Yes, “South Side of the Sky” from Fragile (1971): YESterdays

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After two solo based songs, Yes returns in full force on 1971’s Fragile with “South Side of the Sky.” The song, solely composed by Jon Anderson, confounds the progressive rock listener initially in that there are seemingly not many progressive elements.

Anderson is unusually direct in his story telling with this tale of mountain climbing. The protagonist is hurled in a wet and cold world where he must forge ahead or die. His story effectively works in the context of record making an well as the journey in life. The lyrics are compact, forceful and extremely effective in many contexts. Jon Anderson also delivers one of his best rock vocals. He enunciates and growls his vocals with a power and precision which belies the tenderness of “We Have Heaven,” the prior song.

In the first two-and-a-half minutes, Anderson and the world’s greatest progressive rock band cast an almost conventional rock song. Bill Bruford starts things off with a sophisticated tom-tom and snare fill that moves into a straight and rollicking 4/4 rhythm. Bassist Chris Squire holds the bottom in with direct brute force while Steve Howe provides lead guitar parts which are bluesy and emotive.

Suddenly and without warning, the hard-rocking charge is quieted by Rick Wakeman’s piano flourishes. Wakeman toys with the song’s main theme, while giving it a classical touch — before Squire and Howe join Anderson in a harmonized and wordless buildup. Again, the intensity of the song builds under Buford’s delicate yet forceful jazzy back beat.

This two minutes is among the best in Yes music history, and ends with the howling wind on the mountain. The intensity is ramped up a final time as the main musical theme is revisited. Steve Howe, who does not get a guitar solo until the end of song, is perfectly cast with his insistent runs and lead licks.

“South Side of the Sky” has made many appearances in the Yes set list over the years, and will be included in the 2016 European shows, as well. Additionally, there are at least four live versions of the song by Yes featuring Rick Wakeman, Oliver Wakeman and Geoff Downes on keyboards. The acoustic version of the song that showcases an extended Rick Wakeman solo is also highly recommended.

An amazing piece of music, “South Side of the Sky” is a platform for the best of Yes’ compositional, playing and arranging talents. Incredibly, it’s just one of many gems on Fragile.

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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