Yes, “Roundabout” from Fragile (1971): YESterdays

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Recently, I ranked my favorite Yes album and Fragile, the band’s 1971 release, came in a surprising No. 7 – right before Going for the One but behind The Ladder. The reasons behind this ranking will become more apparent as I work my way through the individual songs. Suffice it to say I love Fragile, and part of the reason is the first song, the classic “Roundabout.”

This Jon Anderson / Steve Howe composition may be the most played in the Yes cannon, second perhaps only to “I’ve Seen All Good People” from The Yes Album, and it serves a perfect introduction to the band’s new keyboardist Rick Wakeman, formerly of the band the Strawbs. Original keyboardist Tony Kaye was dismissed partly because of his reluctance to incorporate new keyboard sounds into his playing, and partly due to a difference of temperament with the rest of the band — guitarist Steve Howe, in particular.

“Roundabout” gave this reworked lineup an opportunity to shine, as Wakeman makes a lasting impression by seamlessly blending Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, piano and mellotron. The song, constructed around Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar, starts with a haunting minor-chord progression. After almost a minute, Howe’s acoustic figure is propelled by a aggressive walking bass from Chris Squire and a straight-rock back beat. Before the first verse is even sung, Howe continues the charge with light harmonic touches.

Jon Anderson, singing slightly lower than usual, then peels off hypnotic lyrics with gusto, before Squire comes in with the high harmony — perfectly matching Anderson’s passion. What’s Anderson singing about? Who knows, but we know Wakeman’s swirling organ heats things up just before the bridge. At this point, Howe switches to his electric guitar to accompany Wakeman and Bruford in a precise instrumental breakdown.

This third voice seems to pick up the intensity, but things quickly change as another breakdown and a new mystical second bridge is added. Squire’s bass plays a countermelody to Bruford’s jazzy drumming and, just as the listener gets comfortable, it all stops and retreats back to Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar. Wakeman then breaks through with a Hammond B3 solo that leads the way for a volume pedal melodic charge from Howe.

The main vocal theme for “Roundabout” is repeated over the swirling organ and Moog, a gloriously wordless vocal break comes out of nowhere, then the eight-minute roller coaster ride is over.

Preston Frazier’s YESterdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the unforgettable musical legacy of Yes. The series runs every other Tuesday.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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