Wednesday, August 29, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 6: Close to the Edge (1972).

The following several posts come from a website I created way back in 2001, in honor of my favorite band, then and now: Yes.

Some of the writing makes me cringe 17 years later, but I feel it's good enough to live on. That Roger Daltrey (yes, that Roger Daltrey) was given some of my text to speak as narrator of the Yesspeak biographical DVD is testament to the quality of at least some of the prose, I guess. 

I pulled down my site, called The Yes Chronicles, years ago. But thanks to the Wayback Machine, which does its part to make sure that nothing published to the internet ever dies, I was able to find archived copies of my reviews. Another site, Yes in the Press -- which appears not to have been updated for about 11 years now -- also saved the reviews. I notice in the introductory blurb that the keeper of Yes in the Press attempted to contact me with no success. I'm not sure what happened, but if that person stumbles across this blog -- hello, it's me. 

All text is original from 2001. Links have been updated where possible. Happy reading.


"It'll never happen again. ... It was the weather, it was London, it was Advision Studios, it was the atmosphere, it was the collective knowledge that we were embarking (on something) a little bit new. ... And I think that's one of the things that makes Close to the Edge as perennial as it is."
-- Jon Anderson, 1992, as documented in Tim Morse's Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words (1996)

Close to the Edge
Atlantic 1972
Rating: *****
Best song: "Close to the Edge"
Produced by Yes and Eddie Offord
Cover and logo by Roger Dean
Engineer: Eddie Offord
Tapes by Mike Dunne

Jon Anderson: vocals
Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Rick Wakeman: keyboards
Bill Bruford: percussion

Track listing (standout tracks in bold):
Close to the Edge:
a. The Solid Time of Change
b. Total Mass Retain
c. I Get Up I Get Down
d. Seasons of Man

And You and I:
a. Cord of Life
b. Eclipse
c. The Preacher the Teacher
d. Apocalypse

Siberian Khatru

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Where do you begin when you want to talk about the album that changed your life?

Yep, this was the one that did it -- the one that won me over as a Yes disciple and would turn me into the frustrated musician wannabe I am today. I came onboard as a Yes fan with 90125, when I was still a pre-teen Top 40 fan, and from there I worked my way into the back catalog, coming out the other side not just a fan of Yes but of all kinds of progressive/experimental music. This album opened up my world to an endless array of exciting avenues of sonic exploration. In the process, these guys became my idols, and 17 years after I first discovered this album, nothing has ever come close to replicating the awe, inspiration, and excitement it made me feel. Well, Yes themselves came close with Relayer, but Close to the Edge still remains my "key to ascension"!

I can't imagine what it must have been like to follow Yes in those days, as these albums were coming out new. After Fragile blew people away, it must have been impossible to think that Yes could improve and expand even further. Yet here's the proof that they did. Amazing! But I think that with this step in their musical evolution, they probably began to either turn people off or enrapture them. For while Fragile was a magical balancing act between commercial success and artistic expression, Close to the Edge veered off in total favor of the latter, no longer seeming to worry whether any of the music would be a big hit on the radio and instead letting the art reign supreme. In other words, Fragile was accessible, despite its artistic tendencies, while Close to the Edge entered the realm of the purely artistic...and esoteric. Either you "got" it, and liked it, or you didn't.

And so here is born both the "classic" Yes logo, courtesy of Roger Dean, and the sidelong Yes epic. That's right -- if you thought the songs were getting long on Fragile, this album contained just three songs total. When your entire album is just three songs, you'd better hope that the songs you came up with are incredibly strong.

Not to worry, of course -- these fit the bill very nicely. We have a nine-minute guitar/vocal-harmony/Mellotron rocker in 15/4 (or is that two bars of 4/4 and one of 7/4?) with words being used purely as sounds; we have a 10-minute, four-part "mini-sonata" (in Wakeman's words) that's part cryptic love song, part pastoral ballad, and part thundering, apocalyptic majesty; and we have the 19-minute title track that takes you, as the lyrics promise, "all the way, as apart from any reality that you've ever seen and known." Not bad for a band that, just three years earlier, was riffing soft jazz while singing about putting the sweetness in and stirring it with a spoon. The only other rock band I can think of that made such a huge leap in such a short amount of time is the Beatles. Which is only appropriate, for I've always felt that Yes inherited the legacy the Beatles began, but that's another dissertation for another time.

Let's work backwards. "Siberian Khatru" is the closest parallel here to "Roundabout" (it even repeats the latter's use of some wordless "da-da, da-da" vocals toward the end) and probably the most accessible of the three cuts -- relatively speaking, of course. It rocks, certainly, and it provided the perfect show opener on many a Yes tour, leading out from the lavish passion of the finale from Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite," which the boys still use as their grandiose introduction. But this song rocks in the odd way that only Yes can rock -- the weird meter, the tempo and mood changes, an electric sitar (more on that later), and even an honest-to-goodness harpsichord solo are all seamlessly woven into a color-filled tapestry that's incredibly expansive in ideas but astonishingly tight and focused at the same time. How did they do it? I haven't a clue. Just pure musical genius, perhaps. I only know that it works. And it works very well.

The opener to side two is "And You And I," one of the most passion-filled pieces of music this band has ever created. The first thing we hear is the slightest bit jarring -- a single note on the acoustic guitar, followed by Steve Howe telling somebody "OK." This is a reply to someone in the studio telling Howe that the tape was rolling; if you strain to listen, with headphones, you can hear a very faint voice under the music apparently saying, "Now we're rolling." The music at this point itself is quiet, consisting of a barely audible sustained chord on the Hammond, while Howe formlessly strums his 12-string over the top of it as if he's warming up. Soon he delivers the first theme of the suite, with the introductory solo acoustic guitar of "Roundabout" being called to mind. Chris Squire follows, with a gentle yet certain single-note bass pattern that will serve as the anchor for the opening passage of the song. After the ringing of what sounds like a pair of finger cymbals, Howe launches us into the rhythm -- a jangly, lighthearted 3/4 (or, perhaps, a slow 6/8) -- joined soon by a whistling Rick Wakeman synth line. Finally, Jon Anderson enters, sounding clear and crisp as his cryptic lines glide merrily and effortlessly over the spacious music. From lines like "All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you," one gets the impression that this is in some vague way a love song -- an ode in a language where we, the listeners, are invited to assign the greater meaning.

Really, though, it doesn't matter what's being sung, because it's simply gorgeous. And it only gets better when we enter into a full-blown section of vocal point/counterpoint, with Anderson simultaneously singing two unrelated lines and melodies, one electronically distorted in the distance, one clear and full in the foreground. Finally, part 1 wraps up with Anderson now singing with himself in a round: "And you and I climb over the sea to the valley/And you and I reach out for reasons to call." Actually, that "call" is more like "cohhh-AAAAAAALLLLL," the tension being sustained on that single clear note for as long as possible, while the Mellotron strings slowly swell underneath...

...Until it all gives way with a dramatic crash of the cymbal to a universe of expansive beauty and majesty, propelled by strong, dreamlike Mellotron chords; a majestic Moog melody; steel guitar lines swooping gracefully upward and downward; and restrained but emphatic bass and drums. Bill Bruford has never used an economical approach to his drumming with greater effect than here -- with the possible exception of his receiving a co-writer's credit for having the sense to remain absolutely quiet during King Crimson's "Trio" a few years later, but that's another band and another story. Here, he punctuates only when it's necessary to bring the flowing tide rising back up again. And Anderson, bless his heart -- nobody has ever sung with such grace and force about nothing in particular. This is absolutely beautiful -- one of the greatest goose-bump moments of transcendent Yes majesty.

But all good things must end, and soon we dissolve out of this magical world and right back to the opening acoustic-guitar theme. Ah, we're going to reprise part 1, only with an even more spirited rhythm this time, and if we're going back to the beginning, that must mean we're also building back up to...

...Yep, the music that so powerfully moved us just a few minutes ago. Anderson this time steps back and lets the gods make their cosmic statement in all its instrumental glory, winding up with Wakeman tumbling his fingers down the piano keyboard in one final, emphatic flourish. And, once we've had time to catch our breath, we're treated to a fittingly light and airy ending, in this song full of wild contrasts and vivid colors. "And you and I climb crossing the shapes of the morning," Anderson sings over the jangly 12-string and a distant steel guitar line; "And you and I reach over the sun for the river/And you and I climb clearer towards the movement/And you and I called over valleys of endless seas." Beautiful in its meaninglessness. And on those last words, the steel guitar makes a final ascent and takes the song to a quite unassuming ending -- here you have to crank the volume once again to hear this final solitary note pass from questioning, unfinished suspense to a whispered postscript of a resolution. A nice touch -- light, even humorous in its own way. And it leaves you both emotionally fulfilled and drained.

Oh, and as if this wasn't all enough, then there's side one -- the sparkling jewel in the Yes crown.

Now, as we've seen already, this album as a whole finds Anderson delivering his most cryptic lines ever. It's clear that some of these lyrics are meant for nothing other than for the sounds they produce, most notably on "Siberian Khatru." Look at the title of that one itself. What the heck is a khatru, other than a sound you may make when you sneeze? There was once a silly story floating around that it was the Yemeni word for "as you wish," but in reality it means anything you want it to mean. That's sort of the whole point. Anderson has painted a big, abstract canvas of sound, and he wants you to feel free to ascribe your own meaning to what you hear. Or ignore them as words and take them as just another sound, another instrument in the band. That is the genius of the best of Anderson's lyrics -- they can be taken on many levels, or on none at all. Here, he leaves it up to the listener to decide.

On "Close to the Edge," the song, the lyrics are shrouded in the same mystery and ambiguity -- a little more concrete than what we hear on "Siberian Khatru," but not by much. Anderson has said that the song is about self-realization and was inspired by the book Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse's novel of the quest for enlightenment by a young man whose life's journey very closely parallels that of the Buddha's. But in all honesty, these lyrics could be about anything. Or nothing. And, once again, that's what makes them so intriguing.

So let's examine this revolutionary piece of music, using the hints Anderson has given us to try to unravel its mysteries and offer at least one interpretation of the whole package -- the musical and lyrical vision.

We're taken by surprise right from the beginning, as the first sounds we hear aren't those of musical instruments at all, but rather the music of nature -- a river burbling along, and birds chirping far and near. So far, we can certainly make a connection to Siddhartha, with the river and all its associated imagery being central to the story -- it's where Siddhartha had his own self-realization, after all.
But gradually we're being transported somewhere else: The twinkling white noise of a synthesizer softly merges with the rippling of the water, and it then overtakes the nature sounds and buries them underneath a tense, sustained electronic underpinning. Something is waiting to happen. And then--whoosh! -- we're thrown into a scene of almost formless musical chaos, where Howe leads the way with an uncharacteristic atonal, unmelodic solo. Underneath him are Bruford, nervously twittering away on his cymbals and giving his snare just an occasional, but emphatic, pop, and Squire, who's working his way up from the depths on a long chromatic progression, note by dramatic note. When he reaches the final note, Bruford downshifts at full throttle and Wakeman joins the aggressive fray, his fingers flying note by note across his synthesizer, in a fast rhythmic form, while Howe's manic showcase continues.

Two minutes in, we get a momentary respite as the music instantly stops and Anderson chimes in with a short but forceful a cappella "aaaah!" And then, smash -- back into the mania. Anderson returns in a few seconds, but again only briefly, and the assault continues. Somehow in this melee Squire works his way back down to the beginning of his opening chromatic run, and when he again reaches the top, Bruford brings the events to a halt with a flurry of hits on his snare -- the musical equivalent of a car hitting the brakes. A unison figure now enters, and Anderson's wordless vocal takes us across the bridge to something new. Very new, and very unexpected, for out of the insanity emerges a passage of sublime beauty, with a stately, melodic lead line from Howe floating effortlessly across a much more airy, easygoing backdrop from the rhythm section and Hammond organ chords from Wakeman. When this passage comes to its all-too-brief end, an extended Hammond chord leads us from this long introduction into the song proper.

Now, extending the Siddhartha theme into the introduction, we could take the frantic opening as a musical interpretation of the confusion and pains and rigors of life itself, as we wander about in fear and uncertainty, seeking the meaning of life and wondering what happens on the "other side," so to speak. Buddhist philosophy observes that life is characterized by dissatisfaction and suffering, and many (if not most) Buddhists believe that life is doomed to be repeated in an endless cycle of births and deaths (represented here, perhaps, by Squire's bookend chromatic runs -- birth to death, and then the whole thing all over again) until we can reach a plane of enlightened self-realization that will bring an end to the cycle and lead us to Nirvana. (No, not the grunge band, silly.) And perhaps the bliss of enlightenment is the lovely passage that concludes the introduction to the song.

That, or the guys just simply wrote a killer introduction filled with lots of cool mood swings and tempo changes.

However you want to take it, we're now into the meat of the song, led off by Howe shredding on, of all things, an electric sitar! Yes, he's added another weapon to his incredible battery of stringed instruments -- the steel guitar on which he would find himself the sole master of in the rock 'n' roll arena made its debut over on "And You And I" -- and his creativity on this one is no less impressive than we've heard from him on the more traditional guitars he played on his first two Yes albums. In the background are Squire, playing one note an octave apart in a pattern of six -- low, low, high, low, high, high -- along with Bruford as his usual syncopated, colorful self, and Wakeman adding subtle punctuation marks on the organ.

And finally, four minutes in, here come the lyrics, done in part rap, part mystical chant, part follow-the-bouncing-ball. Do with them what you wish: "A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace/And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace/And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar/Then taste the fruits of man recorded losing all against the hour."

Huh? Don't worry; I too can only guess at a meaning. My guess, based on the song's background and larger context, as well as Anderson's own misgivings about organized religion and his belief in the universality of true spirituality, is that Anderson is trying to tell us there are other ways to self-awareness and redemption besides the one we in the Western world are conditioned to think of -- namely, the Christian church. What better way to point that out than to employ an image of witches, who have historically felt the brunt of much "Christian" intolerance and hatred through the centuries? Looking at Anderson's words this way, one can interpret them as being used almost for their shock value, at least in the Zen sense of triggering an instant moment of enlightenment within us. In the same way that George Gurdjieff presented the devil as a sympathetic character to unforgettably drive his point across in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Anderson presents a long-perceived enemy of and threat to Christianity -- the witch -- as a potential redeemer, thereby jolting his Western monotheistic listeners into seeing that there indeed may be other avenues to the truth than just their own (which so many refuse to consider) and that the path they're often on -- one of judgment and condemnation rather than love and compassion -- can never possibly lead to inner spiritual harmony, let alone a harmonious attitude toward others. Anderson then offers to show them another path, or at least promises to show that more than one narrow path exists.

In the next movement of the song, we're confronted with some lines that make an even more direct allusion to Christianity: "My eyes convinced eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love/It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above/I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand/There's you, the time, the logic, or the reasons we don't understand." The "it" in the second line is apparently the moon -- a common Wiccan image -- which is being seen in relation to manna from heaven, which in turn is an obvious Old Testament reference. And then there's no doubt that Jesus enters the picture as we're confronted with the image of crucifixion, which also returns later in the song. Anderson even holds "the word" within his hand. In this context, it would seem that he's referring to the Bible, and if this is indeed the case, what we have is an image of Anderson holding the Bible lovingly, without thumping it at anybody, and using it to "crucify" his hate rather than justify or exacerbate it. He thus reminds us all, including Christians, that Christianity, if used properly, can be just as fulfilling and redeeming as any other spiritual path, but that we should also look beyond the limits of the label "Christianity" (and "Judaism," and "Buddhism," and so on) toward a greater universal truth that religions can help us to reach, as long as the religion doesn't become an end in itself. So, rather than judging Christianity as being inherently bad, as we may have earlier thought he was doing, Anderson may be reminding us simply that if we lead a truly Christ-like life of love, forgiveness, goodness, and compassion, then we are not only true Christians (the kind Jesus would recognize) but also on our way to becoming enlightened people filled with inner peace in a way that transcends limiting religious labels. Again, juxtaposing Christian and (presumably) Wiccan imagery suggests that there is more than one path to enlightenment, that none is superior to another, and that they even may be used in tandem, since they all have the same destination anyway, if practiced lovingly and therefore not abused. These points echo the themes of Siddhartha, in which the protagonist even has to walk away from the Buddha himself, as he realizes that he must follow his own individual muse toward enlightement rather than lock himself in to the limitations of any single path.

Now, the last line of this passage seems to take us back to mankind's eternal quest -- there's an inner struggle among "you" (I assume this is Jesus or "God," or maybe it's even a direct reference to us, the listeners), the "time" (time, perhaps, being one of many of man's illusions), the "logic" (which tries to lead us toward the rational and away from the spiritual) and "the reasons we don't understand" (which is what religion is sort of there for in the first place -- to try to explain the unexplainable).

All the while, intertwined amidst all of this is a sense that our narrator thinks he's actually found the truth. Back in part one we hear: "Getting over all the time I had to worry/Leaving all the changes far from far behind/We relieve the tension only to find out the master's name." But given the placement of the revelations in the song, it seems apparent that one moment he's confident, and the next moment he's plunged back into self-doubt, just as Siddhartha was on his spiritual quest. At one point we seem to run into verses that immediately contradict. First: "All in all the journey takes you all the way/As apart from any reality that you've ever seen and known." Here is a sense that the journey has ended and we are in a place far from this reality, the illusory (at least in Buddhist philosophy) reality of life. But then, right after this, we hear: "Guessing problems only to deceive the mention/Passing paths that climb halfway into the void/As we cross from side to side we hear the total mass retain." Something has brought us back across, into the "reality" of this world, and our old doubts flare back up again.
Well, everything seems to get resolved in the haunting middle section of this song, subtitled "I Get Up, I Get Down." A calm unison bass/guitar line, in counterpoint with Wakeman's organ, brings the music of the first 8 1/2 minutes to a halt, as we enter a misty world of ebbing and flowing tides and the random sound of drops of water -- Yes's signature moment of blissful ambience. Howe adds a few flourishes, but this is primarily Wakeman's showcase, his gentle wash of Moogs and Mellotrons cascading over us with a sense of calm and inner tranquillity. Then, out of the distance comes a slow quarter-note keyboard line, establishing a slow pace over which Howe and Squire sing in unison. Anderson joins briefly, beginning a gorgeous string of countermelodies that find the soloist weaving in and out of the foreground with the duo.

"In her white lace/You could clearly see the lady sadly looking/Saying that she'd take the blame/For the crucifixion of her own domain," Howe and Squire sing to begin this portion. Anderson later adds that "two hundred women watch one woman cry too late." Something has broken down; something has failed, leaving behind perhaps a sense of guilt and a feeling that what has gone wrong can never be fixed. Anderson continues: "The eyes of honesty can achieve/How many millions do we deceive each day?" Well, now we have millions every day being led away from the truth, in addition to making them feel guilt-ridden and hopeless. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about the Christian church and its frequent emphasis on guilt and fear rather than love and compassion. Anderson seems to be suggesting that, in its desire to keep its pews full, the church would prefer to do so through demeaning intimidation (i.e., threat of eternal damnation), thus damaging believers' psyches, never helping to solve their greatest questions, letting those question burn and fester, and muddling the path to true spiritual liberation.

And now Anderson makes it a first-person experience: "In charge of who is there in charge of me/Do I look on blindly and say I see the way?/The truth is written all along the page/How old will I be before I come of age for you?" Somebody is trying to make us accept their version of the truth on unquestioning blind faith, when the truth is there to be had all along, beyond the confines of dogma. But in this person's determination to have us see the truth his way, and his way only, all the while we grow increasingly frustrated in our own search for answers, wondering when this "truth" that's been promised to us will be revealed to us. "I get up, I get down," Anderson repeats with growing intensity, summarizing the back-and-forth nature of the quest our narrator has been experiencing up to this point -- he thinks he has the answers, and then he's discouraged or misled, and he becomes lost and has to begin searching all over again.

But now, there is an epiphany about to happen.

Musically, this is a triumphant milestone. When I first heard Wakeman's pipe organ blaring out of the end of Anderson's revelatory proclamation, I couldn't believe it -- that a bunch of rock musicians could start this song off with a chaotic, frenetic aggressiveness, then effortlessly wind back and forth between different moods, tempos, rhythms, melodies, and countermelodies, break everything down into a beautiful ambience, and then peak with this. This is the unrivaled pinnacle of Yes music, the encapsulation of all they had built up to -- beauty mixed with power, an instrument of classical music being placed smack-dab in the middle of a rock song. Wow. On hearing this, I knew Yes would be my favorite band until the day I die.

And just like that, the thunderous organ stops, and it picks up the gentle quarter notes heard earlier, under Anderson again singing his revelation, this time in an even, confident tone. The pipe organ returns to reign once more, but this statement of majesty this time ends in a dissonant chord. What happens next isn't hard to decipher, with or without the aid of the lyrics or Anderson's interpretation of things. And in any event, they all concur. The mighty instrument is smashed underfoot, by an ever-growing mass of just-as-mighty Moog lines building upon each other, eventually burying the sounds of the organ. What's buried along with it is...the church. And Wakeman's Moogs signal the beginning of a new church -- a "church of the heart," perhaps, as the Flower Kings would sing about many years later. This is a church that, we eventually understand, can be found within oneself, without clergy, or even without witches or buddhas for that matter, trying to show us the way but ultimately misleading and confusing us on our path.

Now, Anderson is far from being anti-"God" here. In fact, he's embracing the concept of God fully -- not the judging, anthropomorphic Judeo-Christian God, but the formless, universal, all-encompassing source of love that lies at the heart of the spiritual quest. What he's rejecting is religion, and the people within those religions he sees as dividing us and keeping us from finding the Truth. Wakeman celebrates this revelation with a fiery Hammond organ solo, backed by the band -- this is the sound of the new church: the path that leads directly to God. Anderson would explore this concept further on the band's well-intentioned but disappointing next album, Tales from Topographic Oceans.

But for now, he ties up loose ends in part 4, "Seasons of Man," where we are "called to witness cycles only of the past." The cycle of birth and death -- of suffering -- has been broken. And some lines from earlier in the song, when we wanted to believe their sentiment but were still tentative and confused, return to sum it all up: "Now that it's all over and done/Called to the seed, right to the sun/Now that you find, now that you're whole/Seasons will pass you by/I get up, I get down." The seasons and cycles of this life will go on for others, but we've learned how to rise above it, now that we're whole -- now that we see the Way. The self-realization of Siddhartha, and of the Buddha and Jesus and Mohammed, has been realized in us, and lest there be any doubt, the song ends the way it began -- with a return to the riverside and the singing birds, where Siddhartha was enlightened. In fact, this is the opening tape played backwards, so that we begin with the opening intensity and slowly dissolve back into the tranquillity of nature, and then into nothingness, the great void, Nirvana.

Or at least that's how I see the song.

In reality, Anderson was probably the only one in the band to truly understand the lyrical makeup of this song, while everybody else probably was in it for the music -- which is just fine, considering how revolutionary the final product was on a musical level alone. In terms of both structure and lyrical vision, Yes smashed barriers and trod deep into territory where rock bands were never supposed to go. And the fans loved it, to boot. Even some of the critics seemed receptive to it at first, despite most of them probably not quite understanding it. Believe it or not, even Rolling Stone, which today makes a sport out of hating anything remotely like Yes, gave a full page and a positive review to Close to the Edge. My, how times have changed. But then in 1972, this album fit right into the scene, which I suppose proves that what it boils down to is that Rolling Stone never met a trend it didn't like, or a bandwagon it didn't jump onto.

But this album did more than just fit into the scene; it helped define it at that moment in time. Yes would never enjoy this level of popularity or influence again. But were they "progressive"? By the definition of the word at that time, I suppose so. But where bands before 1972 were making a conscious, contrived attempt to be progressive, and those after 1972 were scrambling to try to replicate the inimitable Yes formula, Yes's music arrived at this point by way of a natural evolution that began way back on the very first album. Up to and including Close to the Edge -- according to the members themselves -- the music was purely organic, not contrived to make the songs come out long or sound a certain way. When "Close to the Edge," the song, was being recorded, for example, Bruford has explained that nobody knew how the parts would fit together, how it would end, or how long it would be. Everyone just kept submitting ideas, and then it would be up to Eddie Offord to hack up the recording tapes and splice them together until a unified song began to emerge.

Indeed, what fans heard on these first five albums was just the way the music came out after everybody's ideas were infused and run through the Yes "cheese grater," as Howe once appropriately put it. The band members have talked often about this period being a moment in which Yes was a musical democracy -- everybody's ideas were embraced and somehow worked into the finished product so that everybody had a virtually equal voice, which helps to explain the length of the songs and the diversity of the song structures. It wasn't your typical rock band with the singer and guitarist up front, the bass and drums in the back, and the keyboards for color, all playing three minutes and out. Of course, Yes was never typical in those days; they not only ignored the rules but broke them with confidence and glee.

Even in this moment of success, though, there was a problem: After this album, there was nowhere left for Yes to go. They had achieved what they had set out to do, and it was inevitable that after their crowning moment, all they could do was come up with variations on the theme -- or branch out in a wholly new direction. Bruford in particular felt there was no more he could learn from this group of musicians and no more original ideas for him to contribute in this context. So, at the height of Yes's global popularity, when they had finally become superstars, he shocked everybody and left.

His replacement was Alan White, who had a more straightforward rock 'n' roll punch than Bruford did but still had adequate abilities -- not to mention some notable credentials: He had performed with two of the Beatles -- George Harrison, on All Things Must Pass; and John Lennon, both on tour and on the legendary Imagine album. (That's White you hear on "Imagine" and "Instant Karma," the very song Yes had referenced back on "Your Move.") And he proved to be a quick study as well -- he had three days to learn Yes's entire set before they embarked on a tour in support of Close to the Edge! After some rough spots early on, White found his groove, and he's stayed there ever since, becoming the member with the second-longest uninterrupted tenure with the band, right behind Squire.

It's a small miracle that Tales from Topographic Oceans didn't scare him away.
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