I’m not sure a more fascinating and inventive song — both lyrically and musically — has ever been created about the simple act of commuting home on the train. What I really love most about Jethro Tull’s Journeyman (Heavy Horses, 1978), is the way the bass drives both the melody and cadence, right from the opening notes. Once Ian Anderson’s vocal chimes in, continue following that bass line as it takes you on merry, syncopated journey off the beaten track.
This song is richly layered in composition, instrumentation and voice (listen for Anderson’s extra gravelly voice layered over his own more sonorous takes for a wonderful vocal depth). The bouncy thematic rhythm is infused with a variety of changes and tempo riffs, a temporal temptress always keeping your attention on the periphery of the beat. All this activity makes Journeyman one of those musical pieces that provides endless hours of active listening play — there’s always some new relationship between notes, phrases, instruments to discover — but it’s also fun to just kick back and enjoy.
So, kick back… and enjoy.
Spine-tingling railway sleepers
Sleepy houses lying four-square and firm
Orange beams divide the darkness
Rumbling fit to turn the waking worm.
Sliding through Victorian tunnels
Where green moss oozes from the pores.
Dull echoes from the wet embankments
Battlefield allotments. Fresh open sores.
In late night commuter madness
Double-locked black briefcase on the floor
Like a faithful dog with master
Sleeping in the draught beside the carriage door.
To each Journeyman his own home-coming
Cold supper nearing with each station stop
Frosty flakes on empty platforms
Fireside slippers waiting. Flip. Flop.
Journeyman night-tripping on the late fantasic
Too late to stop for tea at Gerard’s Cross
And hear the soft shoes on the footbridge shuffle
As the wheels turn biting on the midnight frost.
On the late commuter special
Carriage lights that flicker, fade and die
Howling into hollow blackness
Dusky diesel shudders in full cry.
Down redundant morning papers
Abandon crosswords with a cough
Stationmaster in his wisdom
Told the guard to turn the heating off.