Yes, “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” from Tormato (1978): YESterdays

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It seems that all the musicians involved in the creation of Yes’ Tormato agree the album could have been great. Rick Wakeman said that it should have been on a par with the preceding masterwork, Going For the One, and there are tales of the record company refusing to let Yes return to the studio to finish it off properly – insisting that it had to be released as it was. Apparently, the decision to self-produce the record was a mistake and led to too many hands on the control room faders, according to Chris Squire.

However, one song which I think did work exceptionally well was the final one, “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” – although it was perhaps even better in the live recordings I have heard from the “Tourmato,” which was famously presented in the round.

From the moment the bass and jazzy drumming kick off, this song grabs me by the throat. Chris Squire was always able to do that to me, right from the first riff of “Beyond and Before” which opens the band’s eponymous album. As the keyboards and then guitar creep in it sounds like something’s coming – and it is. It’s very unusual to have this kind of lead bass solo as the introduction to a piece, but it works wonderfully well.

Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman fly around guitar and keys, and Alan White’s drumming is some of the fastest and most furious ever. Finally, Howe winds up and up to Jon Anderson’s rapier-like entry, piercing the texture with an explorative line. Plenty of spacey, mystical lyrics are delivered with poise and the music turns a bit more rocky for a time. I absolutely defy you to be unmoved by the swing back into the quasi-verse with its broken-down fragmentary feel: it grooves, it sends shivers down the spine with the culmination of all the album’s preceding weird and wond(e)rous instrumental techniques.

Who else but Squire could get away with that harmonized bass sound? Who else but Yes could get away with the crazy arrangement, throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the mix? Vocal harmonies and insane changes of tempos and feel all vie for our attention, and then there’s the church bell. Well, why not? Rick Wakeman gets to show off his spritely fingerwork before a triumphant and joyful finale punctuated by more odd guitar work and synth runs which may or may not contain a couple of mistakes. Maybe the idea was to re-do these in the studio.

Another case of aural whiplash afflicts me as the abrupt and tumultuous ending throws me unceremoniously from the top of a vast, musical mountain. I’m emotionally drained and buzzing – exactly as I want to be at the end of a Yes workout.

I know a lot of fans will disagree with me but I believe “On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is a Yes prog classic, on par with a lot of the others. It isn’t “Awaken” but it is a huge amount of spine-tingly fun. Re-live it, if you dare.

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

Kevin Mulryne

Kevin Mulryne is a husband, father to three, musician, creative soul, and host of the Yes Music Podcast. He listens to as much Yes music as he can, and talks about the band to whoever will listen. Contact Something Else! at
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