Living in the Past is a double album quasi-compilation collection by Jethro Tull, which contains album tracks, out-takes, the "Life's a Long Song" EP, and all of their non-LP singles except for "Sunshine Day"/"Aeroplane" (1968), "One for John Gee" (b-side of "A Song for Jeffrey", 1968), "17" (b-side of "Sweet Dream", 1969) and the original version of "Teacher" that appeared in the UK as the b-side of "The Witch's Promise" in 1969 (the re-recorded 1970 one that was released on the American version of Benefit was included instead).
The album was named after the single released in May 1969 and was released in an elaborate gate-fold packaging that contained a large colour photo booklet with over 50 photos of the band.
Two songs, "By Kind Permission Of" and "Dharma for One", were recorded live at Carnegie Hall in New York City, United States. The former would be extended to include "With You There To Help Me" and would be included in complete form, along with "Dharma For One", on the separate CD release "Live At Carnegie Hall 1970".
"Love Story", "Christmas Song", "Living in the Past", "Driving Song", "Sweet Dream" and "The Witch's Promise", some of which had only appeared on mono versions before, were given new stereo remixes for inclusion on the album. Additionally, "A Song for Jeffrey" and "Teacher" were also remixed. Many of the tracks only appeared as British releases before being compiled on Living in the Past for the first time in the American market.
In the United States, Living in the Past was the first Jethro Tull album to appear on the Chrysalis Records label; while each of the band's previous albums were marked as "a Chrysalis Production", the albums were released by Warner Bros. Records' Reprise Records subsidiary. Early U.S. editions of Living in the Past bore both a Chrysalis catalogue number (2CH 1035) and a Reprise catalogue number (2TS 2106), suggesting that the album was scheduled to appear on Reprise Records but that Chrysalis gained control of the band's USA releases in late 1972.
All of the tracks that were not on the original This Was (1968), Stand Up (1969) and Benefit (1970) albums have appeared as bonus tracks on their 2001 Digital Remasters.
AllMusic review the collection positively, stating that: "Not only was Ian Anderson writing solid songs every time out, but the group's rhythm section was about the best in progressive rock's pop division. Along with any of the group's first five albums, this collection is seminal and essential to any Tull collection, and the only compilation by the group that is a must-own disc."
The album peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 charts and went gold not long after its release. The title track from the album became Tull's first top-40 hit in the United States, reaching No. 11, a full three years after it performed well in Britain. In UK, the album reached No. 13. In Norwegian charts, the album hit No. 5.
The US vinyl version has "Hymn 43" in place of "Locomotive Breath" and omits "Inside" in favour of "Alive and Well and Living in", previously unreleased in the US. Additionally, "Witch's Promise" and "Teacher" swapped places and favored the longer US version of ‘Teacher’ instead of the U.K. single version.
"By Kind Permission Of" (instrumental – John Evan, previously unreleased)
"Dharma for One" (Anderson/Clive Bunker, previously unreleased)
"Wond'ring Again" (previously unreleased, recorded in 1970, the second part of the first version of "Wond'ring Aloud", see the tracklist of Aqualung 40th anniversary adapted edition, particularly CD 2, Steven Wilson remaster of associated recordings 1970–1971)
Differences in the song selections between the US and the UK editions of the album resulted in different track listings for the various CD releases. Most CDs had to further alter the track listings, due to time constraints as CDs at the time could only hold up to 74 minutes of music. Since the original American CD edition of Benefit was released with the alternative track list omitting "Alive and Well and Living In", many of the US CD editions of Living in the Past add that track. All of the single CD reissues omit two songs ("Bourée" and "Teacher") in order to reduce the running time to fit the album on one disc, but both countries' versions include "Inside", which originally was only on the UK vinyl. A 1997 two-disc Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissue contains every song selected for the UK and US vinyl editions.
UK single-disc reissue (Chrysalis UK 1990, F2-21575)