or more than 30 years, Jon Anderson of ‘Yes‘ has been telling an ever more detailed story which I’ve always found fascinating. Anderson, known to fans as the poet of the premier prog rock band’s inscrutable lyrics, has woven his tale through a number of the group’s albums, and made it the focus of an entire solo album.
Way back in 1971 the group finally had a mainstream hit with the song “Roundabout.” They had already gotten attention on the album oriented rock stations with works like “Your Move/All Good People” and to a lesser extent, “Survival” but it was their fourth album, “Fragile“, with its classical bent and almost fractured composition which propelled them into the limelight.
“Roundabout” (presumably referring to what we in the US call a ‘merry-go-round’) has lyrics obscure enough to please any ‘Yes’ fan, but as a pre-teen trying to understand this new music, these lines in the chorus were particularly difficult:
In and around the lake, Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there
What could that possibly mean? Of course, the writer of the line “the eagle’s dancing wings create as weather spins out of hand” couldn’t be asked to make sense of something as pedestrian as mountains, sky, and lake. Still, it troubled me.
Two years later, my brother bought ‘Yessongs‘, a three-record live set. There in the huge fold-out cover (a foot tall and a full three feet long) was a picture, of, yes, mountains, coming out of the sky. Only these mountains were clearly pieces of a fractured planet; inverted mountains, broad and curved at the top, narrowing to a point at the base. If you’re not familiar with Richard Dean’s artwork, I’ll say that owning the classic ‘Yes’ albums on vinyl was worth the full cost of each album just for his gloriously surreal planetscapes.
The next chapter in the revelation was the most complete. In 1976 Anderson released a solo album called “Olias of Sunhillow“, performed entirely by Jon and Vangelis. This album told the complete (as it was then) tale of Olias, navigator of the space ship ‘Moorglade Mover’, who helped guide his people from their doomed planet to a new home. The lyrics of the album, along with the cover art, made it clear to me that this was the story Anderson had been telling all along. It’s good to see that this album is available on CD. My old vinyl copy is due for retirement.
Over the next 20 years, the band went through upwards of 13 iterations, at one point becoming essentially two separate bands, reuniting for the aptly titled “Union.” Finally, after I was grown and had children who, on their own, discovered a band that beautifully blended the classical music they love and respect with the pounding edgy rock they thrive on, Anderson revealed one more chapter. The opening track to “The Ladder” is, lo and behold, called “Homeworld.” At first listen, it seems to be about leaving the homeworld, but closer listening reveals that it’s about finding the homeworld. Written in conjunction with a video game of the same story line, the song harkens back to the early days of ‘Yes’, and reminds me why I love music which tells a story.
No matter how long it takes.