Yes, “Awaken” from Going For the One (1977): YESterdays

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Up until recently, “Awaken” was at the bottom of my list when I thought of Yes’ so-called epic songs.

Of course, the final track on 1977’s self-produced Going For the One has all the elements that seemingly make a great Yes epic. Co-writer Steve Howe pulls out all the guitar stops with stunning use of his lap steel guitar, then his Telecaster. Howe, who provided the musical foundation of the song, plays his usual tasty licks but integrates them seamlessly over the melody and doesn’t step on Jon Anderson’s vocals or Chris Squire’s sliding fretless bass.

Squire has in unenviable task of providing harmony to Anderson, while playing a counter melodic fretless bass part. Even more fascinating is how Squire shifts from fretless to fretted during the song and moves the songs gracefully with drummer Alan White. Rick Wakeman leaves his mark early on in the song, with an initial piano flourish which sounds like no one else. John Timperley, who replaced Eddie Offord behind the boards as engineer, captures Yes expertly.

Unlike some other of the band’s epics, “Awaken” was produced using a basic rhythm track, then parts where overdubbed. The result is a more seamless feel. Drummer Alan White shifts time signatures with precision and power, yet effortlessly plays the tuned percussion during the song’s middle section like a skilled orchestra percussionist. Wakeman, who provided the choir arrangement, relies on a trusty church organ to compliment his Moog synthesizer. “Awaken” is one of Wakeman’s finest Yes hours. The song not only showcases his skill as a player but his deep talent as an arranger.

The song’s middle interlude gives Steve Howe another opportunity for a short solo before Anderson (and choir) reenter the picture.

Master of things. Master of light.
Songs cast alight on you. All pure chance.
Hark through dark ties. As exists cross divided.
That tunnel us out of sane existence. In all encircling mode.
In challenge as direct. Oh closely guided plan.
As eyes see young stars assemble. Awaken in our heart.

Jon Anderson’s lyrics are uplifting, spiritual and wholly integrated into the song. For good measure Howe brings back his pedal steel then there is a recapitulation of the original theme.

High vibration go onto the sun, oh let my heart dreaming past a mortal as me. Where can I be?
Wish the sun to stand still.
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past a mortal as we
Here we can be
We can be here…

After seeing Anderson Rabin and Wakeman perform “Awaken” last month in Atlanta, I think I finally got its special place in the canon of the world’s greatest progressive rock band. While the ARW performance didn’t reach the heights of the Yes during their most recent “3 Album Tour,” it did capture the spirit and soul of a great, uplifting Yes epic.

Unfortunately, there are no such moments on Tormato, the next Yes album, and few similar moments during the next decade or so.

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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