The “Listen Again” series went over well enough that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This edition of the series we (ahem) examine Yes’ Close to the Edge.
For those not up on their music history, Yes is the archetypal progressive rock band founded in England by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire in 1968. These “prog rock” pioneers carry on to this day in spite of several radical roster changes and changes in musical trends. To date they have sold more than 30 million albums.
The group’s only consistent member has been Squire, the bassist. The band is perhaps best recognized by the noteworthy high-register vocals of former lead singer Anderson and the musical stylings of a succession of guitarists (Steve Howe, Peter Banks, Trevor Rabin, Billy Sherwood), keyboardists (Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, Igor Khoroshev, Oliver Wakeman) and percussionists (Alan White and Bill Bruford). Some group members even became leaders of new bands and/or moved on to successful solo careers. On incarnation of the band was even briefly fronted by famous producer Trevor Horn. Yes’ current roster includes Squire, Howe and White with keyboardist Oliver Wakeman and lead singer Benoît David.
Their fifth studio album was Close to the Edge. In April of 1972 the band would step into the recording studio to begin work in the record. The line-up included Anderson (lead vocals), Howe (guitar and vocals), Squire (bass and vocals), Wakeman (keyboards) and Bruford (drums and percussion). (This would be the final album to include Bruford although he would return to tour with the band from 1990 through 1992.)
The 3 track album set precedence. The lead-in was the side-long titular track “Close to the Edge”. It includes four parts: “The Solid Time of Change”, “Total Mass Retain”, “I Get Up, I Get Down” and “Seasons of Man”. It was co-composed by Anderson and Howe and runs for over 18 minutes.
Anderson stated the track was inspired by Hermann Hesse's book Siddhartha. The tune tracks the awakening of Hesse's character "close to the edge" of both a river and symbolically the multiple lives of his soul where he experiences a spiritual awakening. Back then, without the aid of computers and technological studio toys, the work was a challenge to complete considering it was written in piecemeal. It was also a challenge to decide how to end such an ambitious piece and would eventually be parenthetically wrapped up with the sound effects of birds and running water.
Wakeman, an experienced studio musician and the possessor of a college education in music would be of great help on the second selection “And You and I” although the actual composition of the cut is credited only to Anderson, Howe, Bruford and Squire. This too is broken down into sections: "Cord of Life", "Eclipse", "The Preacher the Teacher" and "The Apocalypse".
The closing cut is “Siberian Khatru”. This one features lyrics by Anderson and music by Anderson, Howe and Wakeman. This song wraps up an album marked by themes of repetition and renewal and includes the repetition of many two-syllable words and lines. Wakeman helped to develop and construct this track (much like the others) through the use of variations on existing concepts as well as the use of recapitulation.
Yes completed the recording process in June of that year (1972). The Atlantic label album would not hit record racks until September. It had a running time of almost 38 minutes.
The single “And You and I (Part II, Eclipse)” would climb to number 42 on the Billboard Singles chart. The platter peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It went gold within a month.
Refusing to be forgotten, the LP would be reissued in 2003. It would include 4 bonus tracks including a cover of Paul Simon’s “America”, a single version of “Total Mass Retain” once released as a promo, an alternate version of “And You and I” and a studio run-through of “Siberian Khatru” titled “Siberia”. Earlier this year it was remastered and released on a hybrid SACD/CD and is presently available in various downloadable high-resolution formats.
The work set a new trend for the band of structuring an album around one single major song. Anderson’s spiritual influences are evident throughout the recording and it remains a major achievement in the prog rock genre. It remains the benchmark by which new prog rock works are measured.
The music herein is the natural outcome of their new founded teamwork. Considered by many to be
one of the greatest progressive rock releases of all time it is now listed in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It is technically brilliant. I’s free and many-hued and yet still set in a definite framework. Perhaps their best album overall, Close to the Edge/Atl. 7244 is a favorite of fans and critics alike and furthermore . . . it rocks.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.