Yes, “Onward” from Tormato (1978): YESterdays

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Some moments are etched on our musical memories. For me, these moments include experiencing The Rite of Spring for the first time from just behind the percussion section when I was a teenager, going to my first Yes concert in 1998 and hearing my own set of responses sung by my old College Chapel Choir fairly recently.

At the risk of attracting derision, another of these crucial experiences for me was hearing 1978’s Tormato for the first time. It was lent to me by a friend alongside the recently released 1983 pop-prog classic, 90125. I instantly fell in love with both albums and started to collect everything I could find by the band.

Fast forward to 2016 and I witnessed another deeply affecting musical moment in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, U.K. A cream, Rickenbacker bass guitar sat alone on stage, picked out by a single spotlight while a video slideshow of images of the master Chris Squire played on the screen and the opening notes of “Onward” emerged from the speakers. The emotion was still raw – as for all fans, it remains – at the loss of the keeper of the Yes flame.

This experience only served to remind me of how much I love “Onward.” As Tormato was my introduction to Yes’ progressive music, it has become so deeply ingrained in me that I can’t hear the imperfections that others tell me are there but, in any case, I do believe that “Onward” is a sublime, classic song.

The Chris Squire composition contains a wonderful combination of spiky Steve Howe picking against mellow bass chords and patterns, topped off by Jon Anderson’s floating, ethereal vocal line. This contrasting texture is a hallmark of the best Yes music. Strings add an extra layer and the harmony vocals between Anderson and Squire are simply lovely.

The lyrics are archetypal Yes, and what tops it all off for me is the achingly beautiful French horn solo, accompanied by interweaving strings. The horn part then creates an exquisite tapestry against the other elements and, even though this is a relatively short Yes song at just over four minutes, it encapsulates for me the wonderful, life-affirming quality of the world’s greatest progressive rock band.

If you have written off Yes’ Tormato by now, do go back and listen to “Onward,” a moment of tranquillity and beauty in the midst of our hectic lives. Listen and pick through your own musical memories, especially those you have of our lost hero, the incomparable Chris Squire.

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

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