Yes, “Shoot High Aim Low” from Big Generator (1987): YESterdays

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It would be easy to dismiss 1987’s Big Generator as the least interesting and successful of the three Trevor Rabin Yes albums (ignoring 1991’s Union, as it’s almost always best to do).

90125 was a global smash hit and Talk is now regarded by discerning Yes fans as a very strong rock/progressive album, remarkable for its long-form compositions, innovative use of technology and great, memorable songs. By comparison, unless we are careful, it’s possible to stereotype the songs on Big Generator as cobbled-together, brash and too stadium-oriented. However, each time I listen again to this album, I’m struck afresh by the poise and expansiveness of some of the pieces it contains: “Shoot High Aim Low” is one of those.

When asked if the band had plenty of material for Big Generator, Rabin’s answer is a resounding “No.” One of the strengths of 90125, he says, was that he brought a lot of material to the table in an almost finished form but for the follow-up album the band decided to go and see what they could create together. This turned out to be much harder work.

It seems, though, that Rabin agrees with me about this particular song, as he now enthuses about “Shoot High Aim Low.” It’s clearly the track he is happiest with, and he believes Jon Anderson agrees. I wonder if that could lead to Yes featuring Anderson Rabin and Wakeman playing this song live sometime soon.

“Shoot High Aim Low” has an elaborate and quite progressive approach. This is also reflected in the meaning of the song, with an archetypal set of Yes contrasts. The blue fields referred to are apparently in Nicaragua, and Anderson previously said he plays the part of a helicopter pilot coming to shoot everything up while Rabin is in a sedan with a girl – a contrasting image of love.

Alan White has shared other details about the writing and recording of “Shoot High Aim Low”: Rather than using electronic techniques, they achieved the drum reverb effect by recording in a palace in Italy in a room where the King used to eat meals in front of a fire, according to the long-time Yes drummer. White said he was playing some chords along to a beat box and Rabin came into the room. Chris Squire was, as usual, late so the two of them jammed along, with Rabin adding a vocal line. That was how the song came about. Finally, White said they added lots of chord changes to create a great climax.

The song starts in a moody and intriguing fashion that’s eventually complemented by an Alan White beat, which sparkles and pops. The hi hat-led and inventive-but-rock solid drum pattern is surrounded by subtle shades of guitar, bass and strings, providing an effective contrast to that slow-moving aural bed. “Shoot High Aim Low” is a long song and it feels like it has been given time to breathe, to establish itself before rushing into a chorus. Maybe this is something it shares with some of the older, more epic Yes pieces, and the mood and technique here foreshadow some of the songs on 1994’s Talk.

The sung conversation between Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin in the verse works really well and, when the chorus does get going, it’s understated and uses some great word painting. The elongated lines of the accompaniment bring listeners along on slow waves of positivity from where we can watch and enjoy what’s happening above. Heavy bass doubles the vocals, making for for a slow-paced but compelling effect with Alan White’s more frenetic hi hat above. It’s quite a texture. It also feels lower than usual in the singers’ ranges – even if it isn’t in reality – with Chris Squire’s growling bass at the bottom filling out the texture and heightening the mood further.

There is plenty of screeching guitar work in places, but the elaborate and fast-moving Rabin acoustic solo at around two minutes gives a great contrast again with its fast, running passages and strident tone above the sombre, moody bed of sound. Even more amazing is that the solo appears to have been overdubbed an octave up – or is that an effect? Whatever the case, it’s a blistering blast of contrasting texture while the rest of the band continue with the main feel. Tony Kaye (we assume, although it could easily be Rabin himself) introduces some expansive church organ voices along with other subtleties.

The whole feel is very cinematic. Mental images of some vast prairie or other open expanse of wilderness are conjured up. This is a track to close your eyes to and enjoy.

So, Big Generator may not be the barren waste of progressive musicality you and I possibly once assumed it was. If you can set aside other considerations and bathe in the beautiful tapestry of sound provided by “Shoot High Aim Low,” you are sure to appreciate its seemingly simple but properly mesmerizing charms. It’s a progressive piece in its own terms. Wonderful.

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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