Trevor Rabin clears the air on Yes’ ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’: ‘I’ve bitten my lip for a long time’

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“Owner of a Lonely Heart” has, over the years, become a touchstone for Yes’ unexpected 1980s comeback — their first, and so far only, charttopping success. Trevor Rabin is ready to talk about how that happened in the run up to 1983’s 90125.

The album-opening hit song was credited, at the time, to Rabin — the group’s newest member — as well as producer Trevor Horn and Yes stalwarts Jon Anderson and Chris Squire. Rabin, however, hasn’t typically been inclined to discuss his earlier work on the track — though an imaginatively titled Rabin archival solo release, 2003’s 90124, made it clear that most of its critical elements were in place on early solo demos.

But Rabin says Horn framed “Owner of a Lonely Heart” as his brainchild in a recent interview, and Rabin was moved to set the record straight.

“I did give 30 percent of the song away and landed up with 70 percent. Jon did add to my lyrics in the verses and deserved what he got, as did Chris. One can hear my development of the song on 90124; sound doesn’t lie,” Rabin says, over a series of Facebook posts. “Trevor Horn being allotted a percentage was a thank you for introducing me to the synclavier, which is one of the keyboards I used on the song and I had not used before. Also, for the fun we had making it. I could go on, but I’ve bitten my lip for a long time — largely because Trevor Horn and I are good friends.”

In truth, Rabin had been making the rounds with “Owner of a Lonely Heart” for some time before becoming part of Yes. RCA Records’ Ron Fair liked the song enough to offer Rabin a solo deal, though Rabin ultimately decided to work with Squire, Alan White and Tony Kaye in a nascent group to be called Cinema. When that trio’s former Yes bandmate Anderson was later brought in, the label pushed for a name change back to Yes. Horn, who had produced Yes’ most recent studio effort Drama, oversaw the sessions that became 90125. Somewhere along the way, Rabin lost control of the song’s legacy.

“‘Owner’ was always the flagship song of the 90125 stuff, which I had been shopping around with and landed up being approached by Phil Carson from Atlantic — who remains a very close friend,” Rabin adds. “Consequently, [I ended] up with Chris and Alan and ultimately Yes. As far as contributions, I give Ron Fair the credit for being the first record person to recognize that ‘Owner’ was strong. He called it ‘a game changer.’ Before landing up as it did, one of the places that turned it down was Arista. Clive Davis mentioned that the song was too strange, and would not be a hit. He suggested that I write stuff more like Foreigner and then come back. I never did.”

In keeping with the times a concept video was constructed for “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” one which Rabin says Yes had little to do with — and one that he still has difficulty watching. “I hated this video,” he admits. “After hours of double speak, when they presented us with the final, I thought I was going to gag.”

Rabin’s relationship with Horn would later include a stint as a sideman alongside Tina Turner. He also worked with Seal and Cher, among others. Together, they co-produced Yes’ 1987 Big Generator follow up, and Rabin continued with the band for four studio albums through 1994’s typically overlooked Talk.

“Up to now, I have always said ‘no comment’ about this and other things, which I will continue to do,” Rabin added. “In Trevor’s case, he has always spoken of me with affection and praise. I feel the same about him. But it was time on this to close the chapter, which I have ignored for decades. I definitely won’t waste any more precious time on this, but I have really been inundated with mail and had to respond. Thanks for listening. And I still love Trevor Horn.”

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  • The cereal guy

    I’m really glad that Trevor released Jacaranda and I hope he makes at least a couple more albums in the upcoming years. Anerley Road is a stunning track. Trevor has a combination of talents that very few musicians have. His guitar skills and style are amazing, he’s a great singer and a prolific composer. What a difference that proper music education makes. He gives an edge to otherwise ordinary songs like nobody else, and this I find to be very important in music that one enjoys listening to: an aspect of comfort, of prediction, mixed with an aspect of contrast, an element of surprise, an element that gives the song its own unique energy, its own unique signature. A combination of syncopated elements and a beautifully crafted riff or solo, the right notes in the right places. Owner is one of the best examples. The base is simple, but what comes on top is edgy and unique.

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