“es” has been around for over 30 years, releasing their eponymous first album in 1969. Of the five founding members, only two have remained with the band for their entire tenure: vocalist and lyricist Jon Anderson, (even Jon was missing once, supplanted by Trevor Horn of “The Buggles” on 1980’s release “Drama“), and bass player Chris Squire. But perhaps that’s because, without Squire, “Yes” literally wouldn’t be “Yes”, since he owns the name.
Squire is ocasionally listed as ‘lead’ bass player, as if there were more than one. Where most bassists are content to be part of the percussion section, thumping along with the drums, Squire, like Jack Bruce of “Cream” and Tony Levin of everywhere, plays leads, not just rhythym. “Yes” classics like “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” just wouldn’t have had the same presence without Squire’s unconventional style.
Squire’s musical training was classical, in a sense. As a boy, he joined the church choir in order to be with a friend who had joined. Almost as if foreordained by the gods of music, the new choirmaster from Cambridge was a perfect mentor for the young Squire; so talented that he ended up at Charles and Diana’s wedding. According to Squire, their church choir became the best in England, travelling from church to church giving concerts.
Classical training, an ear for complex harmonies and construction, and proximity to the divine, are all evident in Squire’s only real solo album, “Fish Out of Water.” Released in 1975, consisting of only five tracks, it is a master work that few rock albums can match. Squire is joined by fellow “Yes” alumni Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz, along with Andrew Pryce Jackman, arranger for Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford, and more, and Mel Collins, frequently seen with Dire Straits, Alan Parsons, King Crimson, Clannad, and a host of others.
While Squire’s voice works well in his harmonies with Anderson and Howe on “Yes” tunes, on “Fish Out of Water” we see the fruits of his choir training. There is a precision and control in his singing which isn’t obvious until you listen for it. Each of the songs on “Fish” has long complex lyrical sections which require exact timing and phrasing to work with the syncopations and rhythmic complexities of the music. Chris is dead on, every time. His singing has a subtlety which does’t force itself to the fore; it must be sought out and discovered.
Each song flows into the next, as in a classical composition. Well, except for the break between side one and side two, since it was originally released on vinyl. (You see, kids, a long time ago, we didn’t have CDs, with all the music on one side. They made ‘records’ out of vinyl, and you had to stop halfway through the experience to turn it over and hear the other side. This resulted in anomalies like Johnny and Edgar Winter’s “Second Winter” having three sides. Honest it did.)
- “Hold Out Your Hand” – The opening notes of the album are the pipe organ of (I believe) St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The bass jumps in right away to establish dominance, driving both the melody and rhythym. Not quite a pop tune, this was still the obvious single, in my opinion. The pipe organ solo is a rare effect which lends an ethereal air seconded by the strings. It flows without pause into
- “You By My Side” – A beautiful love song, both lyrically and musically. The simplest of the album’s tunes. If “Hold Out Your Hand” was the obvious single, this should have been the follow up.
"Here am I dreaming I stand by myself Look and it's easy to see, that, I'm not the only one reaching for a new kind of wealth Reaching with nothing to hide And you by my side"
- “Silently Falling” – Flutes, oboes, strings; then a single flute, trickling down to a pool below, then lilting back up to Chris’s voice. An eleven minute long work, it gradually turns from classical to a very “Yes” sounding prog rock tune. After establishing the new ‘rock’ theme, everything begins to wind up to a frenzy of organ, piano, bass, and drums; faster and faster, until suddenly – silence. Now, piano and horns, softly supporting Squire’s quiet voice, leading us through a reprise of the opening theme and into a fusion of the two themes. “Falling” depends much on the piano for its feel. It doesn’t sound like a complex piece in spite of its length and the varying thematic segments. One of only two tracks to actually fade out at the end.
- “Lucky Seven” – Side Two opens with a simple keyboard intro, then a syncopated dance between Squire’s bass and Bruford’s drums. Next, Mel’s sax introduces one of the two themes, and almost immediately Chris’s voice introduces the other. The complex rhythym continues throughout the song. The lead instrument is the bass; not the sax, and not the vocals. Snapping, popping, fluttering in a tremolo the likes of which few bassists could muster, it is powerful even in the segments where it falls silent. Subtle punctuation by a real string section adds a surreal feeling. Finally, near the end, we’re treated to a writhing sax solo by Collins. Oddly, this complex piece was the single chosen for glory and renown by the record label. This ain’t top 40 pop.
- “Safe (Canon Song)” – On a stage set by the piano, flute and orchestra join Squire’s voice in a fifteen-minute long piece which is more classical than rock. The most difficult vocal lines of the album, the music and vocals don’t always seem to be going the same direction, but always end up at the same destination. Building, then easing, building again, then moving off in a new direction; it is a marvelous blending of chamber music and progressive rock. After all, didn’t prog rock always want to be chamber music when it grew up? In the end, it builds to a large climax of horns, piano, then the full orchestra to a grand finale. But not quite the finale; the final minute and a half of the album is extremely quiet and very unusual bass playing; it sounds as if it’s been filtered though a Leslie organ amp, the way Jimmy Vaughan does his steel guitar sometimes. Sliding, whispering, a tiny, one-instrument fanfare, and then, finally, silence.
And if I ever grow up, I want to be Chris Squire. At the very least, I dream of one day creating a musical effort as intellectually stimulating and musically fulfilling as “Fish Out of Water.”