chorus to this song, represents God. Anderson says that when he “stole the handle,” he left the train running out of control. This symbolized everyone facing injustice in life and feeling powerless to do anything about it – you just have to make the best of it.

Released in 1971 on their “Aqualung” album and peaked at #62 in the USA.





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.
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.
He hears the silence howling –
Catches angels as they fall.

And the all-time winner
Has got him by the balls.
He picks up Gideons Bible –
Open at page one –

God He stole the handle and
The train won’t stop going –
No way to slow down.

Credit: Songfacts


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