On this special edition of Something Else! Reviews’ One Track Mind, we hand the reins over to Jon Anderson, co-founder and former long-time vocalist of the legendary progressive rock band Yes. He shares unique insights into some of his more memorable tracks, and a few deep cuts, as well.
Go inside the creative process as Anderson and Co. complete the epic Side 1 opener to 1974′s Relayer. Get insights into working with Vangelis, and find out why Anderson made another pass at the closing track from 90125 for a solo project almost 10 years later. And, of course, there are the lasting mysteries of “Roundabout” …
“ROUNDABOUT,” with Yes (FRAGILE, 1971): Co-written by Anderson and Yes guitarist Steve Howe, this album opener was edited down to a 3:27 single and became one the band’s biggest hits, peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Roundabout” remains a showcase for Anderson’s unique brand of crystalline psychedelia, Howe’s country-influenced virtuosity and the first flowerings of Rick Wakeman’s keyboard genius. The lyric, meanwhile, has come to symbolize progressive rock’s memorable flights of fancy.
Anderson: We were driving down from Aberdeen to Glasgow, down through the valleys. There were all of these clouds around, and you couldn’t see the mountains. They seemed to come right out of the sky as we were going down to the roundabouts. That’s where that lyric came from. Within 24 hours we would be back in London, so that was the next line. If you listen to the solo, it sounds very Scottish, too. It was really one of those very fun songs.
“HEARTS,” solo (CHANGE WE MUST, 1994): Originally included as the sprawling album-closer on Yes’ 1983 comeback recording 90125, Anderson revisited the tune almost 10 years later on a classically inspired orchestral solo release. Co-written by Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Chris Squire, “Hearts” is updated alongside conductor Nigel Warren-Green and his London Chamber Academy as part of Anderson’s most vibrant — and lovely — song cycle of the decade, with or without Yes.
Anderson: It was just such a good song. I was falling in love with my now wife Jane and we’ve been together since that moment. I just felt that song had a lot of meaning to me. To be lonely is very hard. Thankfully, I have been fortunate to have found people to fall in love with.
“THE GATES OF DELIRIUM,” with Yes (RELAYER, 1974): Based on Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” this album-opening nearly 22-minute composition famously erupts into this lengthy all-instrumental battle scene only to finally settle into a quiet peace prayer called “Soon,” which was later edited out for a single. Recorded with keyboardist Patrick Moraz, after Rick Wakeman’s departure, Relayer has a harder, more guitar-oriented sound — something nowhere more obvious than during the cacophonous middle section. The tune, Anderson says, was constructed in tandem segments.
Anderson: I sort of wrote the thing on piano, very badly, then went in and played it for them – again, very badly – but they understood it. I told them how we would start it, then made the thundering sounds. I talked about this enormous energy, and then went into the battlefield section, then out of that we would all sing ‘Soon.’ We all worked on it together. They started working on the first section, then I would work in the second section and so on. We stayed ahead of the rehearsals. Steve and I wrote all the parts out on cassettes, and I would be listening and working on the next part so we would keep the structure. Thankfully, they got it.
“SO LONG AGO, SO CLEAR,” with Vangelis (HEAVEN AND HELL, 1975): Anderson’s first major project while on a hiatus from Yes in 1979 was with Vangelis. (Dubbed Jon and Vangelis, they would eventually release four albums between 1980 and 1991.) But it wasn’t Anderson’s first collaboration with the Greek electronic composer. That came here, on a thunderingly dark recording — surprising, still, since Vangelis later became known for breezier synth fare. Their muse, Anderson says, was fired by collaborative freedom.
Anderson: It was so different. I walked in and he was playing. I switched on the mic and started singing. That’s the way we would record. We would then go back and listen to what we’d done and figure things out. Most of the time, Vangelis would keep the first take and then he would develop it from there. Then I would go and figure out the lyrics and we would do it again. Within about 10 days, we’d have an album. He taught me not to be afraid. He’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter. Just create.’
“SHOOT HIGH, AIM LOW,” with Yes (BIG GENERATOR, 1987): Part of a disappointing, four-years-in-the-making followup to the smash 90125, this synth-washed song is one of Big Generator’s few saving graces — echoing some of Anderson’s most passionate calls for peace, but updated for a new generation. The oft-criticized Trevor Rabin acquits himself well on guitar too, offering a series of crisp asides including a nifty Spanish-themed section. Co-written with Rabin, who effectively vocalizes in counterpoint to Anderson, “Shoot High, Aim Low” reached No. 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The tune ends with Rabin, prophetically, singing: “We didn’t get much farther.” Anderson took another hiatus from the band not long after.
Anderson: It was a very difficult period, with a lot of drugs and too much money. I was composing a musical at that time. In fact, I think I made two albums within the course of that (Big Generator) being created. It was controlled by (Yes producer) Trevor Horn and Chris. I just wrote lyrics and sang my part. That’s the way they wanted it. So I continued making my solo records; I was doing a lot of other things. But, on stage, ‘Shoot High Aim Low’ was magical. I was pushing the band back to doing Yes music, basically. We were just making hit records, and that was the problem of the 1980s. I said, ‘No we have to make great music.’ It was hard at that time. There were a lot of dark emotions. It wasn’t fulfilling what I wanted from the band. So I went off.