Sunday 12 August 2012

YES: Going For The One

(#187: 13 August 1977, 2 weeks)

Track listing: Going For The One/Turn Of The Century/Parallels/Wonderous Stories/Awaken

A boy listening to Saturday afternoon radio, sometime in 1976 as summer gradually turned to autumn. It is Radio 1, and Alan Freeman’s
Saturday Rock Show is on the air, and required listening; he is never too keen on things like Lonestar but stops everything once he has heard something he knows he will want to hear again.

A song from the new Vangelis album,
Heaven And Hell - at this juncture he knows Vangelis is Greek, and used to be in a band with Demis Roussos, but that’s about it – “So Long Ago, So Clear,” a duet with Jon Anderson, of Yes. He knows that Yes are in the middle of a longish sabbatical, and that Anderson also put out a solo album in 1976 entitled Olias Of Sunhillow, because there’s a track on it he very much likes entitled “Moon Ra” – probably he is impressed by the fact that someone like Jon Anderson would name a song “Moon Ra.”

But this “So Long Ago, So Clear” is something special. A long, languid, patient introduction, waiting for the last star to fall and take its place – and then Anderson wanders in, out of tempo, high and pure of voice, sounding like, of all people, Smokey Robinson; the same innocent look at the revelatory moment of love’s transcendence (“Chance would have me glance at you”), Vangelis’ many Moogs gurgling and whooshing their approval, a chord sequence which would have worked in 1944, and then sweeping off into the long choral catharsis as planets glide past, smiling…and then, quiet, strings, a hint of mandolins (all of this coming from the synthesiser), and back to Anderson, now two voices, not quite in synchronisation with each other, but singing a curtain bow of a song which in its own way – apart from being the first “Jon and Vangelis” track – opens the gates for the future. How promising this future is can be demonstrated in the last singles chart of 1981, most of the contents of which owe something to Jon and/or Vangelis, a proposition confirmed by the presence of Jon and Vangelis themselves, doing a lap of honour, finding their way home like it was still 1969.

“You ask me where to begin…”

“A one-two-three-four!” someone shouts at the beginning of the record – just like “I Saw Her Standing There” or “Taxman” – and we are, rather surprisingly but quite refreshingly, back with rock ‘n’ roll; more than a bit of Led Zeppelin here but an awful lot of the Sun studios too (and, as the observant reader will already have discerned, this is the album at number one the week he dies). The cover – apart from the band logo, not designed by Roger Dean, but by Hipgnosis – literally faces the future; the naked Adam figure, back to camera, staring at a computer-generated landscape that is half Twin Towers, half Pyramids. Within the sleeve, the definitive five, off Lake Geneva, getting back to their forms of nature.

Yes fans were asked not to call this a comeback, but this is what Going For The One definitely was; the return of the “classic” line-up (including Rick Wakeman, returning following a rather unhappy two-year spell with Patrick Moraz on keyboards) was one thing, but the record’s implications were wider; live albums, retrospectives and premature AoR notwithstanding, this is the first contemporary rock studio record to reach number one since Presence, and the title track is in its way as defiant a defence of the group as was “Achilles’ Last Stand.” Anderson sounds urgent, committed, with his lyric, which alternates between sticking one to The Man and meditating on the process of writing a lyric; the whole band sound reawakened – Steve Howe in particular has a whale of a time, his styles ranging from Looney Tunes (under the choruses) via pseudo pedal steel to Mike Oldfield anguish, his tremolo arm working overtime, seemingly forcing the future into existence. But note the relationship of Wakeman’s synthesisers to the choruses and how, gradually, the song is electrified to the point of digitalism; it hits you with Anderson’s staccato yelps and as Chris Squire’s bass trembles and begins to cut loose – this is a song of transition, which miraculously and almost imperceptibly transforms itself from Led Zeppelin to the Buggles. By its end we are in an age of plastic Trevor Horn would easily have recognised. It is one of this record’s sleights of hand which render presumed musical boundaries misguided, and without being punk as such, it nonetheless lends itself to proposing its own cutback/cutdown picture of the imminent future (although I suspect quite a few would-be punks went out and bought this on the day of release anyway - 7/7/77, when the four sevens clashed, and Steve Howe’s former roadie was just over a year away from reworking some of his ex-employer’s key licks to startling effect in Public Image Ltd). Hence the comments of Tim Jones, author of the sleevenote to the 2003 Rhino CD edition of the album, which assert, rather smugly and wholly inaccurately, that “Not one punk band topped the U.K. Album (sic) charts during its Year Zero of 1977” (not the case; see entry #192), have to be taken with a huge degree of scepticism. Coming, as it does, after (or amidst) a suffocatingly warm blanket of middle-of-the-parents'-road nostalgia, the record feels like windows newly flung open to welcome in air and light. It feels good to be back with rock again.

Wakeman, who was doing more than OK at the time as a solo artist, only agreed to rejoin Yes (following an initial offer of returning as a salaried sessionman) if they concentrated on writing songs, and this newly-found urgency permeates even the quietest moments of Going For The One; unlike Topographic Oceans, there is no danger of the listener falling asleep – every track, and not just “Awaken,” clamours for vital attention.

“Turn Of The Century” begins with a typical meditative passage for acoustic guitar and voice (Howe getting ready, by the sound of it, for his cameo on Queen’s “Innuendo”) which are presently joined by keyboards and bass. Soon Anderson’s multiplied vocals vanish into vapour, leaving acoustic guitar and piano (where one remembers that it’s Wakeman who plays on “Life On Mars?”), soon joined by bass and rumbling drums. Again, the acoustic largely morphs into the electric, although Wakeman’s block piano chords are hugely reminiscent or predicative of Anne Dudley’s subsequent work with Horn. Like growing plants, the music splits into many molecules, and finally, via another Oldfield-like guitar passage from Howe, darkness turns to light and we receive the major key uplift, and the relationship between keyboards and voices also looks forward to things set to happen in 1982 (of what things in particular, see the Epilogue below). The sense of catharsis is achieved.

“Parallels” more or less says hello to the eighties, and in particular to Asia (the group); dead guitar static at the beginning gives way to Wakeman’s grandiose organ (playing, to our ears, a tribute to Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony, with which it shares a root tonic key) before the full band kicks in with an immediately catchy and infuriatingly familiar riff – “Liar, Liar” by the Castaways? Something by the Spencer Davis Group? – over which Anderson layers bold type vocals. Here we find the album’s second (deliberate) lyrical reference to “Roundabout,” and there is the same rush here, the same need to express (I note how this record prospered while the Moody Blues were yet to make a comeback). A bridge riff to accommodate Howe’s solo is followed by a second theme, on which Wakeman essays a minimalist two-chord organ “solo” (as far as rock organ is concerned, Wakeman is definitely the stoic to Keith Emerson’s pub dandy) before the band returns to the original riff – ah yes, it’s Genesis’ “Turn It On Again” three years ahead of schedule.

The last concise(-ish) song on the record is “Wonderous Stories,” which as a single (a very punk rock gesture, for Yes to release a single in 1977) was a very welcome addition to the top ten lists of early autumn; this harkens back to the Yes of old, but once more there is no timewasting; Anderson recalling the spirits of the Gibb brothers in his carefully-controlled vocal (which in the final verse multiply into thick counterpoints), Wakeman’s Vangelis-style keyboards (offering near atonal George Crumb figures of crashing stars in his solo), Squire’s bass rushing into the song’s climax (it takes off with Anderson’s “And then so high…”), Howe’s curiously clipped guitar figures (Gary Kemp! Though rounded off with lots of Oldfield-type musings) – everything works as a whole and to a common purpose.

Top Of The Pops, Thursday 14 July 1977, rescreened on BBC4 this week, the one that has the Sex Pistols cheek by jowl (metaphorically speaking) with Cilla Black; two illustrations of how far Jon Anderson could go in different directions. In one, there is Supertramp, filmed in concert performing their current hit “Give A Little Bit”; singer Roger Hodgson is high of voice, long of hair, pure white of clothing, the Anderson who plays it safe. In the other, there are Australia’s The Saints, performing their only hit “This Perfect Day.” Singer Chris Bailey looks like Anderson in the centre of the sleeve for Going For The One, but also looks like Shaun Ryder will eventually look, and sounds like Shane MacGowan most likely already sounds. The rest of the band are dapper and don’t look as though they’d come within a thousand miles of Yes. The song shouts “No” pretty much all the way through. The Anderson who takes a risk.

“Awaken” was the big fifteen-minute finale, for those diehard fans still wanting The Meaning Of Life explained to them; I will not quote Anderson’s lyric in exhaustive and exhausting detail here, since it needs to be seen on its original lyric sheet, constructed in ways that the unwary reader might think was a Cecil Taylor poem (check out both the layout and content of Taylor’s “note” for Mantler’s 1968 The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra double and see what I mean). Wakeman begins with a piano intro that floridly exists halfway between Liberace and Keith Tippett. Anderson begins to sing and the band then falls into place; I note the singer’s emphasis on the line “Be here now.” Howe flies off for a brief workout with the rhythm section, as Anderson works through his copy of Blake’s Complete Poems (the “Let the slave grinding at the mill…” sequence of verse might be especially pertinent here) until the song reaches the first of its three climaxes, with bounteous use of descending and ascending thirds, fifths and sevenths – at times one might be listening to an early, pre-punk manifestation of The Police – before Wakeman’s organ (a church organ, no less, courtesy of St Martin’s Church in the Swiss village of Vevey) sputters to a Pet Sounds staccato halt. Then a very quiet organ/cymbal sequence is allowed to build up naturally, joined in succession by bass, guitar and the Richard Williams Singers (conducted and arranged by Wakeman). Somewhere the band launches into a very slow and mournful 6/8 blues – yes, Yes, it could be 1968 again – until Howe’s high-pitched guitar siren signals the band to build up steam. As they work towards a second climax, I note a plaintive warning from Anderson: “Be honest with yourself,” perhaps the album’s truest and most heartfelt line. Wakeman’s organ careers away somewhat, but is abruptly corrected by the rest of the band’s dramatic re-entry, leading towards the third and slowest climax. There is a final passage of vocal by Anderson over guitar and electronic tonalities, out of tempo, before drums and bass turn a corner into the light, and Howe gives a quick James Burton signoff. We’re back, they say, and this time we hope it matters.

So many other connections to be made with “So Long Ago, So Clear,” particularly the appearance in the same year of Smokey Robinson’s “A Quiet Storm.” But so much of the future is also there to be considered;
Going For The One was in its way as unobtrusive and important as its near-counterpart, Trans-Europe Express, and it was already clear, even at a time when the Buggles did not yet exist, that there would come a time when the two would meet. Indeed, the Buggles briefly became part of Yes in 1980, in lieu of Anderson and Wakeman, and it is very unlucky that I do not get to write about their underrated album Drama, #2 behind entry #231.

Still, there is Dollar’s “Give Me Back My Heart” from 1982 – the third of their Trevor Horn tetralogy – which not only shares at times the same key with “So Long Ago, So Clear” but also moves that song’s implications into eighties pop; Horn demonstrates that an easy-listening boy-girl duo can slowly turn, or be turned, into Yes, and how the supposed barriers are therefore stupid and obstructive. Eighteen months later, he would successfully turn Yes into Art Of Noise (“Close (To The Edit)” indeed) with their biggest worldwide hit. A parallel to “Give Me Back My Heart”? Asia’s “Heat Of The Moment” – involving the other Buggle, Geoff Downes, as well as Steve Howe – and its “And now the year is 1982” sad rejoinder to the nihilistic hope of “Video Killed The Radio Star.”

The boy, by now a man, smiled to himself in the knowledge that this was always going to happen. Or going for the One to happen.