YES – Solo & Together: Opinion

With three ex /current Yes members releasing solo albums this Summer, Jon Anderson (1000 Hands), Rick Wakeman (The Red Planet) and Steve Howe (Love Is) did actually spend some time together in Yes at the same time. Two of our own Yesfans, get their heads together and choose their Anderson/Wakeman/Howe Yes highlights.

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Jon Anderson, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman’s first musical encounter with each other in Yes came on 1971’s Fragile album. Going on to work together in the band that made Close To The Edge (1972) and Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973), they helped create a library of work that was rarely (if ever) surpassed by themselves or by any of their prog rock peers.

Wakeman left then returned for Going For The One and Tormato in 1977/8, before both he and Anderson parted company from the band in 1979/80. It was common to the point of it being expected that Yes would evolve around a revolving door policy, but the Anderson/Howe/Wakeman trio was set to work together again on the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album (ABWH) (with original Yes drummer Bill Bruford) in 1989 and also on the return to the 77/78 Yes line up’s Keys To Ascension in the mid-Nineties. We should pay lip service to the poorly executed Union album where an assortment of Yes musicians got blu tac’d together on a record most would like to forget (although 1991 in the round tour was great). So…

Mike says:

Cut to the chase. My top three A/W/H albums are:

  1. Going For The One (GFTO)
  2. Close To The Edge (CTTE)
  3. ABWH

While many people cite Fragile as a/the key Yes album, for me the solo meanderings let down an album that has some major Yes classics. From the sublime to the not quite ridiculous but lesser numbers. The same can’t be said for Close To The Edge. Three tracks, And You And I, Siberian Khatru and the title track are always going to feature in polls of the band’s greatest songs. AY&I and CTTE probably running a close second to the greatest of Yessongs (more of which…). Maybe a surprise when it doesn’t feature as most revered Yes album.

The collaboration of the A/W/H trio with original Yes drummer Bill Bruford in 1989 to counter the alternative Squire/Rabin led Yes (‘Yes West’) was a bold move and although they went on tour perform ing ‘an evening of Yes music plus…’, the album they made together had some exciting moments. Despite Bruford’s eighties/electronic drum sounds that date the album, the arrangements were much bolder and in the best tradition of Yesmusic/Yessongs. Longer and songs mixed with the world music ambitions of Birthright and the stunning Anderson/Wakeman piece The Meeting.

However, despite the awesomeness of Close To The Edge, I have to go for GFTO as my favourite Yes album of all time. Not only, in my humble opinion, the best album which happens to feature A/W/H but also with what I regard as the pinnacle of their songwriting in Awaken that spreads across almost the second half of the album. It’s the album without a duff track – but so is Close To the Edge – yet what gives GFTO the advantage is the timing and the fact that it was my proper introduction to Yes.

I’d seen and heard the Wonderous Stories single – Top Of The Pops again – and later acquired the 12″ blue vinyl, but managed to borrow a copy of the album from the LP swapping fraternity at school. Mesmerised by ‘that’ cover, each song held something special. The unanticipated wild slide guitar funk of the title track which would be quite a departure for Yes, the acoustic gentility and stunning build of Turn Of The Century and the mighty church organ on Parallels.

The album cover too… Where was the Roger Dean fantasyscape we might have expected after the glorious CTTE/Topographic/Relayer sleeves? While retaining the classic logo, Hipgnosis delivered a different landscape that opened out into a triple gatefold but there was no disguising the ‘not very prog’ bare ass on the cover. Open it out and find the band members photographed on the shores of Lake Geneva thankfully all fully clothed. Then an inner bag with the lyrics and who plays what which were promptly committed to memory.

the full glory of the GFTO cover

The tour for the album was probably overshadowed when they followed up GFTO with the patchy Tormato album (which I do like) and toured with a magnificent show in the round. And yes, the Friday Rock Show broadcast of the Wembley show is burned on my brain first from a couple of C90 cassettes and subsequent CD bootlegs. It’s highly likely that show is my most played Yes album. 77/78 was THE period when for me, Yes were at their mightiest.

Howard says:

1971 was the year prog music came alive to me and how could it not for in that year we saw the release of Meddle,  the first  Floyd album without a  Syd Barrett composition; Moving Waves, the Focus album recommended to purchasers of the new-fangled stereo record players; Caravan’s The Land of Grey and Pink, soundtrack to my early college days; Tull’s  Aqualung and also throw in ELP’S  Pictures At An Exhibition. Then of course this was also the year of  Yes,  with the release of The Yes Album, still my favourite Yes album. I remember them performing Yours Is No Disgrace on TV and thinking ‘what are they doing on the album spot on Top Of The Pops!!

However, with the mercurial Rick Wakeman replacing Tony Kaye for the follow-up, Fragile,  we now had the beginning of the most well-known line-up of   Bruford, Howe, Squire, Anderson, Wakeman. 

My first live Yes experience was the Topographic tour at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1973, (drummer Bill Bruford now replaced by Alan White appearing in a kind of spaceship effect long before ELO took the idea a stage further) and then in 1977,  Yes performed at Bingley Hall, Stafford ( I still have the uncomfortable memory of sitting on the coconut matting floor, the imprints are still there!) supported brilliantly by Donovan. Amongst my favourites along with Yours Is No Disgrace, Perpetual Change , Starship Trooper, I’ve Seen All Good People, the tune I wanted to hear was  Roundabout  from that second release of 1971, Fragile.

Roger Dean’s fragile world

It was this album which to me firmly planted Yes with their contemporaries who were emerging as the bastions of this refreshing, experimental, imaginative movement given the name of ‘progressive’. 

Yes had already secured a place in rock history by opening for Cream at their legendary farewell concert at the Albert Hall and maintained a residency at the Marquee. It was when ex-Strawbs keyboard wizard Wakeman linked with the dextrous Steve Howe that their worldwide stardom began to emerge.

Fragile was also the album to introduce the album artwork of Roger Dean. It portrayed the Outer Space view of an Earth-like planet with gigantic trees being orbited by a winged flying machine and the emerging Yes brand font style.

Fragile included music which, with other prog style groups, threw the traditional verse-chorus-middle eight structure away. Roundabout, the album’s most commercial track, broke the mould of conventional song structure, with acoustic guitar solo, jazzy bass backing. The vocals of Jon Anderson had shifted between three or four different singing styles while we had been treated to countless keyboard effects from magician Wakeman, then with twirling keyboard the acoustic guitar returns and Anderson briefly repeats one of his vocal excerpts. Fooled into thinking we are approaching the end, rocky keyboards   Jon Anderson returns with a bit of scat singing before the surprising acoustic conclusion.  Now in 1971 that was, to me, equivalent to Darwin emerging with his evolutionary theory!

Rick Wakeman also flexed his solo keyboard muscles on the instrumental Cans And Brahms. despite its brevity his virtuosity with mellotron and minimoog, for which he replaced Tony Kaye whose organ was too limiting, is clear.  Equally brief is We Have Heaven, totally dominated by Jon Anderson, repeating vocal lines as lead and backing and also introducing his tendency to be incomprehensible.

Three tracks, South Side Of The Sky, Heart Of The Sunrise and America (not on the album but of the era) in particular, stand out to demonstrate what this formation of Yes players became renowned for… the long complex epic (that’s anything over 5 minutes really) with each member given the opportunity to display their individual, inventive ingenuity. Squire’s bass solo piece perhaps being amongst the surprises to the new fans of progressive rock.

America meanwhile, must rate as one of the most interesting covers ever, being a prog version of Simon and Garfunkel’s  song from the classic album Bridge Over Troubled Water.

If Clap was Steve Howe’s opportunity to show off his acoustic guitar skill on The Yes Album,  then his classical style on Mood For A Day does the job beautifully on  Fragile.

The remaining tracks merge into each other. Long Distance Runaround could easily have contested with Roundabout for its commercial value but also does not conform in its ‘single’ structure. With its brief intro, Five Percent For Nothing is then followed up by the bass guitar instrumental The Fish.

Although  Roundabout became the standout track I think Fragile needs to be appreciated more for its whole in what it represented as an original pioneering place in prog rock history and how it clearly spelled out what Yes were going to become. 

Howard’s fave Yessong from Mike’s favourite Yesera – Roundabout live in 1978 from that Wembley show. Absolutely electric and listen to that finish from 6.20:

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