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Yes Buggles Drama

[az]B00009Z576[/az]Buggles central characters Trevor Horn, vocalist, and Geoff Downes, keyboard player, were recording next door to Chris Squire, Steve Howe, and Alan White while they were recording the beginnings of the Yes album Drama. Horn and Downes were invited to fill the gaps left by Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, who were busy elsewhere.

As much as I love Yes, oddly enough Drama is one of my favorites. The Buggles brought just enough difference to spark some amazing stuff.

(Inspired by a discussion The Tribe Nez Built with Bonnie, Bill, Tom, ps and Betsy at

Yes Rabin Talk

[az]B00005R8CH[/az]Five years ago my oldest son and I worked together. During our hour-long commute to and from work every day, we were constantly looking for new music to share. I just rediscovered one of our prizes yesterday.

Both big fans of Yes, we heard Open Your Eyes and Talk the same day. Somehow, I confuse the names in my mind because I absorbed them over the same short period.

Oldest son prefered Open Your Eyes but I like the dynamics and acoustic leanings of Talk. Except, for the past four years since we’ve lived in separate homes, I’ve continued to confuse the two albums, choosing not to listen to the ‘harder’ album partly because of the music and partly because of the memories.

Yesterday I just grabbed a CD from the pile that doesn’t fit in the cabinet without paying much attention; just wanted something different in the van. And, lo and behold! The album I’d been not listening to for four years was the album I’d been wishing I still owned. D’oh.

Opening with acoustic guitars, layered with eleventy-leven vocal tracks, and apparently engineered with buckets and boatloads of heavy bass and sharp trebles, Talk falls, in my head, into the 90125/Ladder section of the various Yeses (Yesses?) It mixes crunchy with melodic, ploughs through massive driving solos and falls to near silence. One high point is the opening of “State of Play.” A simple sliding chord riff, repeated a few times, before the other instruments thunder in.

Talk is my current state of play.

Heart of the Sunrise

A grand symphony of varied themes and verbal imagery; the pounding intensity of frustrated loss and the intensity of dreams yet to be realized; the yearning with all one’s heart for something, anything, to fill the aching void where love and life used to be; the wistful, hopeful, prayerful gaze into the heart of the sunrise, accepting with grace one more day’s opportunity to be, do, have, give, live, love.

I’ve read until I’m sick of it about Jon Anderson’s ‘meaningless meandering’ lyrics. Anderson isn’t a balladeer; if those critics need simple storytelling there are plenty of singer songwriters whose lyrics do just that. That’s never been what ‘Yes’ has striven for. Anderson’s lyrics paint grand vistas of feeling and intensity, using language in broad vibrant strokes more akin to Van Gogh than Ansel Adams. Not better, not less; just a different flavor when I’m in that mood.

Fragile by YesYes’s 1971 release “Fragile” is certainly one of the most important rock albums of all time. A hit on both sides of the Atlantic, “Roundabout” was ubiquitous the year of its release. “Long Distance Runaround” still gets plenty of airplay on the AOR stations. I’ve already commented on the huge sweeping theatrics of “South Side of the Sky.” What I haven’t done, ever, is fully shared with anyone the depths at which “Heart of the Sunrise” reaches me.

When I was a teenager, I shared my room with both my brothers; one older, one younger. I was the quiet one; Shane, my younger brother, was verbally quieter, but carried a presence as palpable as strong cologne. Built like a short (but still taller than me) Arnold Schwarzenegger with ‘Conan the Barbarian’ hair, he didn’t have to speak to be noticed. My older brother, Brett, was over six feet tall and built like a bull with a voice to match. No one missed him.

After 111 days, I think I’m back. It’s been a long hard road, but the music is starting to flow in my head again. I hope, now that it’s turned on again, that it stays.

Thanks for being there.

And there I was in the middle, studious, skinny, silent.

They controlled the music on our stereo. I didn’t listen to Motown or classical or jazz when they were around; if it wasn’t what they liked it didn’t get played. Many albums only got used on one side; albums like “Fragile” were never sampled on side two for whatever might be there. Long complex works like “Heart of the Sunrise” just didn’t stand a chance against “Satisfaction” and “Radar Love.”

On summer afternoons, while they were at the beach or playing football in the street, I lingered in our shared room, laying in the sunshine on my bed, reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and listening to oddities like the Dead’s “Anthem of the Sun”, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus”, and especially Yes’s ambitious efforts on “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, “Close to the Edge”, and individual cuts like “Heart of the Sunrise.”

Opening in a thunder of bass and drums, the song weaves together two themes: a staccato hammering that drives right into your head, and a slow, swaying melody which sounds more like a lullaby. Back and forth they struggle; hammering and soothing, until nearly four minutes into the 11-minute opus, the lullaby wins out for a while. Anderson’s voice, now mellower than it was in those days, is nearly childlike; high and thin, almost asking for a lullaby instead of sharing one.

Chris Squire’s bass, strong and firm, manages to emphasize the delicacy of the melody instead of crushing it with unnecessary weight. Steve Howe’s guitars; Bill Bruford’s drums; Rick Wakeman’s keyboards; all build gradually to a new theme which never quite makes the transition from lullaby to thunder a graceful one. Instead, we’re forced to accept that sometimes change isn’t subtle, gradual; sometimes, it’s in-your-face loud and you deal with it.

The themes continue their struggle, with thunder gradually winning out—until the end, when it all crashes into an abrupt, almost painful, silence.

Every sunrise is another chance; another day to try again, to get it right this time. As the sun creeps over the balcony of my apartment each morning, painting the fields across the road with gold, pouring coppery through the windows, I decide, every day, to accept the challenge found in the heart of the sunrise.

I think I’m gonna be okay.

Mountains Come Out of the Sky

For 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 “The Yes AlbumYour Move/All Good People” and to a lesser extent, “Survival” but it was their fourth album, “FragileFragile“, 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 ‘YessongsYessongs‘, 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, YessongsI’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 SunhillowOlias 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 “UnionUnion.” 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 LadderThe 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.

Fish Out of Water

DramaYes” 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 WaterFish 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. Second Winter(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.)

The songs:

  • “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.”

Constructing a Tangent to a Bubble

Not feeling any music today. Instead, I’ll ramble about one of the most influential books in my life and see if anything musical comes from it.

My father’s stories were one of the highlights of my youth. His adventures growing up in a quiet Wisconsin valley (he and his brothers built a working glider, in which the youngest of them made a successful flight from the highest hill around – only to fly through the living room of a small travel trailer parked at the bottom); his life in the Air Force, where he recalled the terror of flying below the clouds in the Bering Strait, then climbing up to land on pack ice to rescue someone; even the more pedestrian work in the local creamery; his whole life was the stuff of his stories. I truly believe he found everything fascinating.

Looking back, a really smart kid would have jumped at such a father’s suggestion that the best adventure book ever written was “The Royal Road to RomanceThe Royal Road to Romance” by one Richard Halliburton. My brother and I weren’t to be fooled, though. We sure weren’t reading any book with the word ‘romance’ in the title! In his usual laissez faire fashion, he let the matter rest until one of us discovered on our own that, back in the 20s when the book was written, ‘romance’ meant adventure! That sold us.

In the late 20s, young Richard Halliburton fled his boring classes at Princeton to go out into the world in search of adventure. Just as a warm-up exercise, he and a friend, with no climbing experience whatsoever, climbed the Matterhorn.

During his trek around the globe, Halliburton spent the night on the grounds of the Taj Mahal (a capital offense for a Christian in those days) during which he swam in one of the sacred lily pools (a capital offense for anyone.) Years later, when someone challenged the authenticity of his published account of the incident, he returned with photographic equipment and repeated the offense in front of his camera.

Unable to resist the possibility of seeing the stars from the top of Gibraltar, he stayed inside the grounds of the British fortress overnight after spending the day taking pictures of the highly secure establishment. He was robbed by pirates on a ferry from Macao and thought it “a jolly adventure”; he was the first foreigner to ever climb Fujiyama in the winter. He climbed the Himalayas to the province of Ladakh in Kashmir, just because he couldn’t believe the reports of the practice of polyandry – the shortage of women in the village of Lamayuru had led to the practice of a woman marrying, not one man, but a man and all his brothers.

Halliburton was likely certifiably insane. Who else would climb Olympus and spend the night on the top in a thunderstorm? Who else would jump into a 70-foot deep well in Mexico, just to relive the experience of ancient human sacrifice? Who but a crazy man would buy an airplane, hire a pilot, and set out across the desert to Timbuktu without any real hope of getting there?

Whatever his mental state, Halliburton fit more life into his few short years than most of us could fit into a hundred years. At the age of 39, while attempting to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Halliburton disappeared during a storm.

Are 40 years of Halliburton’s lifestyle worth as much as 80 years gathering dust? I’ve already outlived Richard by 10%. It must be time for something.

One song I distinctly remembering listening to while reading “The Royal Road” as a teen was “South Side of the Sky” from the Yes album “Fragile by YesFragile.” While so many of their longer tunes are more akin to orchestral works than hard-edged rock, two-thirds of “South Side of the Sky” couldn’t be classified as anything but rock. Hard driving, blues-based; making excellent use of Chris Squire’s heavy bass, Bill Bruford’s sharp drumming style, and Steve Howe’s guitar. The middle third, though, is a very pensive piano piece, which eventually grows to include muliple layers of vocals, and finally the whole band, in a melody and rhythm completely different from, but complimentary to, the primary tune.

The lyrics, about walking into a blizzard in the mountains, and accepting the inevitablility of death, when combined with the almost peculiar middle bars, have given rise to an idea for a science fiction movie in my head. If anyone’s got Harrison Ford’s number, I’d be glad to discuss it.