Wednesday, August 29, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 9: Going for the One (1977).

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 was a very happy time in the band's life."
-- Alan White, from the the Yesyears video (1991)

"The album is a kind of celebration."
-- Jon Anderson, 1977, as documented in Tim Morse's
Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words (1996)

"I was just having a field day."
-- Rick Wakeman, from Yesyears (1991)

Going for the One
Atlantic 1977
Rating: ****
Best song: "Turn of the Century"
Produced by Yes
Cover by Hipgnosis; logo by Roger Dean
Engineer: John Timperley, assisted by David Richards
Choral arrangement of Richard Williams Singers by Rick Wakeman

Jon Anderson: vocals, harp
Steve Howe: guitars, vocals
Chris Squire: bass, vocals
Rick Wakeman: keyboards
Alan White: percussion

Track listing (standout tracks in bold):
Going for the One
Turn of the Century

Wonderous Stories

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

Despite the long layoff between Relayer and this album, Yes maintained a busy schedule. There were two large-scale tours, with the band playing to an estimated 150,000 fans at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in 1976; and in the interim each member took some time off from the band to work on solo projects.

The fruits of those individual projects, which gave each member not only some time away from his bandmates but also allowed everyone to explore new musical ideas (and, possibly, rediscover some old ideas), can be heard in the freshness of Going for the One.

Indeed, there is a sense of newness to everything on this album, beginning with the strange cover. Roger Dean is gone, replaced by a Hipgnosis photo featuring a naked man's backside as he stands facing an assortment of towering skyscrapers. (There's something about progressive bands and naked butts on album covers -- Rush did it in 1978 and a few other times as well, and Pink Floyd did it with their monster box set Shine On.) Then we find that even Eddie Offord is gone -- Yes produced this album themselves, while on a tax exile in Switzerland. And, for possibly the biggest surprise at all, there are five songs on this album! Wow! There had only been 10 songs spread across the band's last eight sides of vinyl.

This new somewhat streamlined approach, at least by Yes standards, suggested that the band was tightening up its sound, and one has to wonder whether this was purely by chance or because of a recognition of the changing music scene. Not that the days of flowery prog-rock epics were gone, but there was a shift in consumer tastes beginning around this time -- one that would precipitate the rise of both punk/new wave and disco that threatened to leave lumbering dinosaurs like the "progressive" Yes in the dust. Robert Fripp saw all this coming and disbanded King Crimson when he thought prog had said all that it had to say.

But Yes figured out a way not just to survive but to assemble an unforgettable album -- one that saw them still remaining true to their superb musicianship, even if it was served up in smaller packages.

And there was still one more surprise remaining for fans -- Rick Wakeman's return. Patrick Moraz had begun rehearsing with Yes for this new album, but he bowed out when it was clear that the chemistry just wasn't quite right anymore and that the band really wanted Wakeman back. And they got him, first as a session player and then finally agreeing to rejoin as a full-fledged member. Which was a good thing, because by the time he did, Yes had already announced to the music press that the keyboardist had rejoined the fold!

It was a tape of some of the new music being rehearsed that persuaded Wakeman to come back and give things a chance -- he seemed very pleased that Yes had settled down a bit. Indeed, one listen to Going for the One reveals an approach that recalls the earlier Yes albums like Fragile and The Yes Album and even Time and a Word, where each instrument had room to breathe yet allowed itself full expression, as opposed to Tales from Topographic Oceans, where breathing space was replaced by muddled nothingness, or Relayer, where full expression stated itself in the form of thick, dense slabs of competing aggressive sounds.

As soon as we hear Alan White counting in "a-one-two-three-four," we know we're in for some uncharacteristically conventional rock 'n' roll. But not totally conventional, for this is Yes, after all, and instead of launching into some smashing power chords as White may have made us suspect, the first instrument we hear on the opening title cut is Steve Howe's steel guitar merrily twanging away. And in a first for him, he would stay on the steel all the way through the song. White and Chris Squire pin things down with a syncopated backbeat, and then Wakeman and Jon Anderson both come descending into the song from on high -- very high. Even Anderson must have had to strain to hit some of these notes, and judging by the way his voice cracks on the live rendition of this piece on 1980's Yesshows album, I'd say that's a safe assumption.

But there's an abundance of energy packed into this piece, which ends up sounding more like a whimsical cross between late '70s power rock and a twisted, twangy country tune. There is a very strong sense that, at least for this song, Yes isn't going to take itself as seriously as it has in the past -- Anderson even makes a vocal quip about his "cosmic mind" in the lyrics, displaying a very rare sense of humor, and a self-deprecating one at that. Like many of the lyrics on the album, these are a little more tangible than those in the past, and even without Anderson's later explanations, it's clear that there are obvious references to sports here -- horse racing and whitewater rafting, in particular. An interesting, and enjoyable, twist for this reborn band.

The other heavy hitter on the album is "Parallels," the closing piece of side 1. Credited solely to Squire, the song is indicative of the musical freshness some of the members picked up during their time away from each other, just as "Wonderous (sic) Stories" would display a new, simplified perspective that Anderson brought back to the band. Squire worked up "Parallels," in fact, around the time his solo album came out a few years earlier. But, as if just to remind us that Yes still won't give us straightforward rock 'n' roll, the first sound we hear is a huge pipe organ blast from Wakeman. This, and the organ work on "Awaken," were both played at a Swiss church, with the sound relayed back to the recording studio via telephone line! Given those recording circumstances, the sound is amazingly clear, every bit as much as the organ we heard back on "Close to the Edge."

This being Squire's song, his bossy bass takes the forefront along with the organ, leaving Howe and White to paint a wide-open, expansive backdrop. He also shares most of the vocal lines along with Anderson, as they work their way through a song that has a pretty simple message to it -- the discovery and power of love. Squire has shown over the years that his lyrics are every bit as hopeful and optimistic as Anderson's have tended to be, with Squire's being just a little bit more rooted in the literal than the flowery and abstract. It works in Yes, as a nice, occasional change of pace.

But standing in sharp contrast to these simpler, rockier songs are one short folksy ballad and two longer pieces that possess a definite classical feel to them. First is a short, gentle piece that opens up side 2: "Wonderous Stories" recalls the folk-like simplicity of "Your Move," complete with a return of Howe's vachalia and a very simple, uncomplicated accompaniment from the rest of the band that imparts a sense of airiness and effortless drifting -- which is appropriate, as Anderson returns to one of his favorite symbolic images here, telling the tale of a person drifting upstream to meet his "forgiver," a seer and storyteller who imparts great truths through his tales. One is reminded of Siddhartha once again, who experienced his own revelation "down by the river," as Anderson stated it back on "Close to the Edge."

And whoever this seer is in "Wonderous Stories," he helps our main character "see deeply into the future." He takes this revelation "so cautiously at first and then so high," and now that the revelation has been seen and embraced, a transformation occurs: "As he spoke my spirit climbed into the sky." The student of the seer has achieved a higher plane of existence and understanding -- of transcendent self-knowledge, again recalling the imagery of "Close to the Edge" and parts of the Topographic Oceans album. But even so, the student bids his spirit to return to this existence, because he wants to learn more from this seer who has changed his life -- and perhaps because he feels his journey of acquiring knowledge has not yet become complete. (The themes from "Starship Trooper" are here recalled to mind.) Whatever the case, we know that the student's education continues, as the song ends with the repeated harmonies of "hearing...hearing...hearing..." This is a musically beautiful piece, complete with an Anderson/Squire call-and-response vocal section that, again looking back, brings to mind the vocal shadowing on "And You and I." This song was a hit for Yes in the UK, and it's little surprise -- at under 4 minutes, and with its beautiful simplicity, it seemed destined for greatness and popular acceptance.

And now we come to the classically driven compositions on the album. First is another Anderson story-song, and as was the case with "The Gates of Delirium," and even "Wonderous Stories" on this album, he surprisingly pulls off the narrative lines with depth and earnestness. Granted, though, the story is more mythical than literal, so maybe that's part of the reason it works so well. The song in question is "Turn of the Century," which retells both an ancient Greek myth and a part of the opera La Boheme: A man named Roan tries to capture the beauty of his lady lover in a sculpture of her, and he pours all of his attention into creating his work while in the meantime she grows ill and dies. Determined to regain her, he wipes away his tears and sets to work on his sculpture as never before. The result is a miraculous transformation from stone to flesh: "Realizing a form out of stone his work so absorbed him/Could she hear him?/Could she see him?/All aglow was his room dazed in this light/He would touch her/He would hold her/Laughing as they danced/Highest colors touching others."

Now, Yes fans, this is one of the most heart-rending moments in all of Yes music. If the soft, sublime musical accompaniment doesn't give you goose bumps, listen to the sound of joyous wonder in Anderson's soaring words as the couple is magically reunited. If you are even the slightest bit romantic, this can, and probably will, bring tears to your eyes, and if that doesn't, then Howe's majestic closing acoustic-guitar flourish will. The music here manages to relate the beauty of the story as much as Anderson's words do -- there is a graceful elegance to the arrangement that's brimming with ethereal majesty and driven by Howe's free-flowing guitars intermingled with Wakeman's classically tinged piano brushstrokes. Squire and White remain tastefully and appropriately restrained, on an economy of sparse but powerful bass lines and dramatic tuned percussion, including tympani. This is, altogether, much more classical than rock, and there really isn't anything else like it in the entire Yes canon. But that just makes it all the more special. If you don't have this album, it's worth buying for "Turn of the Century" alone.

And, speaking of unique masterworks, the album closes with something akin to a classical hymn -- the 15-minute opus "Awaken." After Wakeman serves up a part fleet-fingered, part contemplative piano solo, Howe leads the band into the piece on a floating cloud of shimmering beauty that sounds as if it's descending from the heavens themselves. And whereas the lyrics on most of the rest of the album have been, at least by Yes standards, uncomplicated, the words to "Awaken" are among Anderson's most impenetrable ever. There is a sense, though, that something is being imparted to us, the listeners, rather than just strings of meaningless words. My hunch is that we're moving back into Anderson's spiritual realm, with a reconciliation between man and his God, or between man and his enlightened self-realization, being the overarching theme. In the first half of the song, Anderson introduces us to several "workings of man" that have led him to be driven "far from the path" of truth and enlightenment (possibly a "Close to the Edge"-style criticism of the Church), coupled with the sense that man is ready to reach out once again to make himself whole, with a promise that he will, through his efforts, be reunited with his God, his wholeness of spiritual self, or whatever terms you'd like to put it in. The title of the song itself is a suggestion that we may be revisiting the "Close to the Edge" journey of Siddhartha and/or the Buddha, since the word "buddha" itself translates as "the awakened one."

There is, once again, even an apparent biblical reference here, when Anderson sings "Wish the sun to stand still." This recalls the story from the Book of Joshua, when God made the sun stand still in the sky so that the Israelis would have time to fight their oppressors. Written during a time when the Israelis were being oppressed by the Babylonians, the story was probably intended to give hope to God's "chosen" people. So how does this relate to Anderson's song? Well, while man is still yearning in the first half of the song to be united with his God, perhaps it is, like the biblical story, a "reaching out" (so Anderson sings) in hope to this elusive goal of God -- a hope for this cosmic reunion, or, looking at it from an Eastern perspective, for finding "God" within oneself, as well as in everything.

The beginning and end of the song are bookended first by free-floating ambience, followed by long sections of full-band accompaniment that unfold a stretch of music rivaling the dense complexity of Relayer, but with a soaring, inspirational clarity unheard in Relayer's darker grooves. It's almost as if the band is using the same musical style to renounce the darkness of their previous work and now focus its energies on purity and light and goodness, encapsulating the sense of freshness and rebirth that permeates the Going for the One album.

In between the bookends, the music slows, like a music box winding down, and we are transported into a four-minute bridge -- symbolically, I imagine, the beginning of the journey through the anecdotal tunnel of light from man to his heaven -- that truly does carry the feeling of an otherworldly hymn. Anderson and White begin, playing lightly in a slow 6/4 unison on harp and crotales (the instrument heard at the beginning of "Sound Chaser" but without any of the intensity; they sound like tuned triangles). Wakeman then joins for a long rumination on pipe organ, and ever so slowly, Howe and Squire return, along with a Wakeman synthesizer overdub, that all combine to create a long, expansive ebb and flow of climaxes and releases. A choir of wordless voices drones in the distant background, and after one last triumphant blast on the organ from Wakeman, a sense of quiet clarity -- possibly an achievement of inner peace and self-knowledge -- returns, and we realize we've made the trip across the expanse from man to at least an understanding or recognition of God, who here is sung about as "Master of images," "Master of light," and "Master of soul." In Buddhist thought, we ourselves are seen as the masters of our own destiny -- nobody, not even the Buddha himself, can lead us to salvation. We must do it ourselves. Thus, awakening can come only from within, meaning that we are and must be our own masters. As a result, Anderson's "masters" of images, light, and soul need not be a distant God somewhere out in the cosmos -- it can be found as a power manifested right within ourselves, once we've achieved the simple realization of it. Put in Christian terms, the kingdom of God is within us. There's no need to go out seeking "God" as something out there in the great beyond -- this "God" is within us and one with us. One may even say it is us.

Howe and Wakeman, backed by the distant choir, propel the piece forward with growing intensity until Anderson returns to sing of the "Master of time," who is apparently in our world, as one with ourselves, "setting sail over all of our lands," and then preparing to take us back across the expanse to the blissful void, as Anderson now asks, "Shall we now bid farewell, farewell?" Wakeman immediately enters with a powerfully ascending pipe organ solo, followed by a high-flying release in the music, that seems to be ascending majestically into the skies. I see this as the completion of man's spiritual search that began in the middle section, once again through the beginning of a transcendence, a spiritual union coming by way of self-realization. Punctuating this majestic achievement is a final release in the music reminding us that our search is over at last, as we return back to the feeling of floating wonderment heard at the beginning of the song.

The same verses of apparent questioning and longing and wishing the sun to stand still are repeated, but this time they have a resolution: "Like the time I ran away/And turned around/And you were standing close to me." So we're left with a sense that the lines of searching are repeated not to convey the current sense of longing man feels, but as a reflection on how he felt before he had his revelation, for now he finds that, much like in the famous "Footprints" poem, in which a man is wondering where his God was during the man's darkest hour, only to find that his God was there all along, one with him, carrying him. The musical journey has been taxing but very enriching -- ending on another one of those goose-pimply Yes moments, with Howe's soft cadenza creating a final statement of fulfillment over a free-floating wash of release by the rest of the band. Beautiful, just beautiful.

And quite an ending to what many fans consider the end of Yes's greatest period of work. I don't totally agree, as I find 1980's Drama to be just as strong as this album, but there's no question that the immediate follow-up to Going for the One would be a colossal disappointment, to the fans as well as to the band itself. For some reason, the revitalized spirit of Going for the One couldn't be sustained, and soon the bottom would fall out from beneath this lineup of the band.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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