Almost Hits: Yes, “Shoot High, Aim Low” (1987)

Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin join us to discuss an era when Yes was suddenly expected to craft hit singles — leaving canny updates like this one often completely overlooked.

Call it the Curse of 90125, which spawned the band’s first (and so far, only) No. 1 smash. That led to undue pressure to chart songs, something that was unlikely to happen with a moody, complicated piece like “Shoot High, Aim Low.” For those who stubbornly refuse to stop keeping score, despite Yes’ long history as an album-rock band, this track managed to reach No. 11 on the mainstream rock list — though it failed to place on the Billboard Hot 100. Nevertheless, “Shoot High, Aim Low” has proven to be far sturdier than its turbulent history might suggest.

Going back a few years, Rabin had been unexpectedly thrust into a collaborative environment with Anderson when the Yes’ original singer joined the already long-underway sessions for 90125. It wasn’t until the group reformed to begin work on the follow up, 1987′s Big Generator, that Rabin had an opportunity to get to know Anderson creatively — and to work organically. The results on this duet represent an undisputed early highpoint.

“That’s my favorite track on the album,” Rabin tells us. “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.”

The synth-driven “Shoot High, Aim Low” echoes some of Anderson’s most passionate calls for peace, updating it for a new generation, even as Rabin effectively vocalizes in counterpoint. Rabin offers a series of crisp asides on the guitar, too, including a nifty Spanish-themed section. Alas, the pressures to create another 90125-level hit impacted the album, and the band. Big Generator took so long to complete that Anderson was able to start, and finish, two other solo projects.

Yet, singing together in concert, something magical still happened, Anderson concedes — even if, alas, it wasn’t to last. “It was a very difficult period, with a lot of drugs and too much money,” Anderson tells us. “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.”

“Shoot High, Aim Low” ends with Rabin prophetically singing: “We didn’t get much farther.” Anderson took another hiatus from the band not long after: “There were a lot of dark emotions,” Anderson says. “It wasn’t fulfilling what I wanted from the band. So I went off.” Yes wouldn’t gather again until 1995 — and after one more album, Rabin would exit, too.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • lloyd

    I know this will rile the prog-nerds, but I thing the Rabin version of Yes was great. 90125 is one of the top 5 albums of the 80′s. Big Generator was a very worthy follow up. And I don’t think they sold their prog cred down the river in making these albums. I found it a clever way to feed prog-rock to the 80s metal masses.