Trevor Rabin on “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Anerley Road,” “Changes” + others: Gimme Five

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Trevor Rabin, set to be honored this week for his work in film, stopped by to offer new insights into his solo work and key moments with Yes.

Since his days as a member of Yes during its platinum-selling era from 1982-94, the South African-born guitarist, vocalist and songwriter has gone on to compose music for dozens of films. That work will be recognized with the Henry Mancini Award today, June 28, 2012, during the 27th annual ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards in Los Angeles. Previous recipients include Mark Isham, Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand, Randy Newman, Johnny Mandel and Marc Shaiman, among others.

But first, Rabin will take us inside the sessions for his first project with Yes, which produced the band’s first — and, so far, only — No. 1 hit single; talk about the electric feeling of marrying his music to film; and help us sort out just how many guitars are featured on a memorable track from his new solo release Jacaranda, issued last month by Varese Sarabande Records …

“CHANGES,” with YES (90125, 1983): “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was the chart-topping smash from Rabin’s initial recording with Yes, but the project also featured a slew of other charting singles — including “Leave It,” “It Can Happen” and this one, each of which went Top 10 on Billboard’s modern rock charts, and eventually helped 90125 to three million in sales. Rabin had been at work on this song before the sessions got underway with Chris Squire and Alan White as a newly christened band called Cinema. Jon Anderson eventually joined the sessions in the 11th hour, however, and the group was subsequently renamed Yes. Rabin recalls how Anderson would go on to make a notable contribution to “Changes.”

TREVOR RABIN: Once we got into rehearsals, I just kind of rewrote parts to suit the band’s arena. The thing that changed the most significantly was, when Jon came into the band — after it had all been recorded — I had a different chorus, as you can hear on 90124. Jon came up with this new chorus, and he just sang it. I was, like, “what is that?” I was kind of shocked. But I remember going home after a long day at work, with a million tapes, and I got into bed and was chilling out and going over things. I listened to “Changes,” and I thought: “That’s fantastic.” I loved it. Getting rid of the chorus melody, and having Jon’s in there, really added to the song.

“ANERLEY ROAD,” solo (JACARANDA, 2012): An episodic highlight to Rabin’s new all-instrumental solo album, his first since 1989’s Can’t Look Away. “Anerley Road” features a notable turn at the bass by wunderkind Tal Wilkenfeld, who’s already played with Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among others. As much as any track on Jacaranda, this tune marries Rabin’s newfound interest in Americana textures with a prog-rock structure — oh, and a truly amazing number of guitars.

TREVOR RABIN: In fact, “Anerley Road” is where I grew up, and the road was just carpeted in jacaranda trees. That’s why I consequently got the title for the album. There’s about 7, 8 guitars on there. It was very natural. I wasn’t trying to put that many guitars on there. It was just that I needed this for that, and it was almost orchestrating it like it would a film score: That part will be for oboe, and the oboe will be supported by a cluster of French horns on the left — with a countermelody from the cello. With “Anerley Road,” and a lot of the album, it was thinking orchestrally, but with guitars.

“SHOOT HIGH, AIM LOW,” with YES (BIG GENERATOR, 1987): After having belated thrust into a collaborative situation with Jon Anderson on 90125, Rabin had an opportunity to work more closely with the longtime Yes frontman for the follow up — with this duet as an undisputed highpoint. Rabin offers a series of crisp asides on the guitar, too, including a nifty Spanish-themed section. “Shoot High, Aim Low,” which reached No. 11 on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts, ends with Rabin prophetically singing: “We didn’t get much farther.” Anderson took another hiatus from the band not long after.

TREVOR RABIN: That’s my favorite track on the album. With 90125, Jon was kind of wheeled in at the end, and in my view had significant input. He really added great stuff. But we’d never really worked together, so when it came to Big Generator, and we were now working as a band, it was strange in the beginning. There were moments that were really special, eventually, like “Shoot High, Aim Low.” They culminated in Jon and I working together really strongly on the following album, Talk — the last album I did with the band.

“TITANS SPIRIT,” solo (REMEMBER THE TITANS SOUNDTRACK, 2000): This is perhaps the most famous film music composed thus far by Rabin. Besides playing a central role in the Denzel Washington hit, “Titans Spirit” has accompanied NBC’s closing credits for the Olympics five times since 2002. This track was also used in the final ceremonies at Shea Stadium, and immediately following Barack Obama’s speech upon winning the 2008 presidential election. Since leaving Yes after 1994’s Talk, Rabin has scored more than 35 films. Even today, he describes the experience of his music syncing up with the film’s imagery as being almost otherworldly.

TREVOR RABIN: It’s a great thing to have a picture as the inspiration for what you’re going to do. It really leads to feel things. You have a medium that you immediately attach to — a zen moment that I always have.

“OWNER OF A LONELY HEART, with YES (90125, 1983): One of the initial songs that Rabin brought to the sessions that ultimately yielded Yes’ biggest chart success to date, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” shot to No. 1 on the strength of its new-wave attitude and weirdly transfixing video — directed by Storm Thorgerson, of Pink Floyd fame. Two decades later, Rabin released a demo of the track on his perfectly named 90124, showing that he had already conceptualized most of the song’s key elements — even the bursts of orchestral noise, originally represented by keyboard flourishes.

TREVOR RABIN: The interesting thing is, I was just sitting at home and I started messing with a riff. I thought: “This is so simple.” I didn’t think twice about it. But then the more I thought about what I could do with the riff, it became: “Hang on, this is worth exploring. As simple as it is, it could be something pretty special.” I’d mess around with it, and I came up with a chorus. I thought: “I’m just going to record it, and see what happens.” As I recorded it, I had a four-track recorder for demos, so you would record on the first and second tracks and then mix it to a third track. You would be making decisions based on what was coming, and sometimes those decisions would be wrong — but you couldn’t undo them. One of the things, a happy accident, was that all of the brass stabs and those weird things that happen on the record — they were just a product of what happened with the demo. When we started the record, in talking with (90125 producer) Trevor Horn, he said we should retain that stuff. We’ll just record that really cleanly. I said I’d like to keep the levels very loud, and he was totally into that. That’s kind of how it evolved. All of the accidents on the demo, ended up on the record.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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