Close to the Edge by Yes

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Close to the Edge by YesThe group Yes reached their progressive pinnacle with the 1972 album Close to the Edge. Containing just three extended tracks, the album became Yes’s greatest commercial success to date, reaching the Top 5 on both the US and UK album charts. However, this success did not come without cost as the complex arrangements and stressful studio situation ultimately led to the departure of drummer Bill Bruford.

Following the success of the group’s fourth LP, Fragile, Yes went on an extensive tour. In early 1972, they recorded a cover of Paul Simon’s “America” for an Atlantic Records compilation album and by the Spring of that year, they were back at Advision Studios in London with audio engineer and co-producer Eddy Offord.

None of the tracks on this album were fully written prior to entering the studio and there were several instances where the arrangements had gotten so complex that the band members forgot where they left off the previous day. Offord had worked with Yes on tour and tried to replicate their live energy by building a large stage in the studio. However the arduous process took its toll, especially on Bruford and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who felt like “innocent bystanders” to the thematic vision of the record.


Close to the Edge by Yes
Released: September 13, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Eddy Offord & Yes
Recorded: Advision Studio, London, February–July 1972
Side One Side Two
Close to the Edge And You and I
Siberian Khatru
Group Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Keyboardss
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

Close to the Edge opens with the ambient noise of nature and a world at ease before this vibe is quickly demolished by a piercing, psychedelic guitar lead by Steve Howe, which is impressive technically and interesting in its style. In contrast are Bruford’s rhythms and a punchy baseline by Chris Squire, which make for a tension-filled listen at first, until the song breaks around the three minute mark with a more melodic and atmospheric guitar lead that shepherds the listener into the catchy heart of this 18-minute title track. Composed by Howe and lead vocalist Jon Anderson, the vastly differing textures and moods are taped together in an atmospheric dream-like presentation, with funk based guitar riffs giving way to a hymn-like section and church organ solo before the main theme is reprised (albeit with differing instrumental arrangement) to close out the track.

The album’s original second side, features extended tracks clocking in at ten and nine minutes respectively. “And You and I” is a brilliant suite which offers listeners a completely different feel than that of the side-long title track. It opens with a beautiful, chime-filled acoustic guitar piece by Howe, somber in tone, but quickly picked up by a strong backing rhythm. Through its four distinct sections, the song transitions from folk to rock to a spacey, atmospheric piece with Wakeman’s synths, Squire’s pointed bass, and Howe’s guitars playing hand-in-hand. Eventually the song wraps brilliantly by returning to its folksy roots but with a differing rhythm to give the whole experience a forward motion.

Yes, 1972

The closing “Siberian Khatru” is the most straight-forward and, perhaps, the the easiest listen on the album. It features Yes’s unique combination of funk bass with more beautifully prominent guitar work, which really drives the song through from beginning to end. To achieve the unique sound of Howe’s guitar, Offord used two microphones, one stationary and a second swinging around to replicate a “Doppler effect”.

Bruford left to join King Crimson following the album’s completion and was replaced by Alan White, formerly of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, for the the subsequent tour and albums in the immediate future. Impressed with the commercial and critical success of Close to the Edge, Atlantic Records owner Ahmet Ertegun signed the band to a new five-year contract, which carried Yes through the rest of the decade of the 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1972 albums.

 

Drama by Yes

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Drama by YesYes entered the 1980s with a new lineup and a renewed compositional approach. 1980’s Drama, is the band’s tenth studio album but the first not to feature Jon Anderson as the front man, as Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman left the group during rehearsals for this album. Soon, two members of the new wave group The Buggles, lyricist/vocalist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes were brought in to replace Anderson and Wakeman. While this naturally added some “modern” elements to Yes’s sound, the group simultaneously reverted back to their trademark early seventies approach, which overall made for an interesting and potent fusion.

During the mid to late seventies, Yes slowly morphed from a dedicated progressive rock band to offering more succinct fusion rock. Along the way, internal conflicts on the direction of the band erupted into shifts in the lineup. In 1973 drummer Alan White replaced longtime drummer Bull Bruford and, following the release of the controversial double LP Tales from Topographic Oceans, Wakeman left the band for the first time. 1974’s Relayer saw Yes move in a jazz fusion-influenced direction and was a Top 5 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The group’s 1976 North American tour saw the band at the height of their popularity, playing sold-out stadiums with audiences as large as 100,000. Wakeman rejoined the group for their late 1970s albums Going For the One (another success) and Tormato (a commercial failure).

In late 1979, the band convened with producer Roy Thomas Baker to discuss their next album. A chasm grew over the musical approach between Anderson and Wakeman on one side and the rest of the group who wanted to return to a heavier sound. By March 1980, White, guitarist Steve Howe, and bassist Chris Squire began recording demos of instrumental material because Anderson and Wakeman were so disinterested in their approach. Horn and Downes Happened to be working in the same recording complex and, after Squire heard a demo of one of their new tracks, they were enlisted to joine this reconfigured version of Yes and recorded Drama.


Drama by Yes
Released: August 18, 1980 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Trevor Horn and Yes
Recorded: April–June 1980
Side One Side Two
Machine Messiah
White Car
Does It Really Happen?
Into the Lens
Run Through the Light
Tempus Fugit
Primary Musicians
Trevor Horn – Lead Vocals, Bass
Steve Howe – Guitars, Mandolin, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Squire – Bass, Piano, Vocals
Alan White – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Although filled with extended tracks, this album moves by quickly and is as solid and complete as their tremendous early seventies efforts The Yes Album and Fragile. Also, while all five members of this newly formed band and Eddie Offord are credited with production, the majority of the workload was handled by Horn alone. The opener “Machine Messiah” rolls in with an animated yet doomy heavy prog-rock progression and heavily distorted guitar riffs. After about a minute and half, it breaks into an acoustic and bass driven verse section, which sounds much more like traditional Yes for two verses. This extended track later launches into upbeat and eclectic musical sections with several short leads by Howe, one of which is introduced by Downes and Squire trading synth and bass licks.

“White Car” is an odd interlude, orginally started as a Buggles song, with choppy synths mixed with some traditional orchestra instruments. This minute and a half long track is unidirectional with single verse and chorus. “Does It Really Happen?” starts with a cool, funky bass riff by Squire which is built around by the rest of group. In essence, the song acts as a bridge between the seventies and eighties versions of Yes, with deep Hammond-style-organ chops mixed in with the overall clean funk and some tempo variations during entertaining verses. Ending side one, the song contains some philosophical lyrics;

Time is the measure before its begun, slips away like running water…”

The most popular song on Drama is, “Into the Lens”, which started as a track intended for the second Buggles album called “I Am a Camera”. Squire’s bass rudiments in the intro are gradually joined by keys and guitars for a richer arrangement and experience. Vocally, this song is the first where Horn really distinguishes his style apart from that of Anderson’s and the track moves at a unique pace which is at once rushed and deliberative, really straddling the line between prog and pop like few songs before it. Ultimately, this track found its way back to The Buggles, who released it as “I Am a Camera” in late 1981 and nearly got a Top 40 hit.

Well treated by engineer Hugh Padgham, “Run Through the Light” starts with a slight, distant mandolin by Howe and vocals by Horn with deep reverb. Little by little, the instruments enter in the distance, never really coming completely to the foreground, making for an interesting sonic effect, especially with the multiple synth and guitar licks splattered throughout. The album ends with a high-end, traditional jam. “Tempus Fugit” starts with Downes’ choppy organ riff before launching into a complex patter by Squire’s flanged-out bass and complemented by a Howe’s reggae/ska guitar chop through the verses. Rapid, harmonized vocals lead to the ultimate lyrical hook of, “Yes”, reminding all that this makeshift super-group still carries the mantle of the classic band.

After touring together to support, Drama, this short-lived lineup began to disintegrate as members began to leave for various reasons. Ultimately, Howe and Downes were the last two left but opted to form a new group called, Asia, rather than continue to use the name, “Yes”. Ironically due to their commitment to their succesful new band, these two were the only ones not included when Yes reformed in 1983 and recorded their commercially successful, 90125, albeit Horn’s participation was as producer after Anderson returned on lead vocals.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

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Fragile by Yes

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Fragile by YesFragile, the fourth album by Yes is really a bridge between its rock-influenced predecessor, The Yes Album, and the nearly pure prog albums which would follow. The album features four tracks of full band performances, three of which were of eight minutes length or longer interspersed by five short tracks each showcasing an individual member of the band. This approach makes for a very interesting and dynamic mix as some laid back and introspective, individual tracks give way to a much bolder, harder, and more aggressive style of playing by the band as a whole during the full-lineup extended tracks.

The album was recorded in September 1971 and co-produced by Eddy Offord, who worked on most of the band’s earliest material. During the recordings there was a major lineup change, reportedly due to keyboardist Tony Kaye’s refusal to embrace the Moog synthesizer and stick exclusively to the Hammond organ. Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman. Often using as many as a dozen keyboards on stage, Wakeman added a bit flair to the band’s performance and completed the picture of their classic lineup.

More than any other album, Fragile is an absolute showcase for bassist Chris Squire, who also happens to be the only person to appear on every Yes album (a band known for constant lineup shifting). Squire may have been the first to truly bring this instrument, which is normally buried in the low end of the mix, to the forefront and in unique and inventive ways. Although the album was released in November 1971 in the UK, it was held over until January 1972 across the Atlantic, because there was still chart momentum for The Yes Album in the states.


Fragile by Yes
Released: January, 1972 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, September 1971
Side One Side Two
Roundabout
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side of the Sky
Five Per Cent for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood For a Day
Heart Of the Sunrise
Band Musicians
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman – Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion

The opener “Roundabout” is the ultimate journey song, a musical odyssey which moves from Steve Howe‘s signature, classical guitar intro to a frantic bass-driven riff by Squire to an even more frantic organ solo by Wakeman. The song’s lyrics were written by lead vocalist Jon Anderson and inspired by a long tour ride through Scotland, which alternated between stretches with mountain and lake scenery and traffic-clogged roundabouts.

The middle of side one contains the first two “individual” pieces. “Cans and Brahms” extracts from Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E Minor as arranged and performed by Wakeman. Although a complete left turn from the dynamic opener, it fits in with the larger context of the album. Anderson’s “We Have Heaven” is a much more interesting vocal sound scape by Anderson. Multi-tracked melodies are accompanied only by a simple guitar and drum beat. “South Side of the Sky” closes the side and seems to predate some of the syncopated music of future bands like Devo. The eight minute song contains many musical forays and sound effects, including fine piano by Wakeman and wordless vocal harmonies by Anderson, Howe, and Squire during a unique middle section.

Drummer Bill Bruford launches side two with the frantic, 35 second “Five Per Cent for Nothing”, a wild intro to “Long Distance Runaround”, the most pop-oriented song on the album. The song way be the best example of the band’s tightness as Howe’s bright and economical guitar cutting is counteracted by Squire and Bruford’s simultaneous complex rhythms, without a single moment of confusion. It is like holding three individual thoughts concurrently and not having any get muddled in the slightest. Contrarily, the verse and chorus sections contain Anderson’s simple and melodic vocals over the slow rock rhythm of Wakeman’s choppy keyboard. The song segues into “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”, Squire’s official individual showcase, although there is certainly a case that he shines on several other tracks.

“Mood For a Day” is a solo guitar piece by Howe, a Spanish-flavored flamenco centerpiece, which sounds at times like a cross between a warm-up exercise and a heartfelt recital. It is still entertaining enough to keep listeners on their toes and showcases Howe’s many styles. “Heart of the Sunrise” starts with Squire and Bruford offering one last, intense riff sequence to launch the closer. The longest track on the album, the song is yet another musical journey with lyrics about being lost in a city. This final track gives the album an overall sense of symmetry by closing in the same general neighborhood where it opened.

Fragile propelled Yes in popularity from a small but dedicated following to international stardom. The album reached number 4 in the U.S. and stayed on the charts for nearly a year, the band’s biggest ever commercial success. Yes would take a sharp turn towards pure progressive rock on their next three albums through the mid 1970s.

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1972 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1972 albums.

 

Asia

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AsiaAsia was a short-lived “supergroup” which existed primarily in the early 1980s. Their debut eponymous album was wildly successful commercially, reaching #1 in the US on the Billboard album charts and the top selling album in the States for the year 1982. However, the band also tended to be a letdown to progressive rock fans who were eager to hear the sound forged by former members of some of the top groups in that genre during its heyday of the 1970s. However, the output on Asia, produced by Mike Stone, was distictly pop-rock with only minor nods towards the instrumental flourishes that identified progressive rock.

Guitarist Steve Howe had spent 11 years with the band Yes, playing on all the essential albums that made up the band’s early sound. Howe continued with the band until Yes officially split up (for the first time) on April 18, 1981. John Wetton had done extensive work as a session musician with acts such as Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry and with legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Wetton also lead the prog-rock staple King Crimson for several years during the early 1970s, replacing founding member Greg Lake when Lake went on to form Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. That trio’s drummer Carl Palmer got his start in the mid 1960s with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. With Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, he played on some of the most acclaimed progressive rock albums ever. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was a virtual newcomer to the scene starting with the new wave band The Buggles in 1979 and joining Yes for one album, 1980’s Drama.

In 1981, Howe, Wetton, Palmer, and Downes formed the band Asia, an apparent “marriage made in Heaven” for prog rock fans. But this new band did focus on a more distinct 1980s sound, which focused less on musical virtuosity and more on sonic accessibility.
 


Asia by Asia
Released: March, 1982 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Stone
Recorded: Marcus Studios & Virgin Townhouse, London, June-November 1981
Side One Side Two
Heat Of the Moment
Only Time Will Tell
Sole Survivor
One Step Closer
Time Again
Wildest Dreams
Without You
Cutting It Fine
Here Comes the Feeling
Band Musicians
John Wetton – Bass, Lead Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards, Vocals
Carl Palmer – Drums, Percussion

 

If there is any place on Asia where a hardcore prog rock fan can find some solace, it is on the second side. “Wildest Dreams” contains some abrupt changes between verse and choruses and provides an extensive drum showcase for Palmer. “Without You” is a pleasant ballad, mellow throughout with interesting, moody parts. “Cutting It Fine” is the most interesting here with an acoustic beginning and an extensive piano instrumental by Downes in the coda.

Asia in 1982

On the first side, “Sole Survivor” displays a definite 80s sound, but with an interesting build in the beginning and a flute-like keyboard solo during the middle part. “One Step Closer”, co-written by Howe contains a good beginning which is a hybrid between the Yes and Kansas sound. With the harmonized verse vocals, this song is a true showcase on the album.

“Heat of the Moment” employs several basic rock techniques including the overused Phil Spector drum beat and a subtle building throughout. This opener was the signature song on the album and its biggest hit, reaching #1 on the pop charts.

The other major hit, “Only Time Will Tell”, is the best song on the album. Although song was composed by Downes and Wetton, the mocking guitar by Howe throughout makes this a real centerpiece for the former Yes axeman. The song contains instrumental rudiments and the guitar licks all above and almost-Barry-Manilow-like ballad somehow makes this a very interesting listen. The biggest flaw of this song is that it fades out way too soon.

Asia released a follow-up, Alpha in 1983 and a third 1985 album, Astra, each to less critical and commercial acclaim and this supergroup fizzled soon thereafter. Steve Howe went on to form yet another supergroup with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett called GTR. Wetton released several solo albums and Palmer later rejoined the newly reformed ELP in 1992.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 albums.

 

The Yes Album by Yes

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The Yes AlbumThere are certain albums that have undoubtedly broken through to establish new rules of rock n’ roll and are, therefore immortally classics. Then there are some albums that seem to have missed a great opportunity to become such a classic. The Yes Album by Yes, seems to straddle the line between these two possibilities as it falls just a few feet shy of being a top level rock n’ roll classic. Nonetheless, this is truly a great rock album.

When listening to this album, there are certain awe-inspiring moments where you can’t help but marvel at the sure technical talent of this band. To a lesser extent, there are the moments of over-indulgence and repetition that give The Yes Album a certain “not quite completed” vibe that leaves the slight, regrettable aftertaste of “could-have-been”.

This duality is immediate right up front with the opener “Yours Is No Disgrace”. This is a song that very well may have been considered one of the best ever, if it would have only been arranged better and finished. The simple riff that rips the song into being, grabs you right up front, with a shot of rock adrenaline and prog intellect, but it dissolves all too soon into a calm, droning, harmonized chant of the mundane and simple lyric line. Then the song picks up again and does enter some very interesting musical passages, only to return the drab vocals in just a slightly varied fashion. It is like someone in the band dug the Beatles’ infamous “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)” and wanted to do their own, updated version of that ill-fated experiment.

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The Yes Album by Yes
Released: February 19, 1971 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Yes and Eddie Offord
Recorded: Advision Studios, London, October-November, 1970
Side One Side Two
  Yours Is No Disgrace
  The Clap
  Starship Trooper
 I’ve Seen All Good People
 The Venture
 Perpetual Change
Group Musicians
 Jon Anderson – Vocals
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vachalia, Vocals
Tony Kaye – Piano, Organ, Synths
Chris Squire – Bass, Vocals
Bill Bruford – Drums, Percussion  

The Yes Album introduces us to a new band member, guitarist Steve Howe, perhaps the one member most responsible for the band’s phenomenal success over the coming years. Howe’s live acoustic instrumental “The Clap”, an impressive showcase that uniquely fuses classical with blue-grass, is unfortunately mis-placed in the song sequence as the second song on Side One, a side that concludes with the first of two multi-part suites on the album, “Starship Trooper”.

With each of its three sections written by a different individual member (“Life Seeker” by vocalist Jon Anderson, “Disillusion” by bassist Chris Squire, “Wurm” by Howe), the song easily and pleasantly moves from one part to another. “Life Seeker” is a tension-filled rock segment that contains some of the earliest use of a quality flange effect, which is re-introduced in the concluding instrumental section “Wurm”. In between is an interesting break with acoustic and bass, and well-harmonized vocals.

The second side of the album opens with the second suite “I’ve Seen All Good People”, a two-part, quasi-hippie “get together” type song that first starts with an a capella vocal preview of Squire’s straight-rocking end part “All Good People”, which follows the melodic, acoustic-driven “Your Move”, written by Anderson and featuring a folksy recorder played by Colin Goodring (you may recognize this part being played in recent credit card commercials).

Compared to the other, more interesting parts of this album, “A Venture” is anything but – being just a straight-forward almost formulaic pop song that relies heavily on the keyboards on Tony Kaye, who would be replaced following this album by the more dynamic Rick Wakeman.

Yes 1971

Kaye also plays a big part in the finale “Perpetual Change”, and entertaining extended piece that previews some of the fine material to come in the following year with the pair of excellent albums Fragile and Close to the Edge, ending The Yes Album on a strong note.

Even though it falls just a bit short of being a bona fide classic, there is no doubt that this is an important album in the history of progressive rock.

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1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1971 albums.