Someone with time on their hands and prog trivia on their brains should do some careful historical research in search of the answer to this question: “Which prog group has the most line-up changes all-time?” Three groups come to mind immediately: Yes, Asia, and King Crimson. And the three are, of course, bound together by all sorts of personnel connections and such, as well as having been around for decades, which surely is part of the ongoing drama of departing, returning, reuniting, breaking up, reforming, guesting, and so forth. Anyhow, legendary guitarist Steve Howe has announced that he is leaving Asia so he can concentrate on solo work and (it appears) his commitments to Yes. Just as (or more) interesting are his remarks on playing guitar. From the ProgRockMag.com site:
The pressures of attending to the requirements of two large-scale acts was also getting to him, he admits. “Over the last year I started to think, ‘Boy, when Yes extend a tour then Asia start a day early, I’m the guy getting squeezed.’ I couldn’t do it much longer without feeling that I was running on autopilot. I want to be in control of my musical direction and follow my calling.”
That calling will include the Cross Styles Music Retreat, during which Howe hopes to share his passion and experience of guitar with attendees. But he’s wary of the “unique” label: “It sounds like I’ve set myself up for a fall there,” he laughs. “All I’m saying is: I’m not educated, I don’t read music, I didn’t go to music school, I don’t have the theory. All I have is my experience, and presumably people want that, otherwise I wouldn’t be selling any tickets.
“I’ve done these things before. I walk in and say, ‘Don’t talk to me about demi-semiquavers. Don’t talk to me about time signatures.’ I play. Everything I do and everything I’ve learned is by ear.
“You don’t have to drive yourself mad reading dots. If you want to play classical music you should; but where I’m coming from, improvisation, composition. I’m bringing in an unschooled – I wouldn’t say rebellious, but individual – approach to guitar.
“I’m not going to pose that it’s going to be anything else. You get me, I play tunes and I talk about guitar. I’ve managed to make that interesting for myself for over 50 years, so there must be something!”
Howe states that he’s never believed in straight-out practising. “Playing scales would have driven me stark raving bonkers,” he says. “That’s not what I call music. It might be an essential part of keeping your muscles and fingers in good order and I don’t say it’s terrible. But my central thing is improvisation. Play stuff – make stuff up. That’s how I keep interested: by interacting with it, not just being a mechanical, physical observer.”
He didn’t enjoy his school days, finding London’s Holloway School “oppressive, violent, mixed with racial and religious prejudices.” But he’s never found that a lack of a “proper” musical education held him back – except when he tried to learn to play flute and discovered it was too distant from guitar to make the transfer comfortable.
As a result of being self-taught he does encounter people who are better technicians than he is. “But I don’t feel particularly threatened,” he explains. “What I feel is: ‘They’re very advanced in their technique – how advanced are they in their general view of music?’
“Guitarists can get fanatical about guitarists; but in the end we’re musicians. We make sound. It’s the sound that’s got to be pleasing – not how you made the sound. Who cares how you play it? What’s important is what comes out the other end.”
And one of the key lessons he hopes to impart at Cross Styles is: “Musicians are lucky; we can break the rules. There’s no such thing as the ‘music police’ – they’re not going to come round and say ‘You shouldn’t have played a D-flat, it should have been a D. You can do what you want – live and die by the musical sword!”
In addition to the retreat he’s planning a solo tour and a new Steve Howe Trio album and tour. “We’re just about to launch some dates. I’ve got two or three weeks of solo dates in June, which I haven’t done in a very long time due to my demanding schedule of keeping two bands happy. In September we’re doing the trio again. We should have a new recording before that.”
His desire to move away from the band environment is much more than just a whim, Howe notes. “My solo guitar work is pretty central to my musical existence. I’m not a blues, rock or jazz guitarist – I’m a guitarist, and the central thing is solo playing.
Read the entire piece. Glancing over his bio on Wikipedia (yes, I know, forgive me), I was a bit surprised to learn that Howe was the first player to be inducted into the Guitar Player Hall of Fame, and one of the few in the GP’s “Gallery of Greats”, which comes with being selected best overall guitarist at least five times (although it appears the criteria has now been modified). Howe’s playing has long intrigued me because of the obvious jazz influences; he was influenced by Wes Montgomery, as well as Chet Atkins, whose mark on Howe can be seen in Yes songs that have a country-type feel to them, quite unique within the prog realm.
I’ll skip my usual apologia attempting to explain my long absence from this fine blog and instead spend my limited, if not valuable time, remarking on four recent prog and proggy albums that have been found a home on my regular iTunes rotation. I may write longer reviews of a couple of these albums, but some short remarks are better than none.
• Asia — Resonance (The Omega Tour, 2010; released 2012): After Kansas, Asia was the group that first introduced me into the world of prog, back in the early to mid-1980s, when I was an innocent small town Montana boy making my way through high school. I recall seeking out books and magazines that explained the musical pedigree of Downes, Howe, Palmer, and Wetton, and thus being introduced to early King Crimson, ELP, Yes, and more. I know that Asia has been a source of debate among prog fans, some of whom dismiss and even deride the group; I’ll just say that I really liked and still do like the first two albums, Asia and Alpha, and make no excuses for the warm and gratifying nostalgia they bring to the surface whenever I play them. And, truth be told, I’m partial to the third album, Astra, which marked the first of two billion line-up changes (Mandy Meyer took over guitar from Howe, who had departed), as it is actually a good, hook-heavy example of what might be call “arena prog” or “pop prog” or something similar. Anyhow, the original line-up has been back for a while—and getting solid to excellent reviews—and this live album documents the group’s 2010 tour. I’ve heard cuts from earlier live albums by Asia, and have found most of them disappointing, especially in the vocal department. But this album, dare I say it, is rather stunning, both in terms of the outstanding sound quality and the amazing power and clarity of Wetton’s voice. Wetton, to my ear, sounds just as good as he did on the studio cuts from the early and mid ’80s, which is saying something. The playing is excellent, of course; my only small beef is that the drums seem a bit back in the mix, although there is an extended and fine drum solo on “The Heat Goes On”. Otherwise, a great mix of cuts, with some nice acoustic-oriented variations of old hits such as “Don’t Cry” and “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”.
• Proto-kaw: Forth (2011): Speaking of Kansas, the group Proto-kaw was the second of three early incarnations of what eventually became simply “Kansas” in 1973. The key constant in those groups was songwriter, lyricist, guitarist, and keyboardist Kerry Livgren, who conquered the world with Kansas in the 1970s (“Dust in the Wind”, anyone?), had a run of contemporary Christian rock albums in the 1980s (both solo and with the group AD), and then reformed Kansas and Proto-kaw in the 1990s. (Fun fact: metal legend Ronny James Dio sang lead on two songs on Livgren’s first solo album, “Seeds of Change”, in 1980.) All three of the newer Proto-kaw albums are worth checking out, and that is especially true of Forth, the most cohesive and fully realized album yet by the group. What strikes me, as a longtime fan of Kansas, is how much classical influence there is in Livgren’s writing, as his songs often have a suite-like quality that builds on either strings or keyboards/guitars that act as a strings section. Proto-kaw, like all Livgren-led bands, has dual lead singers (yes, Steve Walsh was a the primary singer in Kansas, but Robby Steinhardt sang lead or co-lead on numerous songs), and features excellent and often complex harmonies, masterfully constructed arrangements, and strong songwriting. One distinctive element is the presence of saxophone and flute (John Bolton), used to great affect in song such as “Pilgrim’s Wake”, one of my favorite cuts on Forth. A must listen for anyone with a soft spot for 1970s Kansas. And, speaking of Kansas (again!), this year marks the 40th anniversary of the group’s founding; I plan a couple of posts about the group and some of my favorite Kansas albums and songs.
• Mystery: The World Is a Game (2012): How embarrassing it is to admit that prior to the Yes album, Fly From Here (2011), I had no idea who Benoît David was. Having replaced Jon Anderson and toured with Yes—and then having himself been replaced due to his own respiratory issues—the talented vocalist worked on his third album with veteran Canadian proggers Mystery, a group he had joined in 1999. Having not heard any of his work with Mystery (which my iTunes annoyingly tagged as “The Mystery”), I was surprised—in a good way—that David did not sound like Anderson and that the group does not sound much like Yes, although the influence is present. In fact, at times David sounds more like another great Canadian singer, Geddy Lee. The two words that keep coming to mind after repeated listens of this exceptional album are “melodic” and “soaring”. The vocals soar, the guitars (by band founder, guitarist, lyricist, and producer Michel St-Père) soar, and the songs soar with a wonderful sense of discovery, melancholy, joy, and introspection, a not-so-easy mixture to navigate. And then there is the drumming of Nick D’Virgilio, who is rightly revered as one of the finest drummers in the prog/rock world. His drumming is, in a word, orchestral, and it is reason alone for buying this fine release. But, for me (a vocalist junkie), it is David who is the revelation here, especially after hearing his solid but rather emotionless performance on Fly From Here. In the words of a reviewer on ProgArchives.com, “Finally vocalist Benoit David proves what a versatile and commanding singer he is, a million miles away from the Yes/Jon Anderson clone dismissals. It’s also great to hear his voice so full of human feeling and compassion again after being so over-produced and rendered mostly lifeless on the Yes album `Fly From Here’!” Exactly right.
• Godsticks: The Envisage Conundrum (2013): Here is a group (from South Wales) I knew nothing about a week ago, but has captured my attention in a way that only a few groups have on first listen. Explaining why is a bit difficult; the difficulty arises, in part, from the most enjoyable fact this is a group that is very hard to describe or label or situate in the universe of prog/rock music. Nearly every review I’ve read says the same, and rightly so. One of those reviews, by Adrian Bloxham, puts it well: “ The world of Godsticks is not straightforward; they seem to have baffled other reviewers trying to pigeon hole them. They make their own brand of what they describe as ‘progressive rock/pop, but it is very much their own take on the sound. You get the idea that this is exactly the music they have inside their heads trying to get out and if you like it they will be pleased but that’s not why they do what they do.” The one influence I hear is later King Crimson, but even that is hard to pinpoint, although the angular, often astonishing guitar work by guitarist/singer Darran Charles brings it to mind in several places. None of the songs are longer than seven minutes in length, but some of them pack in more twists, turns, veers, swerves, and surprises in five or six minutes than many bands can pack into songs three times as long. The title cut is a perfect example. It begins with a chugging, almost “boogie” riff out of which emerges a spider-like flurry of notes, leading into a wall of harmonized vocals over a heavy, grunge-like riff backed by the tight, slightly funky, never quite straight forward rhythm section of Steve Roberts (drums, keys) and Dan Nelson (bass). Charles’ voice is part of the mystery here, a strong, clear instrument that manages to be intense, detached, soulful, and slyly humorous (and occasionally darkly smirking) all at once. There is an abundance of odd chords, meters, notes, and harmonies, sometimes, to my ear, sounding like a Robert Fripp-inspired space alien sibling of Soundgarden. And did I mention the album features a 3:49 piano solo by Roberts that could easily have made it onto one of Keith Jarrett’s solo albums? Followed by a three-part suite—”Borderstomp”, parts 1-3—that sometimes calls to mind Steve Vai? Not straightforward, indeed!
One of the hardest things a serious music fan is ever tasked with is coming up with a list of five or ten desert island discs, i.e. the albums without which he or she cannot live. In fact, trying to put such a list together can be torture. I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the Geneva Convention is a prohibition on forcing prisoners of war to assemble a desert island disc list under duress. Such a thing could cause serious and irreversible psychological damage, and would thus be inhumane.
The trouble with desert island disc lists is that our moods – and thus our musical preferences at any given moment – are so incredibly varied. One moment you might want to listen to the intricacies of a well-played classical guitar piece, the next moment you crave the audio testosterone known as AC/DC. One moment you may want the sunny joy of Led Zeppelin tracks such as ‘The Song Remains the Same’ or ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, the next moment you want the dark, brooding heaviness of early Black Sabbath. One moment you want the folky feel of some acoustic Jethro Tull, while in another moment you want the cathartic release of an angry Tool song. These examples are just the tip of an infinitely large iceberg.
While I would have to inflict great pain upon myself to assemble a definitive desert island disc list, there is one album I can say would be on any final version that I came up with – Yes’s 1977 masterpiece, ‘Going for the One’.
“Why ‘Going for the One’?” you ask. The consensus on Yes albums like ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘The Yes Album’ is that they are great albums, if not outright masterpieces. On the other end of the spectrum, albums like ‘Union’ and ‘Open Your Eyes’ are generally considered somewhere between awful and God-awful. And then there are those Yes albums that are lightning rods of controversy – ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’, ‘90125’, and to some degree, ‘Drama’. ‘Going for the One’, while generally viewed in a positive manner, doesn’t fall into any of these categories among the majority of Yes fans. But if you ask me, it is a masterpiece as much ‘Close to the Edge’. It crystallizes the essence of Yes – not to mention some artistic goals of first-wave progressive rock.
To really ‘get’ this album, it helps to understand the context in which it was recorded, both within the band’s history as well as musical trends at large. Recording for the album began in earnest in the fall of 1976 – the same year that the punk movement exploded onto the scene, in no small part as a reaction to progressive rock. The genre of progressive rock itself was beginning to show some signs of wear and tear – Peter Gabriel had left Genesis, King Crimson had disbanded, and the general excesses of the genre were beginning to turn the music-buying public looking in other directions. Meanwhile, punk was raging and stadium rock’ was beginning to step into the place formerly occupied by the proggers.
Within the band, Yes had gone through a tumultuous few years, including the release of the controversial ‘Topographic Oceans’, Rick Wakeman’s resulting departure, ‘Relayer’, a number of solo albums, a significant amount of touring, the easing out of Patrick Moraz and the eventual return of Wakeman. There was a need for the band to catch its collective breath, to reflect.
‘Going for the One’ has a very introspective feel to it. This is borne out in no small part by the album artwork, including the cover (shown above) as well as the inner gatefold.
A first thing to note is that none of the Roger Dean artwork is present –neither on the inner gatefold or the outside cover – save for the famous Yes logo. The front cover shows the backside of a naked man, intersected by varying geometric shapes of different lines, against the backdrop of two modern skyscrapers, symbolic of standing naked against modern world. On the inside gatefold is an idyllic scene of a lake at sunset. From the liner notes of the re-mastered CD, I am taking an educated guess that this is Lake Geneva, Switzerland, not far from where the album was recorded. Some sort of island (quite possibly man-made) having a rather large but bare tree sits in the middle of the lake. Individual pictures of each band member are also shown, with all but Steve Howe’s having a lake (the same one?) as a backdrop. The contrast between the front cover and the inner gatefold would suggest taking refuge of some sort, turning inward and reflecting.
In addition to its introspective feel, ‘Going for the One’ also very much has a classical music-like sound as well. In his excellent book ‘Rocking the Classics’, author Edward Macan describes progressive rock of the 1970’s as attempting to “combine classical music’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy.” ‘Going for the One’ accomplishes this spectacularly, better than any other progressive rock album of the 70’s, other Yes masterpieces included. The introduction of the harp and the church organ, the latter from St. Martin’s Cathedral in Vevey, Switzerland, are instrumental in the sound of this album. The sound here exemplifies the term “symphonic progressive rock.” Interestingly enough, this was the first Yes album since ‘Time and a Word’ that did not feature Eddy Offord in the role as a producer. There is little doubt Offord’s absence affected the overall sound.
The title track kicks off the album, and it is an outlier with respect to the remainder of the tracks – a straight ahead rocker. In yet another “first in a long time”, the title track of ‘Going for the One’ is the first Yes song under eight minutes in length since Fragile. Between ‘Fragile’ and ‘Going for the One’, the shortest Yes song was ‘Siberian Khatru’, clocking in at 8:55. Musically, the song is propelled forward by Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This is interesting in itself, as the instrument is most closely associated with country music, yet Howe makes it rock and rock hard here. Wakeman’s keyboard work, both on the church organ and piano stand out here as well. In general, every instrument here, as well as the vocals, proceeds at an up tempo pace that maintains itself from start to finish.
There are a two other things to note on the title track that are true for the entire album. One is that the production here is very crisp and clean. The second (which undoubtedly plays on the first) is that the soundscape is not as dense as on the album’s predecessor, ‘Relayer’. Instead of choosing to fill up every available recording track, the band has scaled things down a bit from their previous effort. This is done to good effect, as it gives the music a little more chance to breathe.
The classical-like sound referenced above makes its first appearance on the next track, ‘Turn of the Century’, and is prominent from here on out. The music begins with some light, exquisitely played acoustic guitar work by Howe. Jon Anderson has stated the song was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’, and lyrically it tells a story of a sculptor creating his lover in “form out of stone” after her death. Both music and lyrics convey a sense of deep loss, making this the album’s most emotional piece. The loss is most poignantly conveyed in the first half of the song, when the music is very melancholy. Around the halfway mark, Wakeman’s piano makes an appearance, along with Howe’s pedal steel guitar. This evolves into a very tumultuous transition. But what emerges on the other side, in the latter half of the song is bright and joyful. Howe takes over on a standard electric guitar with some very sunny lines, while Squire’s bass line does a great job of playing off of Anderson’s vocals. Moreover, this portion of the music is very joyful, indicating that our protagonist has emerged from his grieving and can once again experience happiness. Perhaps the sculpture of his lover has given him solace and peace, coming to life metaphorically if not in reality. The ending of the song has a bittersweet feel to it, as if again to acknowledge the loss while also acknowledging the ability to find joy in life once again after such a tragedy. All things considered, this is a very beautiful and delicate composition both musically and lyrically.
‘Parallels’ is up next, and is an underrated gem of the Yes catalog. This song features spectacular performances by Howe, Wakeman, and Squire, who take turns in showing off their chops on their respective instruments. Still, they never descend into self-indulgence or stray from the song’s logical progression. The song introduces itself proper with Wakeman’s billowing church organ from St. Martin’s Cathedral ( this is best played LOUD to get the full impact). Squire and Howe then chime in, the former with a typically excellent bass line, the latter with some crisp, clean lead guitar. From there, the song takes on a straightforward structure of two verses and two choruses, before transitioning into the middle section led by more of Howe’s crisp lead guitar. After another verse, the song segues into an instrumental section in which Wakeman and Squire are at the forefront. The interplay between Wakeman’s soloing on the church organ and Squire’s bass line is nothing short of brilliant. The transition out of this instrumental section is announced by the return of Howe’s guitar. After one final chorus, the song begins barreling toward its conclusion. Howe again steps to the forefront, his guitar firing burst after burst of clean, high notes. This is some of my favorite Howe guitar work in the entire Yes catalog – bright, sharp, and technically brilliant. Squire and Wakeman remain in the mix here with some fantastic playing of their own.
Another defining aspect of ‘Parallels’ is its conclusion – one of the best endings to a song I have ever heard. That ending is more easily described in non-musical terms. Imagine 18-wheeler, barreling down the highway at full speed. Now imagine that 18-wheeler not just coming to a full stop, but stopping on a dime. And imagine that 18-wheeler doing so with the grace and finesse of a ballet dancer. That’s the ending of ‘Parallels’ right there. It’s an extremely difficult combination to pull off, which makes its flawless execution here that much better.
If J.S. Bach had a rock band, it would sound like ‘Parallels’.
Moving on, we next come to ‘Wonderous Stories’. It’s the shortest song on the album, but also the brightest. It also marks the return of Howe on a guitar-like instrument called the vachalia, which last appeared on ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’. Like ‘Parallels’ before it, the song includes a verse-chorus structure, with the choruses featuring some of Yes’s trademarked harmony vocals. The middle section is marked by a rather vigorous Wakeman keyboard solo including synths that emulate a string section. The song resumes its verse-chorus structure once again, while a thick bass line underneath propels the music forward. Howe and Wakeman continue to supply the melodies on top. The vocals, which include both harmonies and counterpoints here, are stunning. As the vocals fade out, Howe enters the scene again, this time with some jazzy electric guitar to close out the song.
Finally, we come to ‘Awaken’. There are numerous superlatives which could be used to describe this piece. All of them are inadequate. Somebody will have to invent new ones.
Much like the album ‘Moving Pictures’ did for Rush, ‘Awaken’ brings together everything that is great about Yes and distills it into one coherent work of art. It has the epic scope of pieces such as ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium’. It has the virtuoso instrumentation of numerous Yes classics such as ‘Heart of the Sunrise’, ‘Yours is No Disgrace’, and ‘Siberian Khatru’. And it has the classical feel of the preceding tracks on the same album. Moreover, it pares back some of the excesses of previous albums without paring back any of the artistic ambition.
To the uninitiated, Wakeman’s piano lines that open ‘Awaken’ could be mistaken for something from a piano concerto. After a few vigorous runs, the music begins a dreamy sequence, as Anderson’s vocals begin. As the introductory verses closes, a note of dissonance sounds before Howe takes over using a guitar riff that has a decidedly Eastern flavor (incidentally, the working title for ‘Awaken’ was ‘Eastern Numbers’). Anderson begins a chant, and the music takes a more serious tone. The most remarkable thing about this section is the drumming and the bass work. Alan White’s drumming with Yes has never been better than on this album, and on this particular track. Squire’s bass plays off of both White’s drumming and Howe’s guitar. The odd time signature here keeps things more than interesting, as it is difficult to predict when the next bass note or next drum beat will fall, and yet it’s also clear that there is a logical pattern behind the playing. It’s the kind of bass and drum work that sucks the listener in and keeps them hooked.
After two verses and two choruses of the chant, the music breaks into a blistering Howe guitar solo. Much like the guitar work on ‘Parallels’, the soloing here is full of bursts of sharp, high-pitched notes. However, the mood here is entirely different, expressing a sense of inner turmoil and urgency. This is another section of brilliant virtuoso guitar playing that illustrates why this album is among Howe’s strongest, either in or out of Yes.
As Howe gracefully exits the solo and returns to the main riff, another verse and chorus of the chant follow before the music begins a slow transition away from the Eastern motif. Wakeman’s keyboards step to the forefront, first mirroring Howe’s riff before segueing into the “Workings of Man” portion of the song. The church organ leads the way into this section, which has a much more European sound and texture, not to mention the lyrics. The tension builds here to a peak before Wakeman puts the brakes on the whole thing with a series of ever quieter notes, effectively bringing the first half of ‘Awaken’ to a close.
The transition to the second half of the song begins with a split-second of silence, before a single note of White’s tuned percussion blends into the first pluck of a harp by Anderson. From an initial quiet beginning, the band begins to slowly and painstakingly build tension in what is a textbook example of the technique. White’s percussion and Anderson’s harp start this section, soon to be joined by Wakeman, who is initially playing singular notes on the church organ.
A layer is added to the tension when Wakeman begins playing slightly longer (but still relatively quiet) runs. Squire also quietly enters, playing singular high bass notes, most likely on the six-string neck of the monster triple neck bass he uses for live performances of this song. These bass notes intensify and push the music forward, while Wakeman’s runs on the church organ slowly begin to lengthen, increase in volume, and sound more orchestral. Choral singers also join the fray, further building the intensity, which builds like a wave to a first peak before receding somewhat. At this point, Howe re-enters the picture on electric guitar, and leads the music to a second peak and a transition into what may be called the ‘Master of Time’ section of the piece. The build-up from the initial plucks on the harp to this point is powerful stuff, very mesmerizing and very emotional.
I have a personal anecdote I would like to share to illustrate the emotional punch of this section. In 2002, I attended my sixth Yes concert at an excellent Austin venue called The Backyard. I went with several former co-workers, including a friend of mine named Cheryl. While Cheryl is not a prog rock fan per se, she is much more of an astute listener to music than the vast majority of people. Musically, she is “switched in”. Toward the end of the concert, Yes performed ‘Awaken’. During the portion described above, I was mesmerized as normal, but for some reason I looked over at Cheryl standing next to me to gauge her reaction. Tears were streaming down her face, which was transfixed to the stage as she was as absorbed in the music as I had been just before turning my head. Amazing. I remember thinking “she gets it”, and was very impressed at that. Among my friends and acquaintances, I have musically usually been an outlier, as few of them have been interested in prog, and certainly not anywhere to the same degree as me. Some of them have even heard ‘Awaken’ in my presence and have given me strange looks that say “what the heck is this?” Yet here was Cheryl, on her first listen to ‘Awaken’, completely getting the gist of this incredible composition. As someone who had known this little secret for a long time, I found it very gratifying to see her reaction with no prompting or no explanation from anyone else – only the music was talking. It’s a moment I will not soon forget.
As the music progresses through the ‘Master of Time’ section, Anderson sings several verses and the tension continues to build, finally resolving itself with a shattering climax, with Wakeman’s church organ and the choral singers at the forefront. The dreamy section from the beginning is then reprised, and the final line of lyrics is one of my favorites from the entire Yes catalog: “Like the time I ran away, and turned around and you were standing close to me.” Howe then brings ‘Awaken’ to its final conclusion with some playful electric guitar lines.
Wow. What a piece of music. In my opinion, the finest fifteen minutes plus of music Yes ever committed to any recording medium. This is not to take away anything from some of their other masterpieces (and there are several), but to extol the virtues of this incredible piece of music. And by the way, I am in some good company when I surmise that this is Yes’s best work. None other than Jon Anderson himself has stated “at last we had created a Masterwork” with regard to Awaken. On the 1991 documentary ‘Yesyears’, Anderson refers to “the best piece of Yes piece of music, Awaken” and further states that it is “everything I would desire from a group of musicians in this life.” I’d say that’s a pretty strong endorsement.
In progressive rock circles, many references are made to the various sub-genres. Yes music (at least their 70’s output) is most often classified as symphonic progressive rock. No album exemplifies this term more perfectly than ‘Going for the One’, and no song exemplifies it more than ‘Awaken’. Other Yes works, such as the previously mentioned ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Gates of Delirium,’ possess the same scope but not the same instrumental timbre. ELP had some symphonic works that were their own interpretations of existing classical compositions while their own magnum opus, ‘Karn Evil 9’, sounded high tech for its time. ‘Thick as a Brick’ by Jethro Tull is certainly symphonic in its scope, and while great in its own right, has more of a folky feel than symphonic. In contrast to all of these, on ‘Going for the One’, Yes has created original compositions that, in many parts, could be easily mistaken for classical symphonic music by those not otherwise familiar with this type of music. A perfect fusion, you might say.
I’m still struggling to come up with the other four or nine or however many albums I need to complete my desert island disc list. And being immersed in the midst of a second golden age of progressive rock as we are now, completing that list will only get tougher due to the cornucopia of excellent new releases. But I can say without any hesitation, without any equivocation, whatever final form that list takes, it will most definitely include ‘Going for the One.’
Frank Weathers cites personal correspondence between Jon Anderson and a friend of his, in which Anderson attributes the song’s inspiration to this quotation:
In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.
I searched the Internet and this quote is all over the place, attributed to Chesterton, as if writing thus in The Speaker on February 2, 1901.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Chesterton actually wrote it. There are lots of fake quotations propagated by the Internet.
And the way the “struggle for existence” phrase is placed in that sentence doesn’t sound like Chesterton to me.
I did a search through the Collected Works of Chesterton published by Ignatius Press but I have been unable to verify the quotation.
In addition, my scouring of Chesterton books via the tremendous power of Google Books yields no results.
Is there anyone out there who can cite me a published source, in order to verify this Chesterton quotation?
Until then, I will have to conclude that it is fake.
Still, this would be a marvelous case of felix culpa…
Marvelous that Anderson could read a simple fake quotation somewhere and then spin a glorious Yes song out of it.
Perhaps it would not be too much to say that Anderson had a connatural understanding of Chesterton on this one point, in somewhat the same way that Chesterton himself had an intuitive grasp of Thomas Aquinas by way of connaturality, as Marshall McLuhan has argued in his “Introduction” to Hugh Kenner’s Paradox in Chesterton:
[Chesterton] seems never to have reached any position by dialectic or doctrine, but to have enjoyed a kind of connaturality with every kind of reasonableness.
According to Weathers’ friend, Anderson apparently had this to say about his inspiration:
He told me that the song was about pressing forward into a new world—like moving from black and white into technicolor. We could either accept the end of the world, war, corruption, the extermination of mankind, or we could work toward a bright, peaceful world based on “common sense.”
He wrote—and this is why I’ve always remembered it—that “hang on” doesn’t sound as pleasing when sung as “hold on.”
Sounds connatural to me…
After all, Chesterton is the Apostle of Common Sense.
Steve Howe has quit Asia to concentrate on Yes and other projects.
Prog magazine has more on this story.
As a sophomore at Lafayette College I became program director of the college radio station, and Larry Fast (Synergy) became the general manager. We had access to early releases and concert passes in one of the great periods in progressive music. To generate better distribution for college stations, I published a newsletter called The Rolling Paper that we distributed each month on campus and to all record labels.
We were fortunate to interview our three favorite bands between 1971 and 1973-Yes, Genesis on their first US performance at Lincoln Center, and King Crimson on the second Larks Tongue tour through the Bill Bruford connection with Yes.
We met and interviewed Yes at Dickinson College in 1971. I had seen Yes the previous summer supporting Jethro Tull ($5) with Tony Kaye and had been blown away by the energy of the band. By December the Yes album was taking off, and Fragile had arrived that week as an import from Jem Records. We requested an interview through Atlantic Records, and received a warm welcome from the band members who were delighted that we were holding import copies of Fragile in the US. For the next several years we were fortunate to have backstage passes to more than 20 Yes shows at area colleges, and later at the big arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Spectrum in Philly during their prime including several shows with Bruford on drums prior to his departure. We watched the band grow from being third on bills (Yes, King Crimson, Procol Harum ) to headliners for the Close to the Edge through the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour. Larry built a strong connection with Rick Wakeman through electronics and keyboards, and he went on to build some sequencers for him over the next few years. My connection was forged through and over beer, as Rick and I shared a fondness for brew. I was but a lightweight while Rick’s consumption of Budweiser was unrivaled and eventually unsustainable.
I thought it would be fun to revisit this interview 40+ years later and have condensed the original piece, but not changed the content. Read the rest of this entry
Great news today on Facebook from the station master himself, Greg Spawton of Big Big Train. Bassist and keyboardist Danny Manners has officially become a member of the band, joining Spawton, Andy Poole, David Longdon, Dave Gregory, and Nick D’Virgilio.
We are pleased to announce that Danny Manners has joined Big Big Train as the band’s keyboard player. Danny made a significant contribution to English Electric Part One, playing keyboards and double bass and we are delighted that Danny has accepted our offer to join the band in time for the release of English Electric Part Two on March 4th. Danny’s past credits include Louis Philippe and Cathal Coughlan.
Manners’s training has been mostly in classical and jazz. He writes of himself at his website:
For those who have stumbled across me: I’m a double bassist, electric bassist, pianist, arranger and composer living in London, England. Starting with classical music as a child and teenager, I worked my way backwards through jazz and finally worked out how to play pop half-decently in my thirties. Along the way I’ve also been involved in improvised and “leftfield” musics. At the moment I’m lucky enough to be doing a little bit of all of these…
He also lists an impressive discography, having played extensively with Louis Phillippe, Louise Le May, Cathal Coughlan, Sandy Dillon, and Muse: http://www.dannymanners.co.uk/albums.html
I must admit, I’m (I–ed., Brad) thoroughly impressed with this addition. Over twenty years old, beginning with original members, Spawton and Poole, Big Big Train has never ceased to grow, take grand chances, and transform into what is arguably one of the greatest–if not THE greatest–rock band of our era. With their near collapse after the recording “Bard,” Spawton and Poole have developed the group tremendously with “Gathering Speed,” “The Difference Machine”, “The Underfall Yard”, and “Far Skies Deep Time”. Their 2012 release, “English Electric Part One”, has received rave reviews and has been labeled the single finest release of 2012 by a number of critics.
To this critic, “English Electric Part One” is not just the best of 2012, it’s the best rock release since Talk Talk’s 1988 magnum opus, “Spirit of Eden.” Before that, one would have to jump back to Yes’s “Close to the Edge” or Genesis’s “Selling England By the Pound” in the early 1970s or to Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” to find comparable works of music in the last half century.
It should be noted as well that the engineer for Big Big Train, Rob Aubrey, is the Phill Brown of our era as well.
Finally, Manners has worked with David Longdon before, and–I assume–connected Big Big Train to the famous bassist and keyboardist.
The second part of English Electric will be released on March 4 of this year. American drummer, Nick D’Virgilio, a full-time member of the band, just finished recording the final drum parts for “English Electric Part Two.” Additionally, the band will be releasing a limited edition of the full “English Electric” in the fall and the re-imaging of previous tracks on “Station Masters” in 2014.
In any field of endeavor, there is a certain language used. One working in the legal field speaks of briefs, appeals, affidavits, and so on. A football coach may speak of blocking schemes, blitzes, and pass routes. And one who flies airplanes may speak of instrument flight rules, crosswind landings, air speed, and fuel mixture.
Alas, those that make and listen to music have their own language. Of course, those of us involved with progressive rock, as listeners, musicians, producers, etc., usually look at the world a little bit differently. As such, an alternate language has developed.
Thinking about this, I have come up with a list of a few terms to aid conversation between prog rockers, as well as to help those who would like to speak to us on our terms. Of course, this list is by no means considered to be complete. Fellow Progarchists and readers of this site, in the interest of smooth communications, you are not only welcome, but are encouraged to suggest additions. So, without further adieu, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I present to you a brief glossary of progressive rock terms.
Short song – a song under 10:00 minutes in length.
Unusual time signature – 4/4
Normal Time Signature – 7/4, 5/8, 7/8, etc.
Brick – a unit of measurement for determining thickness.
String Section – a group of musicians in an orchestra whose function it is to emulate a Mellotron.
Dancing – ??????
Pretentious (1) – a word used to describe the critics who accuse prog rockers of being pretentious.
Pretentious (2) – the lyrics from this guy:
Excess – ??????
Air Guitar – what rock fans play.
Air Keyboards – what progressive rock fans play.
Air Bass – Well, a lot of us play this too, especially those of us that are into Geddy Lee and Chris Squire.
Bass Guitar – a stringed instrument typically used in the melodic discourse of a progressive rock composition. Occasionally used as part of the rhythm section.
Robert Moog – the greatest electrical engineer of all time.
Aaron Copland – a guy who used to write music for Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Alberto Ginastera – See Copland, Aaron.
Female Prog Rocker – a woman that participates in progressive rock, either through listening or performing. Most frequently found in Continental Europe, the U.K. and Scandinavian countries. A North American variant of the species exists but is extremely rare. Another related variant of the species is the prog rock spouse, defined as a wife dragged into the prog rock scene by an overzealous prog-rock loving husband.
Consuming alcoholic beverages – rearranging your liver to the solid mental grace.
Seed drill – a tool for precisely positioning seeds in the soil, refined by a man who was preemptively named after the band Jethro Tull.
Composing – the art of multiple musicians in a band sitting around arguing for hours, sometimes very intensely, over whether the next bar is to be in F or F#.
Corporate Attorney – see video:
(it is rumored that they also did some prog rock in the 70’s)
One of my greatest pleasures of 2012–and there have been many–has been listening to massive quantities of progressive rock, mostly for pleasure.
Being a literary and humanities guy, I’d contemplated rejecting the entire numerical ranking scheme. Rather, I thought about labeling each of my best albums with various qualities of myth. These albums achieved the level of Virgil; these of Dante; these of Tolkien, etc. But, I finally decided this was way too pretentious . . . even for me.
Below are my rankings for the year. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by any of these choices. I’m not exactly subtle in what I like and dislike. Before listing them, though, I must state three things.
First, I loved all of these albums, or I wouldn’t be listing them here. That is, once you’ve made it to Valhalla or Olympus, why bother with too many distinctions. The differences between my appreciation of number 8 and number 2, for example, are marginal at best.
Second, I am intentionally leaving a couple of releases out of the rankings: releases from Echolyn, The Enid, Minstrel’s Ghost, Galahad, and Kompendium, in particular, as I simply did not have time to digest them. Though, from what I’ve heard, I like each very much.
Third, I think that 2012 has proven to be the single greatest year in prog history. DPRP’s Brian Watson has argued that we’re in the “third wave of prog.” He might very well be right. But, I don’t think we’ve ever surpassed the sheer quality of albums released this year. This is not to belittle anything that has come before. Quite the contrary. I am, after all, a historian by profession and training. The past is always prologue. Close to the Edge, Selling England by the Pound, and Spirit of Eden will always be the great markers of the past.
Ok, be quiet, Brad. On with the rankings.