Yes’ Steve Howe on Rock Hall Honor: ‘I Don’t Regret the Wait’
Guitarist discusses relationships with former members Jon Anderson and Bill Bruford, chances of a reunion on induction night
BY ANDY GREENE
DECEMBER 20, 2016
THE ROCK AND Roll Hall of Fame has faced a lot of criticism for its treatment of progressive rock bands. They inducted Pink Floyd in 1996 and Genesis in 2010, but prog pioneers like King Crimson and the Moody Blues have yet to even appear on a ballot. It took Yes three ballots, but 2017 will finally be their year. Sadly, it comes two years after bassist Chris Squire (the only man to endure through every one of the group’s many lineup changes) passed away from acute erythroid leukemia. Every other core member remains alive, and hopefully they’ll all come and play at the induction ceremony in April even though they now tour in separate camps. Guitarist Steve Howe plays with drummer Alan White as Yes, while singer Jon Anderson recently hit the road with keyboardist Rick Wakeman and 1980s-era guitarist Trevor Rabin as Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman.
We spoke with Steve Howe about the Hall of Fame, the possibility of a reunion that night with estranged frontman Jon Anderson and the band’s upcoming 50th anniversary.
How do you feel about the news? Pretty good. We’ve heard lots about this over the years, so there’s been, like, decades of anticipation. It’s a wonderful one-off thing that happens. If you get a gold album, you can always get another gold album. You win a guitar award, you can always get another one. But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a one-off, and it’s great.
Are you surprised? It comes after years of people saying, “We’re voting for you!” and “We’re trying to get you in.” It’s a result of all that and I’m not disappointed that it’s come.
Who told you the news? Yes’ manager Martin Darvill – he came to me and told me the news the other day.
Did he tell you about the other inductees? No, he didn’t. I’m looking forward to hearing that.
I can tell you now. Pearl Jam … I know them a little bit.
Electric Light Orchestra. I know them [laughs]. They’ve done some wonderful things. It’s joyful music, really kind of upbeat. Of course they did the big production thing for a while. Roy Wood was part of it once and that thread of the Move lead to the Roy Wood Big Band and ELO. They had a great reputation and it was a chance for Jeff Lynne to break through. He’s a very competent and capable all-around player.
Journey. Wow! There isn’t anybody that doesn’t know them. Some of the bands that get in obviously have an amazing amount of hit records. That’s the way they’ve shown their validity, by mastering that art. Journey are one of those great bands.
Joan Baez. Joan Baez! Oh, wow, that takes me right back. Basically, by the time I discovered Bob Dylan on his second record, I was knocked sideways. No sooner had I heard that I heard Joan Baez do her version of “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind” called “Daddy, You’ve Been on My Mind.” Of course, she played a lovely Martin guitar that occasionally she loaned to Bob on their duos. Quite recently I saw some clips of their duos on the early days when they sang together. That was immense. I’ve been to many of her concerts in London. My wife and I love her very much.
Tupac Shakur. I’m not quite familiar with him, but there’s bound to be artists I’m not familiar with.
Most inductees pick three songs to play. How will you pick those? It’ll be pretty hard. I guess I would say that for us, obviously, “Roundabout” is a central song. We’d love to play “Roundabout.” We haven’t been playing it this year, but “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” we know that song and did it last year and several years before. Of course, we could stick something quite exciting in there. We’ve been playing five, nearly six albums in their entirety. We’re very close in hand with the entire Yes repertoire, particularly the 1970s, We could play anything, so we’ll take your request!
It often ends with a big all-star jam at the end of the night where all the artists player together. That could be a lot of fun. Wow, well, plug my guitar in and we’ll see what happens.
It would be fun to see “Roundabout” with everyone playing. [Laughs] That could be fun. It could be a little bit chaotic. It’s got some time changes in there. When you listen to the chorus of “Roundabout” it really deceives you into thinking it’s in 4/4 because it’s easy on the ear, but of course it isn’t and there’s a little trick in there that catches many musicians up.
“We’ve been working in different bands and different areas for a very long time.”
They’re bringing in Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, you, Trevor Rabin, the late Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Alan White and Tony Kaye. Do you think they made the right call? It’s not for me to say. That is the Union lineup, which is a midway point in Yes’ career when we had eight people in the band. But I think it’s great.
Bands usually reunite at the Hall of Fame and all play together. Do you think that’s going to happen? I can’t say. I don’t know and I can’t predict. It just depends on how it feels and what the communication is and what the spirit is.
If Jon, Rick and everyone else wants to do it, does the thought of a big reunion appeal to you? Like I say, it’s gotta be discussed and gotta be considered. Obviously it’s a consideration.
When is the last time you spoke with Jon? I don’t know whether I can reveal things like that. It’s a little bit personal. We’ve been working in different bands and different areas for a very long time.
I think the fans are going to think this might lead to the second Union tour. We know the [upcoming] 50-year anniversary is going to be quite colossal. The Union tour was popular with many fans, but it would have to be re-thought if we were considering that. It would need some reinvention. But that’s a ways away.
How do you think Chris would feel about the Hall of Fame if he was still around? I think he’d be really delighted. I think Chris valued this kind of feedback from the business more than all of us. He was really keen on that sort of thing. He always loved the feedback from the industry, and of course this is the big one. Chris would be very pleased.
I am hoping Bill Bruford comes. I know he’s retired, but it would be great to see him play drums one last time. He told me he hasn’t played in nine years and he’s not anticipating playing again, and I don’t see anyone pressuring him to play. I know people would love to see him, of course. He’s a friend of mine and I wouldn’t want to pressure him at all. I don’t want to hold him to it, but he told me he would love to come and be a part of it, but he doesn’t anticipate playing.
How do you feel about ARW [Anderson Rabin Wakeman] being on tour now? Do you think that’s a good idea? Are you cool with it? [Laughs] It’s an idea that has every right to exist, as much as ABWH [Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe] when we were together in the late 1980s. Basically there’s room for anybody to play Yes music. We love to hear other people play Yes music. These guys have quite a bit of credibility to do that and they are outstanding musicians, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go out and play. There’s not any reason.
You can understand why the fans are hoping the two groups will combine at some point. As long as its not trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The Union tour had some effects. For the fans, it was seen in a particular light. But internally, it was complex. Even considering it, you’d have to think about how it could work in a different way. It’s nice seeing people play together, but it’s really about the mood and the willingness and the love and the sharing. It just comes down to a lot of other things, unfortunately, like business and technical. Those other parts both help and interfere and destruct. A few people have said to me that although it was great to see us together all night for the Union tour, it was really a lot to try and fill your ears with. But I do appreciate that people are thinking about seeing us together, and that’s a very nice sentiment.
I know a lot of Yes fans were getting frustrated it has taken so long to get you guys into the Hall of Fame. It’s definitely time this happened. It’s a bit like waiting for a train. Maybe it’s on time and you just noticed waiting. I don’t regret the wait. I just feel this must be the right time since it happened.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2017 will honor Pearl Jam, Tupac, Journey, Yes, Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra and Nile Rodgers.
Life on prog's outer limits with Trevor Horn and Buggles
By Paul Lester Prog published August 18, 2016
They conquered the world with Video Killed The Radio Star, but they also pushed at the boundaries of the genre, and both members of the band even went on to join Yes! So how prog were Buggles?
Buggles – award-winning producer and singer-bassist Trevor Horn, alongside keyboardist Geoff Downes – were the result of a science experiment designed to fuse prog at its most complex and cerebral with pop at its most artful and intelligent. No wonder Downes and Horn went on to join Yes for their 1980 album Drama and the subsequent tour, while Horn would produce 1983’s 90125 and 1987’s Big Generator.It’s hardly surprising, either, that 10cc’s 1974 album Sheet Music is one of Horn’s favourites, and that 10cc guitarist and songwriter Lol Creme remains a close associate.
Buggles might be best known for the naggingly infectious near-novelty hit Video Killed The Radio Star, a No.1 around the world in September 1979, but they also released two very clever and near-conceptual long-players – 1980’s The Age Of Plastic and 1981’s Adventures In Modern Recording – that prove there was a lot more to them than chart pabulum.
Their music had a tricksiness and far-sighted sense of visionary wonder typical of true prog fans. It also evinced a high-gloss sheen and the sort of mad studio skills you’d expect of someone whose productions for ABC, Dollar, Malcolm McLaren and the ZTT label – home of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Art Of Noise and Propaganda – led to him being dubbed ‘the man who invented the 80s’.
Horn and Downes receive the Outer Limits gong at this year’s Progressive Music Awards, and today Horn laughs, “I suppose I have skirted around prog,” when asked whether he and his Buggles partner have spent 40 years voyaging on the margins of progressive rock.
Both certainly have full prog CVs: Downes has been a member not just of Yes but of Asia too. And Horn first saw the prog band he would end up joining back in 1975, at De Montfort Hall in Leicester, on the Yesterdays tour, during what he terms “the golden era of prog”.
“I was a big Yes fan, and of course I ended up joining Yes,” he says. “But I liked lots of other prog, like Caravan and Genesis, although never as much as Yes because the rhythm section was never as interesting. I’d never heard anything like them before and I’ve not heard anything like them since.”
For Downes, Buggles were equal parts prog and pop. “What amazes me is the amount of detail we put into those recordings,” he says. “We’d stay up all night, experimenting in the studio. It was progressive pop, I guess.”
He considers Buggles’ antecedents in the progressive pop stakes to have been 10cc and ELO. “Though they were known as pop bands, they had lots of progressive ideas,” he argues. “Those early 10cc records such as [1973 debut] 10cc and Sheet Music were pretty out there, and Godley & Creme took that even further. Even Abba had sections in their music that were quite intricate. We loved all that studio trickery and experimentation. Parallel to that were bands like Yes, who were experimenting in the studio in a more progressive rock format.”
So did Buggles provide the bridge between 70s prog and 80s pop? “I think so,” Downes says, adding that, for some, Buggles were a pop step too far. “Obviously when we first joined Yes there was a huge outcry from the diehard Yes fans: the idea of a couple of interlopers from the pop world suddenly stepping into this revered band. But in hindsight, both myself and Trevor were musicians, not pop guys. We were very much into Yes and progressive music. It’s just that our opportunity came to make pop music and we took it.”
Leeds College Of Music graduate Downes was a former member of obscure rockers She’s French, and a session musician and composer of advertising jingles when he met the Durham-born Horn via an advert at the back of Melody Maker.
“He was putting together a live band for Tina Charles [pop-disco diva whose single I Love To Love was No.1 in 1976] and he gave me the gig as the keyboard player,” remembers Downes, whose equipment clinched the deal.
“I’d borrowed a Minimoog from a friend, which not many people had because it was a bit of a luxury item, and Trevor later told me that’s why he gave me the job,” he laughs. “We’re both very technologically minded, even now.”
Horn might have had one foot in mainstream entertainment – he played bass in the orchestra for BBC TV show Come Dancing – but he had another in the avant-garde: his ambition, he asserts, was “to combine Kraftwerk with Vince Hill”. He recorded two singles as Big A, including Caribbean Air Control, which failed to chart but received considerable daytime radio play, and a 1978 album as Chromium, with help from Downes and composer Hans Zimmer. The result, Star To Star, was proto-techno dance music.
“The idea was sci-fi disco,” says Horn of Chromium’s music, which dovetailed nicely with other contemporary examples of the electronic form, such as Space’s Magic Fly.
After a series of collaborations – “mainly rescuing peoples’ dodgy demos”, as Downes puts it – he and Horn joined forces with musician Bruce Woolley, who helped co-author Video Killed The Radio Star. But before long, Woolley secured a solo deal with CBS, and then there were two.
“There weren’t that many pop duos about back then,” says Downes of the pre-Pet Shop Boys/Soft Cell/OMD era.
But then Buggles were never really meant to be an actual living, breathing entity at all. “We were more a concept – a virtual band,” he ventures. “It was just us messing round in the studio.”
“We had this idea where a guy, working in the basement of a record company, would make up groups and records on a computer,” adds Horn. “One of the groups this guy invented was called Buggles, and they had a song called Video Killed The Radio Star.”
Buggles might have been fictional, but their success was very real: Video… was the first chart-topper for Island Records and it went to No.1 in 16 countries. It was an early synthpop hit, alongside M’s Pop Muzik, The Flying Lizards’ Money and Gary Numan’s Are ‘Friends’ Electric?.
Buggles’ debut album, The Age Of Plastic, explored modern-age anxiety with songs about gangsters, virtual sex machines and media saturation_._
“I was trying to write about different things,” muses Horn, who cites author JG Ballard as an influence on his writing at the time. “The whole idea of ‘the plastic age’ came to me after one of the guys at Island said I looked a bit plastic in one of the pictures. I thought, ‘Yeah! The Plastic Age!’”
Video… made Buggles pop stars, but they chose another path – as prog heroes. They were invited to join Yes, partly because they shared management and partly because of Horn’s high, Jon Anderson-ish voice. Anderson (and Rick Wakeman) departed Yes in early 1980 following aborted sessions for their new album and the band needed a replacement. Yes also saw Buggles as a way out of their post-Tormato impasse. In addition, it probably didn’t do any harm that Buggles’ pop fame gave Yes bassist Chris Squire extra brownie points with his kids.
“When we went down to meet the band,” marvels Horn, “his kids were waiting at the door with their autograph books because we were pop stars!”
After a successful audition of a new song entitled Fly From Here that Horn and Downes believed might work for Yes, they were invited to a rehearsal.
“It was amazing,” says Horn. “I’d never been close up to a rock band like that before, people who played like that. It was the most exciting thing I’d ever heard.”
Was he nervous? “I was shitting myself!” he says.
Did he meet resistance from fans? “Some of the fans were pissed off, yeah,” he admits. “I would have been pissed off! I was no Jon Anderson. He was a career singer. I was just clinging on by my fingernails.”
Nevertheless, Buggles gave Yes that certain modern-sounding something they’d been missing. “Chris had always wanted Yes to keep going through changes and new directions and reinventing themselves,” says Downes. “I think they saw something in us to propel them into the 80s. And I think that did happen – our influence on the Drama album paved the way for 80s Yes. We set them on another course.”
Horn agrees with Downes’ assessment of Yes’ 10th studio album. “I think we did push the boat out,” he says. “The guys in Yes played out of their skins. The drumming on that album in incredible, Steve Howe’s guitar parts are incredible, Chris sounds incredible – we really did a solid album.
“I’m really proud of Machine Messiah: it has so many elements and the scene changes that Yes are known for, but it also has this modern sound, and that was maybe something Yes had been missing on the previous album Tormato. People were surprised that it came up to a lot of high expectation. Drama has grown on a lot of diehards over the years and been accepted as a worthwhile part of Yes’ catalogue.”
There followed the Drama tour, which Horn and Downes had mixed feelings about. “It was amazing,” says Downes, “playing these big arenas, but me and Trevor were really just a couple of back-room boys tinkering round in the studio, and suddenly there we were in front of 20,000 people. It was pretty hairy, I can tell you.”
Soon, however, their tenure with the prog overlords was at an end. “Yes collapsed at the end of that UK tour, at the end of 1980,” recounts Downes. “Chris and Alan [White] went their own way, Steve wasn’t doing a lot, so Trevor and I decided to go back in the studio for another Buggles album.”
This time, they were armed with a brand new Fairlight computer – all the better to sample with – and a renewed sense of experimental purpose. “After our spell with Yes, our writing changed a little bit,” Downes says. “It wasn’t so pop-oriented and there were more moody sections.”
Buggles’ second album, Adventures In Modern Recording, functions as a companion piece to Drama. Indeed, one of the tracks, I Am A Camera, is an alternate version of Into The Lens from Drama, while the 2010 reissue of Adventures… features the early demo of Fly From Here, part of a suite that Horn and Downes would later complete for Yes’ 2011 album of the same name.
While the album was Buggles’ swansong – Downes left during recording to join Asia while Horn went on to, well, invent the 80s – if anything, Adventures… sounds better today; more radical than ever. It’s ironic given their twin reputations – pop lightweights and prog behemoths – that Yes’ Drama and Buggles’ Adventures… flow together so seamlessly.
“Yeah,” notes Horn, ever the dry northerner, “but you know, we always had aspirations…”
The credits to Adventures… read like a who’s who of 80s sonic architects, including as they do future members of Art Of Noise and many of the sessioneers and studio bods who would help Horn give the new decade a bold, multilayered and lavishly textured new sound via the output of ZTT and the records of ABC, Dollar, Frankie, Propaganda and Grace Jones. You might even recognise the name of Chris Squire on those credits, just as Steve Howe’s name would later appear on the credits to Frankie’s Welcome To The Pleasuredome and Dave Gilmour’s would appear on Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm. Get close to the edge of either pop or prog and you’ll find the other staring you in the face.
“I always thought they were two sides of the same coin,” reckons Horn, who cites Yes’ Owner Of A Lonely Heart as his shiniest, most towering prog-pop edifice to date. “Pop is one of the few art forms that is progressive. And the whole idea of progressive rock was to not be formulaic and try to stretch the format. On the surface, what Buggles did was pop. But look a bit deeper and there’s some quite progressive stuff going on.”
YOUR SHOUT Video might have killed the radio star, but just how prog were Buggles?
“Considering the prog influences they brought into the group, and the structures of some of the songs with different movements, I would say they were pop prog at least. More so on their second LP than the debut. Stuff from their first album, like the title track, were prog to me, but the delightful Elstree is more of a pop song.”
“They were prog when they recorded as Yes.”
“Not in the slightest? Geoff playing with Yes doesn’t change what The Buggles actually was.”
“About as prog as Simple Minds/Tears for Fears etc who have also had good coverage in your mag. They’re the type of act who when they’re reappraised by prog fans, they unveil a level of talent on album tracks that was missed the first time around due to being perceived as chart acts. The Age of Plastic is fantastic by the way, and Drama is still my favourite Yes album.”
“Not very – probably more so on their second LP. Definitely up there with Yellow Magic Orchestra as one of the most ‘fun’ synth-pop bands though”
“Are we talking about the duo that added a few members and became the Yes of my generation?”
“Proto-pop-prog really – the electro drums/synthesised side of their work less prog than some of the lyrics/concepts IMHO.”
“Up there with Elbow. Make of that what you will!”
“The Buggles? YES! But in a poppy way.”
“They were in my humble opinion. On their first record they were leaders in sound design and using technology or making things sound as if it was made electronically but really wasnt. On the second album they were experimenting with the fairlight and other devices even though all in all the second one is weaker than the first one. To me they were progressive in a more literal sense. They made music with a progressive approach rather than the prog rock sound of Yes and co. To me they were more progressive in the way Kraftwerk was progressive.”
“You wouldn’t be asking if they hadn’t joined Yes. Not very prog.”
“They drew inspiration from JG Ballard etc – proggy enough for me!”
“Meh… Not that much, despite the heritage of Horn and Downes.”
“They were pretty progressive compared to most synth pop!”
Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.
Yes: "90125 Was A New Beginning For Us, Not Just Another Chapter"
By Malcolm Dome ( Prog ) published November 07, 2016
In 1983 Yes stormed the charts with a new pop sound. Yet just months before, the band hadn’t even existed. This is the story of one of music’s least likely comebacks...
By 1981, Yes had disappeared. As the new decade dawned, the line-up that had given us Drama the previous year had cracked and splintered. Keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Steve Howe became founding members of Asia and enjoyed huge success in their own right. Vocalist Trevor Horn was on an upward trajectory as a producer. And that left bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White trying to find a cohesive musical direction.
“Atlantic, to whom Yes were signed, were determined to keep Alan and I working together,” recalls Squire. “We had tried to form a new band, XYZ, in 1981 with Jimmy Page, but that had fizzled out. And then in 1982 Trevor Rabin’s name came up. Brian Lane, our former manager, had actually played me some of his tracks in 1979 and I thought it was the new Foreigner album. But three years later, we agreed to meet up with him.”
While Squire and White contemplated where life might lead in the post-Yes era, multi-instrumentalist Rabin had been facing an exciting, albeit uncertain, future. After releasing three well-received but commercially disappointing solo albums, he relocated to Los Angeles from the UK after signing to Geffen.
“I went through an intense writing phase out there, when I effectively came up with the songs which would appear on 90125,” he explains. “But Geffen weren’t impressed, so they dropped me.”
After getting some interest from other labels, Rabin eventually agreed a deal with Atlantic, and it was Phil Carson, one of the most powerful men at the company, who put him in touch with Squire and White.
“He felt that I needed a rhythm section,” Rabin says. “So, the three of us agreed to meet at a sushi bar in London. Chris was late, which I was to discover was usual for him, but we eventually went back to his place and jammed. I have to say, it wasn’t a very good session. But there was clearly a chemistry between us which was worth pursuing.”
Squire is a little more blunt about that initial meeting. “We got pissed at my house, then thought it was a good idea to play together. After 10 minutes, we all knew it could work, even though the jam session was rubbish!”
They brought in former Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye to complete the line-up. “Trevor was great at playing guitar and keyboards, but he was something of a virtuoso,” reveals the bassist. “What we also needed was someone who could come in and play solid keyboards, to augment what Trevor did; someone very grounded who would add texture to the sound. And I thought immediately of Tony.”
The new quartet became Cinema. In spite of the fact that there were now three former members of Yes in the group, there was no way they were going to revive that band’s name. “I was totally against it,” admits Rabin. “I wanted this to be seen as a new project, and not the continuation of an extinct 70s band.”
Cinema spent eight months working on their material at John Henry’s Rehearsal Studio in North London. Rabin reveals: “What we ended up with was a combination of songs I had originally demoed to get the Geffen deal, plus some stuff Chris came in with, and other tracks we collaborated on from scratch.”
And it was then that Horn came into the picture. “He was actually approached about being the singer for the band,” recalls Rabin. “Chris thought we needed a frontman, someone who just sang. But Trevor and I just didn’t get on at all. In fact, things became very heated between us, and in the end it was decided not to bring him into the band.”
Squire concurs on the original reason they approached Horn. “I felt we needed a singer in the band, and I mentioned to Trevor Rabin that maybe the guy for the job was Trevor Horn, who of course I knew from the Drama period of Yes. So we met for lunch and I offered him the job of singing in Cinema. But Trevor was really making a name for himself at the time as a producer – he’d already had success with ABC and Dollar – so he didn’t want to give up this new career and join a band. However, Trevor did agree to produce our album, and I was delighted to have him on board.”
However, Rabin didn’t exactly share Squire’s enthusiasm about Horn being the right man to produce the fledgling band’s album. “I remember thinking he was totally wrong for this project. He was a pop producer, and I was very sceptical about what he could actually do for us. But in the end, I have to admit that Trevor turned out to be exactly the right man for 90125.”
Cinema and Horn went into London’s Sarm East Studios in November 1982 to record the album (they would also work over the next several months at AIR and Sunpark Studios, again in London). And they had virtually the entire album finished when the story took another twist, with the arrival of Jon Anderson.
“Phil Carson came down to Sarm East and liked what we were doing,” explains Squire. “But he kept on and on at us about changing the name to Yes. His logic was that if we were to use the ‘Yes’ tag then we’d have a ready-made audience and the album would be much bigger. He wanted me to call Jon and get him involved, and eventually – just to shut him up – I agreed to contact him.”
At the time, Anderson was working in the South of France on a project inspired by the artist Marc Chagall. But a fateful call from Squire would change all his plans. “I was in London for a weekend when Chris phoned me. He said he wanted to come over to my place in Knightsbridge and play me some of the music from his new band. We ended up sitting in his Rolls Royce listening to what Cinema had recorded so far and it blew me away. The sound was so fresh. I loved the vocal harmonies, and Trevor Horn’s production was great. I was a big fan of his production style anyway.
“Chris then asked me if I’d like to sing on the album and join the band. I told him that if I did that then effectively we were making a Yes album, and he replied, ‘Well, that’s the idea.’”
At this juncture, Rabin was unaware of plans to bring in Anderson, although he now appears very sanguine about what happened. “Obviously, the label didn’t think my vocals were strong enough. But the other guys in the band didn’t want to hurt my feelings so they never confronted me. However, recording had gone so far down the line that to replace all my vocals would have been a huge task. That’s why I sing lead vocals on some tracks, although I’d have been happy for Jon to have done them all.”
But the guitarist objected strongly to the band now being known as Yes. “I was still very much against it, but was outvoted.”
Despite coming on to the scene rather late, Anderson still had some input into the writing process. “I changed some of the choruses and added lyrics to certain songs as well. I only had about three weeks in the studio to do my parts, but found it to be a very rewarding experience. I loved working with Trevor Horn as he was always so receptive to any ideas I had.”
But Squire has a different take on the relationship between the returning vocalist and the producer. “Oh, they butted heads quite a lot. At times, there was major friction.”
To add to the melodrama in the studio, Kaye had his own problems with Horn. “They didn’t get on at all,” says Rabin. “So, he left the band before we’d finished the album, and I had to finish the keyboard parts.”
Squire, though, has an alternative version on what happened. “Tony actually completed all his work. So, because he wasn’t on good terms with Trevor Horn, we suggested he should go home to Los Angeles. But he was never fired from Yes, nor did he quit. The only reason we had Eddie Jobson feature in the video for Owner Of A Lonely Heart was because he was around when we shot it. We never talked to Eddie, or anybody, about replacing Tony.”
“We did hold discussions with Eddie about coming into the band for touring,” disagrees Rabin. “And we also considered Duncan Mackay. But we got Tony back in the end because he knew all the parts and with Horn not involved in touring, there was no chance of any of those problems rearing up again.”
Rabin recalls the studio sessions as running well behind schedule. “We had a very laissez‑faire attitude. There were times when I was in the studio with just one of the engineers doing my parts because Trevor was away working on Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock album. It was typical of the inefficient beast called Yes.”
And there were even problems with Horn’s final mix, as Squire recalls: “Trevor Rabin wasn’t satisfied and did a couple of his own remixes. But the label were very happy with the original mix, and we didn’t want to compromise and have a few Rabin mixes alongside the rest from Horn. So we went for the amazing sound that Trevor Horn got for us.”
So where did the idea for the album title originate? There’s no consensus on this, with both Rabin and Anderson claiming to have come up with the idea. But Squire has his own view. “The suggestion came from Garry Mouat, who designed the sleeve. We couldn’t come up with any suitable title and he thought of using the catalogue number. Actually, it was supposed to be called 89464. That was to be the album catalogue number. But we were two months late delivering the album [in July 1983], so the release date and the catalogue number changed.”
The success in 1983 of 90125 gave Yes a fresh impetus for a new era of achievement, which is something that Squire acknowledges: “We reinvented Yes,” he says. “Because the album was so fresh, we picked up a new audience. Some 70s diehards might have been upset by what we did. However, it gave us an extra dimension.”
“I was delighted with the reaction the album got,” adds Rabin. “The fact that Owner Of A Lonely Heart was a big hit gave us a new profile for the MTV age. I was determined this wouldn’t be seen as a continuation of Yes as they were in the 70s, and we got it right. It was a new beginning for Yes, not just another chapter.”
Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica(opens in new tab), published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009.
Yes: The real story behind Tales From Topographic Oceans
By Sid Smith ( Prog ) published November 02, 2016
From the influence of an Indian guru to the loss of Rick Wakeman, Prog takes an in-depth look into the making of Yes’ opinion-dividing sixth album, Tales From Topographic Oceans
“I actually wanted to record Tales From Topographic Oceans in a tent in this beautiful wood that I’d found, miles from anywhere. I thought we could bury a generator 300 yards away under the ground so we could have electricity in the tent. We’d be able to record there and have all these natural sounds around us. That’s where my brain was at at that time. Of course, they thought I was totally crazy!” laughs Jon Anderson.
“Crazy” turned out to be one of the nicer things said about the sixth Yes studio album upon its release in December 1973. Although achieving Gold status on both sides of the Atlantic, it received a mauling from many critics. When the band played the four-sided opus live, many fans found it a challenge. But challenge is exactly what Yes thrived on. Always a band on a mission and in a hurry to push forward, Yes were keen to do whatever was in their power to be at the forefront of a musical movement where nothing that was worth anything stood still for very long.
Chris Squire observed that the build-up to Tales… had been going on for some time, with Heart Of The Sunrise marking the realisation of an ambition to produce something on a much bigger scale. With Close To The Edge, they went bigger still. An epic release, it meshed adventurous solo excursions with tightly knit arrangements. The punch Yes delivered came not from a single source but rather their collective force. Anderson was determined their music should avoid showboating licks for their own sake. “There were a lot of bands up there soloing forever but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to create music that had length and breadth and adventure, that would carry the audience through this experience. With lights and staging, you could take them on a journey.”
They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Tales From Topographic Oceans began with a single conversation between two characters at very different ends of the musical spectrum. There, in Bill Bruford’s London flat in early March 1973, along with dozens of other friends celebrating Bruford’s wedding earlier in the day, Jon Anderson sat perched on an open windowsill talking with Jamie Muir. “He was an unbelievable stage performer,” says Anderson of the eccentric King Crimson percussionist, known at the time for wearing bearskins, spitting blood capsules from his mouth and flailing his percussion rig and packing cases with heavy chains. “I wanted to know what made him do that, what had influenced him.”
Muir enthused about Autobiography Of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. The guru, who’d died in 1952, was well-known in esoteric circles, and had also made a more secular cameo appearance on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, wedged between HG Wells and James Joyce. Reading Yogananda’s words, Muir told the singer, had had a profound impact upon him. “He said to me, ‘Here, read it,’ and it started me off on the path of becoming aware that there was even a path,” says Anderson. “Jamie was like a messenger for me and came to me at the perfect time in my life… he changed my life.”
It was powerful stuff. Reading the book prompted Muir to quit music and become a Buddhist monk, and while the effect upon Anderson may not have been so extreme, it was the catalyst that took Yes into uncharted waters.
Discovering a reference to the different levels and divisions within Hindu scriptures in a footnote led to a ‘Eureka!’ moment for Anderson as the group toured Japan. Convinced he’d found the structural framework within which to place the large-scale ideas and concepts he’d been mulling over, he found a willing ally in Steve Howe. Having written Roundabout and Close To The Edge together, there was a real bond between the pair.
With much of that puzzle now in place, albeit somewhat loosely, Yes transferred to Morgan Studios in Willesden. Its urban location, on a busy road with heavy traffic, was about as far away from the countryside idyll Jon Anderson had originally envisaged for the recording as you could get. However, on the plus side, it boasted a 24-track desk that was more than capable of containing the band’s expansive musical ambitions. And that lack of bucolic charm? Well, Rick Wakeman had the answer. “One day Rick was in a particularly funny mood, which is not hard for Rick – he used to play jokes on everyone,” reveals White. “He said he wanted some cows in the studio. So, he had a cardboard cutout cow at one end of Morgan Studio, so we all said we didn’t mind. Then he brought some palm trees in. I was like, ‘Okay Rick, have you finished decorating now?’ you know? ‘It’s a nice environment now,’ he said, and I went, ‘Okay, I can live with that…’”
As an indicator of how strange things had become, White also remembers a shower cubicle complete with tiles being built inside the studio in order to try to replicate the sound Anderson heard when he was singing in the shower at home.
Ask any musician what their ambition was, the chances are the opportunity to make a record would be pretty high on the list. All the players in Yes had been there and done that several times over. As seasoned and successful professionals, there was no naivety about what was involved. They’d experienced the nitty-gritty of putting records together. Yet this time it was different. Every day, as each of them drove from home to the studio, the distance between what Anderson and Howe had outlined and the reality of what was going onto tape gnawed at their confidence. Of course, other sessions hadn’t always been plain sailing, but nobody in the band was quite prepared for how choppy the waters had now become.
As hard as it was, and it was hard, nobody wanted to bottle out of what we’d committed ourselves to do. We just knew we had a big landscape we could explore.
Chris Squire recalled in 1992 that despite the cardboard cows and DIY plumbing, there was little in the way of levity. Journeying deeper into the making of the album, he and Anderson were bumping heads. “At that time, Jon had this visionary idea that you could just walk into a studio and if the vibes were right, the music would be great at the end of the day… which is one way of looking at things! It isn’t reality. It took a lot of Band-Aids and careful surgery in the harmony and embellishment department to make it into something.”
Wakeman’s musical skills and flair for arrangements had been heavily utilised throughout the making of Fragile and Close To The Edge. However, changes in the personal and social interactions between the band took their toll in the confines of Morgan. As the construction of the vast musical edifice continued, the personal harmony prevalent on other albums was now rather elusive. Speaking in 1995, co-producer Eddy Offord commented on the rift that opened up during the recording. “At that point it was obvious that Rick became really much more outside the rest of the band. It wasn’t so much musical direction… If you want the honest truth, it was the fact that the whole band was into smoking dope and hash and Rick was into drinking beer. He never touched pot. I don’t know what it was, but he was on the outside.”
But there was perhaps another, more significant factor. The phenomenal success of Wakeman’s solo career with The Six Wives Of Henry VIII had created its own momentum and, not unreasonably, there was demand for a follow-up. As Tales… slowly progressed during the summer and early autumn, Wakeman, when not supplying keyboards to Black Sabbath, who were working in the adjacent studio, was also busy scoring his next solo project, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.
Anderson, believing that these extracurricular activities were distracting and preventing Wakeman from contributing to the full extent as he had done on previous recordings, was in little doubt as to what the priority should have been. “My feeling was, ‘Why don’t you put that music into this project, into Tales…?’ We had a couple of times when Rick said, ‘Well, I’m doing what I want to do,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, well, I’ll just get on with it.’”
For his part, Wakeman had genuine misgivings about the general direction of the material. “Yes was heading towards avant-garde jazz rock and I had nothing to offer there,” he observed in 1974. “We had enough material for one album but we felt we had to do the double.”
Marshalling both music and esoteric concepts into a series of cohesive suites required a kind of commitment that was beyond their usual experience, says Howe. That some were struggling was, of course, a cause for concern but, he argues, the way around that was to overcome the doubt by diving in. “You could say to another member, ‘Well, you don’t like this bit but have you got a part worked out yet? Because if you find a part, you’ll get involved in the music!’ Jon and I sometimes really had to spur the guys on.”
A byproduct of Wakeman’s absences was to create a space for others to fill. White recalls sitting at the piano and coming up with the chords that would be used for the ‘Hold me my love’ bridge on Ritual. On another occasion, the drummer sat tinkering with a guitar, working out some chords. They captured Anderson’s attention as he strolled past. “Jon said, ‘Show me those chords,’ and then he took it over,” resulting in the chord sequence being added to The Remembering.
A hungry beast, Tales… called upon all of their songwriting resources, meaning that many items that had been discarded from their previous writing sessions were now re-examined and press-ganged into service. Some, such as the Young Christians theme that appears on side one, dated as far back as Fragile. Back then the passage had been given a much rockier treatment but had ultimately failed to find a suitable home. At this point, necessity demanded it be piped aboard the good ship Topographic.
The clock was ticking for Yes. A UK tour was already advertised for November and December. Factory time for the pressing of the finished album was already booked in. Every hour that swept by on the studio clock not only broke down into minutes and seconds but pounds and pence as well. “God bless Eddy Offord,” laughs Anderson, referring to the period when the pair were literally camping out at Morgan Studios as they worked around the clock, even sleeping there in order to cross the finishing line as mastering and manufacturing dates loomed.
“In those days it was like rolling the dice, whether you could mix it well on the first take or the 20th take. There’s a classic photograph of all of us on a fader. It was crazy but what happened was we would mix in sections: two minutes, one minute, four minutes and so on. Then we’d have the quarter-inch tapes hanging from the wall and Eddy would then stick it together with Sellotape and that was how we made albums in those days. There was no automation or click tracks.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, remixing the album in 5.1 surround sound was no easy task for Steven Wilson. Even with so many previous surround sound remixes of classic material under his belt, Wilson recalls how daunting it was to delve into the source tapes and make sense of what were in effect micro-managed moments and decisions taken on the fly 43 years ago.
“Even though it was recorded on 24-track, the complexity of the music and arrangements meant that every inch of tape was crammed with overdubs. One channel on the tape might start off as vocals, but then switch to a percussion overdub, then a lead guitar phrase, then some mellotron, et cetera. In order to have maximum control over the mix, and to be able to give each sound its own space and treatment, I had to identify and break every element out onto its own channel. This meant that one side of the original album could extrapolate out from 24 channels to 50 or 60 individual parts. Actually, I think side four ended up being more like 100!”
Although they’d always built their albums from a patchwork quilt of takes, Tales… had without doubt been the most arduous recording in the band’s career. The grand themes and vistas, meticulous sonic sculpting and textural details embedded into the album hadn’t come easy, and nor did the completion of the record. With mastering and manufacturing deadlines looming, as Anderson and Offord sat bleary-eyed after the final overnight mixing session, their sleep-deprived state caused a last-minute drama that came perilously close to farce.
“At about nine in the morning, me and Eddy packed up the tapes and went to our car and he put the tapes on the top while he found the keys,” says Anderson. “Then we got in and started to drive toward the main road with all the tapes still on top of the car, making them slide off into the middle of the road. There was a big, red double-decker bus coming towards us and I ran out and stopped the bus [laughs]. That was our wild experience of making this album – we nearly had it crunched under a double-decker bus!”
The true extent of Wakeman’s antipathy towards Yes’ music became obvious early on in the UK tour in November 1973. “I remember we played the whole thing in its entirety at The Rainbow and he wasn’t happy,” says White. “It kind of went downhill from there.”
Wakeman’s growing disenchantment would famously manifest itself in eating curry on stage during Tales… and though it became something of a running joke, it was in truth an expression of his boredom and a protest of sorts. Looking back, White feels a sense of disappointment at the rift between Wakeman and the rest of the band.
“For some reason Rick couldn’t get his head around what we were doing but he played all the parts and he was great. He’s just an amazing keyboard player. But he couldn’t see where the band was going. He felt he wanted to move in his own direction.”
Even some of the band’s long-term supporters in the press at the time baulked at a record that had slipped far from rock’s usual moorings. With this double album, the argument went, they had overreached. Wakeman’s oft-quoted assertion that the album suffered from too much padding because of a lack of real musical substance became received wisdom in discussions of the band’s work. In later years it was routinely cited as evidence of prog rock’s over-indulgence, with sceptics pointing to its 80 minutes as proof of hubris and artistic extravagance.
When Yes went off the road in January 1974, Wakeman staged and recorded Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Shortly after its release in May ’74, it topped the album charts. Hearing the news on his 25th birthday, Wakeman rang in his resignation from the band on the same day. Anderson recalls the recriminations following Wakeman’s departure. “Management and the record company were saying, ‘Why didn’t you just do another Fragile?’ I just had the feeling that if we don’t try something in this lifetime then, okay, we’re just rock stars, and I personally don’t think that way… You’ve got to do things that are a little bit different in this lifetime. And when you have the chance to do it, you have to jump in that water and enjoy it.”
For Howe, the album remains an important milestone in the Yes story. “It was a time of spreading our wings, a wonderful project where we went to the end of the earth to do it. There was often a feeling that disaster was almost about to strike, but we got there in the end. You have to account for Tales… in our history to properly talk about what Yes achieved because it was quite exceptional. I don’t think we’d be the same group without it.”
In 2016, as Yes toured America, The Revealing Science Of God and Ritual resurfaced. “Going on the road playing side one and side four is really nostalgic,” says White. “We made a great career of really adventurous material that was trying to move music in a good direction. Side one is a difficult thing to play and side four, you’ve got the whole Ritual thing at the end, which is quite a thing to put together, where you’ve got the drums playing the lead melody. We had a theme running through the album, recurring though different songs, and it culminated in the whole band playing the melody on drums, all of us at the same time. I’m really looking forward to playing it live again.”
Tales From Topographic Oceans is an album you can’t be ambivalent about. Asked if it’s a formidable achievement or a folly, Steven Wilson says, “Both! One of the things I miss in modern rock music is the will to reach for the stars and risk falling flat on your face. Conventional wisdom might be that with this album Yes roundly achieved the latter, but I’m happy to see a growing number of those like me that appreciate its beauty and ambition. Even when the ideas perhaps aren’t entirely coming off, I still admire and enjoy the sheer uncompromising strangeness of it. It doesn’t have the immediacy of some of Yes’ other records of the era, but I think, given time, it reveals itself as perhaps their greatest musical statement of all. It’s pure hardcore Yes!”
Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.
A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.