#445: Close to the Edge, Yes
I’m not too familiar with prog rock. I’m much more into prog metal. I did know Yes, but didn’t associate them with prog rock — I associated them with “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” otherwise known as “Driver of a Loaner Car.”
Maybe Yes’ sound varies so wildly because they had about ten thousand lineup changes. They had a lineup change right after this came out, with drummer Bill Bruford’s exit. In fact, Bruford left for King Crimson, with guitarist Robert Fripp, who’s becoming something of an RS 500 Easter Egg.
RS says the drummer quitting was due to the sessions being “intense and taxing.” So it kind of made me laugh to discover this interview with Jon Anderson, Yes’ lead singer (who has since been replaced). To hear him tell it, there was no conflict at all. Anderson described Yes, who had just come off a very successful fourth record, as “feeling very powerful, like we could do anything. … Everybody was so talented, so we could play these epic songs marvelously. The biggest thing was that we were all in harmony. We were truly connected.”
This interview with guitarist Steve Howe acknowledges what might have driven Bruford away, though he added that they were “taken aback.” According to him, “Bill left mainly because of his conflicts — or should I say challenging times — with Chris [Squire, chief songwriter] wanting him to dot every bass beat with the bass drum or something.”
There are only three songs on this forty-minute record, and they’re all multi-movement sagas. So let’s tackle this in the way that Yes would want us to: chronologically.
The title track is also the longest, clocking in at eighteen minutes. Something I found interesting was the fact that Yes almost always performs this song lower than the recorded version.
We start with “I. The Solid Time of Change,” which is basically what I expected: nature sounds that bleed into guitar discord. That lasts for four minutes, then launches into “II. Total Mass Retain,” which is in essence the same song with a wickeder bass part. I didn’t not enjoy it, but I also didn’t quite get it.
“III. I Get Up, I Get Down” was the moment I started to get it. The whole song stops in favor of an ethereal slow few minutes that climaxes with an organ breakdown. I had been listening for over fifteen minutes and was still rapt. That’s a pretty special thing.
“IV. Seasons of Man” is more of the same as the beginning — triumphant rock that ends in nature sounds — but I was clicked into the prog rock pulse by them.
#2: “And You and I”
After finally getting into the progressive spirit, this one took me by surprise. Anderson puts on his best Robert Plant costume and sings “I. Cord of Life” over a 12-string acoustic, making the most of some nonintuitive vocal melodies. “II. Eclipse,” drummer Bruford’s composition, is a more dignified take on the same lyrics, giving them a completely different melody.
“III. The Preacher, the Teacher” pulls us back into folk, though adding a Minimoog for some texture. And the final movement, “IV. The Apocalypse,” is just like how I imagine the actual apocalypse will be: short and sweet.
Anderson says that the album’s concept was based on the book Siddhartha, a novel about Buddhism that I am only just now realizing was written by a German. But they draw inspiration from other places too — for instance, this one gets its name from the Yemeni term for “As you wish.”
This is the only song that doesn’t have any distinct movements, and as such it only lasts nine minutes. Some sources say it was their most collaborative tune, but Anderson asserted “I had already written most of it, but I needed help with some of the sections,” crediting Howe with writing the guitar solo completely. And John Frusciante of RHCP said that he based the solo in “Get on Top” on Howe’s solo, so it’s no small contribution.
For a final Fun Fact: Jon Anderson’s parents were reportedly local ballroom dancing champions. For some reason, that makes everything about Yes make such sense.