Tag Archives: 1972

15th Favorite: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones

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Exile on Main St.. The Rolling Stones.
1972, Rolling Stones Records. Producer: Jimmy Miller.
Purchased, 1995.

IN A NUTSHELL: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones, is a double-album’s worth of straight ahead blues, uplifting gospel, dirty boogie and good ol’ rock n roll.  Mick Jagger’s vocals are top-notch, as are Keith Richards’ harmonies, and the dueling guitar work by Richards and Mick Taylor warrants repeated listens.  It’s a ragged, fun, human collection of songs revealing a great band at their shabby best.

NOTE: The setup – below the line ↓ – might be the best part … Or skip right to the album discussion.
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The author and his pet work on the first post ever on this blog.

On the first few posts ever on this website, 280 years ago in 1979, I rambled on and on about “Greatest Albums” lists. Back in those days I was under the misapprehension that readers the world over would be flocking to a website to read 7,000-word posts about rock albums – the good, the bad and the obscure – fancied by some random, middle-aged, white guy. I’d still like to live in that world – where one can begin to approach a real, human connection through written words and ideas – as long as I don’t have to read someone else’s boring blathering in return.

I now understand that a) multitudes aren’t coming; and b) I might as well honor those who do come by keeping things as short as possible, never more than 6,800 words. So I’ll now briefly recap those first three posts: Greatest Album Lists are very annoying.

Art is not a contest. No scores are kept. No statistics are available, except dollars, a measurement by which Spy Kids 3D is a better movie than Doctor Zhivago. “Greatest” will always be a subjective term.

In 2013, NME named The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead the greatest album ever. A year earlier, Rolling Stone magazine gave the honor to a record at #87 on NME‘s list The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On their list at #216 was The Queen Is Dead. NME‘s 7th greatest album was the debut album by The Stone Roses, which was #497 on Rolling Stone‘s list. So, the notion of “Greatest” in the arts has a little, shall we say, flexibility to it.

Calling something “The Greatest” in the arts to me smacks of a kind of arrogant presumptuousness that I’ve tried to eliminate from my personality. Who am I to say what’s “Great?” This is why I’m counting down “favorites.” A Favorite Album may, or may not, be great. Very often what makes a record a favorite is a connection to it that is separate from the music – who you were with when you heard it, or a time in life that it represents. Conversely, an album that you can tell is “Great” might not really resonate with you. For me, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is such an album. I listened, thought, “Wow, that’s really good!” but never listened to it a whole lot afterwards. And I recognize that Bob Dylan is exceptional, the Nobel Prize, etc. etc., but he just doesn’t do much for me.

And these examples don’t even get into the issue of genre preferences. Metallica may well be the greatest metal band ever. Tupac Shakur may be the greatest rapper, Bach the greatest classical composer, and Barbra Streisand the greatest musical theater singer ever. I’m just not moved. I can recognize talent in all of them, but as to their greatness, I’ll have to take your word for it.

Those “Greatest Album” lists are assembled at magazines by “experts” who get together and decide for everyone else what is great and what isn’t. Then they write about the records, saying stuff like “the most pro­phetic rock album ever made,” and “[goes] deep inside himself, without a net or fear,” and speak of “the rustic beauty of the … music and the drama of their own reflections,” and a “declaration of committed mutiny, a statement of faith in the transfigurative powers of rock & roll.” Words like these are pretty, but I often find them more interesting than the music they describe.

To compile my list, I drove around listening to all my CDs, then I ranked them by “favoriteness.” This is a difficult-to-measure, impossible-to-quantify characteristic that involves several sub-categories, such as: good feelings elicited, great memories associated, reflexive urge to call old friend to discuss, cool-sounding music making me want to sing/play along, verklemptiness, excitement-at-hearing-subsequent-song-even-after-the-song-just-played-made-me-way-more-excited-than-the-previous-song, and “greatness.” There has to be some consideration of greatness.

The reason “greatness” was important in compiling my list is that while listening to all the records that I had in my collection, every so often I’d come across one that I hadn’t listened to very much but that really blew me away. These were records that didn’t have many of those first few aspects of my “favoriteness” determination, but whose undeniable … well, greatness had to be accounted for! A few that come to mind – and that, by revealing them here I am admitting that they will not be on my list – include Paul’s Boutique, by The Beastie Boys, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, by Badly Drawn Boy, and Electric Ladyland, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

All such records with lots of “greatness” were given high marks during my initial assessment phase. After all my records were assessed, I went back over the highly-rated records and considered how much personal connection I had to the records and adjusted accordingly. Records like Paul’s Boutique dropped. Others moved higher. And one record stayed very high because in the time between my initial assessment and my final assessment, I’d been listening to it regularly and it had become one of my favorites: Exile on Main St., by The Rolling Stones.

Of course I’d heard of Exile on Main St. for many years. As a teen rock music fan in the 80s, it was one of those touchstone albums that you’d hear old people in their 20s mention all the time. Along with records like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Dark Side of the Moon and Hotel California, it was part of The Canon. Still, as I’ve written about before, I was a latecomer to The Rolling Stones, and I never felt compelled to rush out and buy it. And the reason I finally DID buy it might offend the sensibilities of all those Stones fans out there …

I bought it because of Liz Phair. In 1993 her debut album Exile in Guyville came out, and I bought it and I loved it. One of the well-publicized stories about the record was that her 18-song effort was a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. Since I loved her record, I went out and bought theirs. I played them song-by-song and, to tell the truth, I never really got the connection.

Both albums faded a bit from my regular playlist. Then in the early 2010s, I started playing in a band with some friends. We called ourselves Tequila Mockingbird and played at some friends’ parties. Our setlist featured a big helping of Stones’ songs, and many from Exile on Main St., in particular. Between the band and my 100 Favorite Album project, I began listening to the record more often. And I fell in love with it.

Right from the albums’s first sounds – a classic riff and Mick purring “Oooohh, yeeaaahh” – the album is fantastic.

The first twenty seconds of “Rocks Off” encompasses much of what will follow: great riffs, Mick Jagger’s strong vocals, and the band’s subtle brilliance – in this case, the second guitar harmonizing on that opening riff.  Charlie Watts’s drumming is very strong. His pace is perfect and his short, snappy fills keep the song moving from line to line.  “Rocks Off” also showcases perhaps my favorite unheralded aspect of the Stones:  Keith Richards’s (Keef!) harmony vocals!  They’re reedy and raw and always on the money.  The song’s lyrics describe the fast and loose lifestyle of a young man on the prowl.  But there’s a tragic aspect to the life, a heroin addiction. “I’m zipping through the days at lightning speed/
Plug in, flush out and fire the fucking feed.”  The drug influence is also felt in the trippy section, beginning about 2:11.  Also featured on the song, and the entire album, is the horn section of Bobby Keys on sax and Jim Price on trumpet.

“Rocks Off” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and the band kind of duplicates the feat on the rocker “All Down the Line.”  It’s got a strong, simple riff, this time supporting Mick Taylor’s sweet slide guitar.  The song’s three-note riff becomes the framework for terrific horn parts, about 2:55. Jagger’s vocals are very strong on lyrics about having a good time after a hard day.  Jagger has become such an icon, famous for decades simply for being Mick Jagger, that it’s easy to forget what a supremely talented singer and musician the man is.

The album’s slow songs are some of the best vehicles for his talents, for example “Let it Loose.”

He’s got terrific phrasing, and easily ranges between the soft charm heard in the first verse to the barely-contained anguish in the second (1:26).  The song starts with Keef’s watery guitar, and nice piano from longtime Stones keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.  A chorus joins in as the song builds, and their “ooo”s at 2:00, as Keef and Hopkins rise from the background, always give me chills.  Then Watts and the horns come in to lead the song back to Mick wailing with the choir about his lost love until its bittersweet conclusion.

Many of the songs on Exile on Main St. are quite moving. “I Just Want to See His Face,” a gospel groove that almost makes me a believer, is particularly affecting through earphones.  “Loving Cup” demonstrates how brilliantly Mick and Keef work together, both using a Southern accent, with Keef’s harmony vocals particularly strong here. It’s a love song, with a great outro, starting at 3:21, featuring the horns.

But my favorite of the softer pieces is the protest song “Sweet Black Angel.”

Its lyrics are about 60s activist and intellectual Angela Davis, and her alleged involvement in a courthouse shooting, for which she was later acquitted.  The clattering percussion and acoustic guitar give the song a front-porch feel, and Mick and Keef’s harmonies are fantastic.  The song also features Mick’s harmonica playing, which Richards has always raved about.  Mick’s harp is also featured on the honky-tonk “Sweet Virginia,” Robert Johnson’s blues standard “Stop Breaking Down,” and the fun rave-up “Turd on the Run.”  The album has some of Mick’s most brilliant overall work.

I’ve tried to avoid taking sides in arguments that are pointless, but I will say that if pressed to choose in the Mick/Keith dichotomy, I’d come down fully on the side of Keef.  Nothing makes me happier on Exile on Main St. than the Richards standout “Happy.”

Keith played guitar and bass  and cut the song in a matter of minutes with producer Jimmy Miller on drums and Bobby Keys on maracas.  His voice strains and whines perfectly on lead vocals about the type of love he needs, and he plays a nice lead guitar and bass line throughout.  The rest of the band’s parts were added later.  Keith’s harmonizing, I’ll say again, is also phenomenal on the album.  On “Casino Boogie,” he provides the bass line and the harmonies.  “Casino Boogie” is one of the simple, bluesy gems on the record, along with “Shake Your Hips” and “Ventilator Blues.”  They’re songs that, along with the rip-roarin’ stomper “Rip This Joint,” remind you that The Rolling Stones started out as a full-on blues act.

Keith and Mick are perhaps at their best on the popular radio hit “Tumbling Dice,” in which Mick complains about the lowdown ladies in his life.

Mick Taylor plays bass on this song, as regular bassist Bill Wyman was frequently absent from recording sessions.  (Read up on the recording of this album sometime if you want to marvel that such a masterwork ever made it onto tape.)  It’s a terrific bass line, meshing perfectly with Watts’s breezy drumming and the bluesy guitars.  The vocal performance by the backing singers is tremendous, as are (I’ll say it again) Keef’s harmony vocals.

His harmonies are also a pleasure on the Country-tinged “Torn and Frayed,” which describes a band coming apart at the seams.  Literally.

It begins with an acoustic guitar and is filled in with a honky-tonk piano, and Mick again uses his best Country/Western twang on the vocals.  The bass line is terrific, another instance of Mick Taylor filling in for Bill Wyman.  The performance sounds as torn and frayed as the band in the lyrics, creating a sense of wobbly-yet-satisfactory production that provides a charm to many of the songs.  There’s a great pedal steel guitar solo from guest Al Perkins about 1:45, and a subtle organ throughout played by trumpet man Jim Price.

The album ends with two great songs that really bring the entire piece to a  brilliant conclusion.  My only complaint is that I’d have put the closing song, “Soul Survivor,” second-to-last.  It’s a great song, in which current Stones Jagger, Richards and Watts are the only band members to play. The lyrics profess Jagger’s desire to remain with his loved one regardless of the peril.  And it’s got great backing vocals, just like the song I wish was the album closer:  “Shine a Light.”

The song opens with piano by Billy Preston and Jagger’s inspired vocals.  His voice shines on this one, as does Preston’s organ.  Mick’s really good on these gospel-inspired songs.  Given the well-known problems Richards had with heroin, and the imagery in the song, I wonder if this is a song that Mick wrote about Keith.  The bass line rolls along, and there’s dispute as to whether Wyman or Taylor played it.  It’s a moving song, with a great guitar by Taylor running throughout.  As voices and instruments are added, the song turns from a song of concern for a friend to a a song of inspiration. I love the breakdown about 3:00, and how it picks back up.  It’s truly a great one.

And this album is truly a great one.  Look, I don’t try to pick unknown or unloved albums to be on my list. I just pick what I like, and sometimes I like the greats.  Exile on Main St. is a great.

Track Listing:
“Rocks Off”
“Rip This Joint”
“Shake Your Hips”
“Casino Boogie”
“Tumbling Dice”
“Sweet Virginia”
“Torn and Frayed”
“Sweet Black Angel”
“Loving Cup”
“Happy”
“Turd on the Run”
“Ventilator Blues”
“I Just Want to See His Face”
“Let It Loose”
“All Down the Line”
“Stop Breaking Down”
“Shine a Light”
“Soul Survivor”

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65th Favorite: Close to the Edge, by Yes

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Close To The Edge. Yes.
1972, Atlantic Records. Producer: Yes and Eddie Offord.
Purchased ca. 1984.

close edge

hamster nutIN A NUTSHELL: A progressive-rock masterpiece full of music and performances that demand repeated listening to take it all in. There are only three songs on the album, but they are epic, twisting tales reminiscent of mythical sagas. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re of a mind to experience something different, and allow yourself to be carried away by it, you and your fellow travelers be rewarded handsomely at the end of your Quest.
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{Blogger’s Note: This is an epically long post. Somehow, it only seems right.}

footballThe house that I grew up in has a good-sized backyard, large enough for running deep post patterns for my dad’s tight spirals. It was a good size for family cookout croquet matches, although the lawn’s gentle slope demanded an accounting by players in the strength and speed of their strikes, or else a seemingly flawless ball rolling toward a wicket could lose steam and curl away in the final foot of approach.

wiffleIt was also perfectly-sized for wiffle-ball games, and featured a (somewhat-but-not-perfectly-maintained) forsythia hedge that bounded the back of the property providing a natural, albeit difficult to reach, home run fence for the backyard ballfield.

forsythia
Beyond this hedge was an undeveloped lot owned by our lovely neighbors, the Rank family. It was perhaps an acre, groundhog about the size of a large, but not huge, lot for my rural area. The field, which my family always referred to as “The Field,” was an empty pasture of scrubby grass, and The Ranks allowed us to use it for stuff like family volleyball games, pitching a tent for mid-summer “camping,” and the hours of fungo sessions my dad held with me. It also featured a pile of wooden, creosoted telephone poles stacked to one side. Mr. Rank worked for the local electric company, and I don’t know if the forty-foot long poles were pilfered from his workplace (That’s a joke – Mr. Rank was an honest man.) or if he stored them as a favor to the company, but I do know they provided a great cover for the many grundsows who lived among them.

Beyond the The Field, about 60 yards from our hedge, was a decent-sized woods. woodsLarge enough to spend the afternoon exploring, but definitely too small to be a forest, this long rectangle of old trees ran parallel to our homerun hedge, extending about an eighth of a mile, all the way from Kercher Ave. on the west to Kochenderfer’s Church on the east. It wasn’t very deep, but it provided plenty of cover for traveling deer and all the kinds of wildlife associated with a Pennsylvania woods. My family always referred to these woods as “The Woods.”

modhairI was 20, in my sophomore year at college, and I peered over the hedge across The Field, scanning The Woods. The bear was much larger than I thought a bear would be, and it agilely galloped back and forth in front of The Woods from which it had emerged. It was shaggy, too, its black and brown fur seemingly longer than bear fur should be, like a Mod-Hair Ken version of a bear. It also seemed shabby and sloppy, its fur matted in some places, and with swaths missing in others. It was a bear, but there was something strange about how it looked and acted. And it shouldn’t have been in The Woods. Not these woods. A deep feeling of dread welled up within me as I watched this animal in The Field. But I knew that Butch was a Pennsylvania Game Warden, and that he would know what to do. I alerted him and strung my recurve bow while I waited.

All of the men around me in my childhood were hunters. It was the tradition where I grew up, archerysuch that to meet a man who didn’t hunt, at least in some capacity, was a curiosity akin to meeting a visitor from a foreign country. At 20 I was still struggling with my hidden distaste for hunting, but I did enjoy archery. It was something of a pastime in my family. My dad and mom had gone shooting at archery courses while they were dating, and my sisters and I had our own little bows as kids. The Field, with its distance apart from houses and unpeopled woods beyond it, had always been a safe site for a couple of hay bales and a target – often handmade by my sisters and me from the cardboard circles inside frozen pizza packages – for archery practice. So I was comfortable shooting my bow in this field, although I’d never shot an animal with one before.

I nocked an arrow – a target arrow, with a dull metal point and feathers that had been mounted and cut by my dad on his own basement fletching apparatus – buzzardand as I drew back the string, a lazily flying large bird, with a large beak and small wings, caught my eye. It glided high in the air, set against the late afternoon sun like an image from a child’s drawing. An instinct deep within me, vestigial from the genes of scores of generations of hunters before me, took control of my body and sent that arrow flying, scoring a direct hit. The bird fell to earth, pinned to the ground in the middle of The Field, a lepidopterist’s specimen magnified.

I closed my eyes in frustration and fear. gamewardenHadn’t I just called Butch, the Game Warden? Didn’t I know that hunting without a license was a crime? Couldn’t I foresee that Butch would have to arrest me? I had put Butch in a difficult position. As my aunt’s son-in-law, he’d feel compelled to let me off easy, but he also knew that he had a job to do. The feeling of shame was immense, paralyzing: for myself, my actions, my callous indifference. And now that shame colored this entire sequence of events. I returned from the house with my dad’s hunting license pinned to my shirt just in time to see the bear make its charge toward the pinned bird. Or was its target my hedge, my yard, me? I threw my bow to the ground and sprinted into The Field to find out.

antMy heart boomed in my ears and I couldn’t even feel my legs moving as a manic energy carried me toward what felt like certain death. It was exhilarating and frightening, and stood all my hairs on end. The charging bear’s sloppy, shaggy fur horrified me, but the horror dissipated when a tranquilizer dart dropped the beast in a heap. Butch had arrived in penguintime to fire a payload of M99 into its neck. He and I looked at the bear. Before either of us could speak, it began to wriggle and shake. It curled and uncurled, twisted like a wet towel being wrung, and it growled as it grew into an ant the size of a mid-sized sedan – an ant that retained the shaggy, shabby coat of fur. Butch, the game warden, looked at me and said, “That’s the biggest penguin I’ve ever seen.”

I awoke. I laughed to myself.

I’ve always been a vivid dreamer. daliI generally remember my dreams, at least for a little while, and many – such as this one – have remained with me for years. As a child I learned to appreciate the sagas and images my unconscious brain chose to share with me. Whether the dreams were incredibly wonderful, incredibly scary, or just plain weird, I’d awake and in an instant think to myself, “That was really cool.”

What fascinates me about dreams is probably what fascinates everyone about them. The feelings are so real – the dread of seeing a threatening animal, the shame of breaking the law and troubling a relative, the excitement of rushing toward potential death – while the actions are so absurd, and the information so inaccurate. It’s true my family liked archery, and The Field and The Woods lay beyond my wiffle ball field, but Butch wasn’t a Game Warden. I couldn’t shoot a bird out of the sky. Birds and bears and ants and penguins don’t exist in any way close to how my brain depicted them for me. Dreams seem real and unreal at the same time, and that may be the best way I can describe why I find myself liking Yes’s Close to the Edge so much: it seems real and unreal at the same time.

I got into Yes in high school. The band is 80swell-known for its long history of changing members and musical styles. I became a big fan during their 80s version, a reinvention from their history as a progressive rock, AOR staple to a flashy, top-40 competitor to Madonna/Michael Jackson/Huey Lewis. It was a bad era for music on the radio. Sure, some of the songs are fun to look back on, or fun to hear at an oldies dance, but a look at the top 100 songs of, say, 1984, reveals that, for the most part, even the songs by the respectable artists would – in the parlance of the time – “gag me with a spoon.”

My reaction to the music around me was to start exploring the music of the past two decades, and so, being a fan of the “new” Yes, I decided to check out the “old” Yes. I immediately was sucked in to their musical world of intricate and wide-ranging guitars, complex rhythms, strange lyrics, and harmony vocals. In a simile I’m sure I’m not the first to make, their songs are the aural equivalent of fantasy novels like The Lord Of The Rings or the Narnia books. Their musical worlds draw on the recognizable to create the beautifully bizarre. My attraction to the music was intensified because I was the type of nerdy teenager drawn to remarkable displays of talent – jugglers, magicians, pro athletes – and the virtuosity displayed by the Yes band members was striking and daunting. These guys could play parts on their instruments more complex, and faster, than almost anything I’d heard, AND they’d sing harmonies while doing it!

Yes enhanced the otherworldly feelings conjured by their music by having artist Roger Dean conjure Other Worlds and draw them as album art. This inside gatefold from the vinyl version of Close To The Edge shows a world that's, well, close to the edge.

They were also decidedly NOT of the “Less-Is-More” mindset when it came to songwriting. Why not change key in the middle of a verse? Why not have an organ solo last three minutes, AND have a guitar solo last four minutes … in the same song!! Why not pause an upbeat song and play five minutes of slow, moody passages before returning to the upbeat part again? Yes has always pursued a path that interested themselves yes concert2musically, and what’s resulted are several full-length albums (even double-albums) containing a few 20-minute songs!

Close To The Edge has exactly three songs. Now, you may remember buying several cassingles back in the 80s and early 90s, and so think “What’s the big deal? Lots of cassingles had a third “bonus track” song on them!” But the difference is that Close To The Edge is a full-length LP. The title track is nearly 19 minutes long, and took up the entirety of Side One on the vinyl and cassette versions of the album. Why don’t you run to the bathroom and maybe grab a snack before we dive into this behemoth! And don’t worry: it’s true that dreams can be unusual, hard to understand, even scary, but I will be your guide through this dreamscape of songs, so you have nothing to fear. We will get close to the edge, but I’ll make sure you don’t fall over.

Right off the bat, I’ll tell you this: I’m not sure I’m as huge of a YES fan, as I am a huge STEVE HOWE fan, the band’s extraordinary guitarist. He plays innumerable styles: finger-picking, classical, super-speedy fret-burning, subtle soundscapes … there’s nothing he can’t do. The first part of the song “Close to the Edge” steve howeis titled “The Solid Time of Change.” Indeed, Yes songs are so long, and have such varied parts, that the band actually titles the different sections of the songs to keep things straight!!! “The Solid Time of Change” begins with an aggressive solo by Howe. Actually, the solo starts at about 56 seconds because the band – in typical, over-the-top fashion – begins the song with about a minute of woodland sounds of birds, insects, a stream … The peacefulness is broken by the beautiful cacophony of Howe’s guitar. The solo begins with an introductory cadenza, then reaches full furor at 1:21, as the bass, drums and organs pound away behind him. And it wouldn’t be a Yes song without singer Jon Anderson piping up in the middle of an instrumental section with a vocalization – here it’s an “AAh!!” at 2 minutes. After this, bassist Chris Squire amazingly doubles Howe’s guitar solo part, an ascending digital workout. Another “Aah!!” and more craziness from Howe and the whole band, as the energy increases, straining the limits of rock music (and, frankly, good sense – it’s sections like these that are dreamlike to me) until we reach the 2:57 mark, at which point Howe plays a melody that will serve as a touchstone for the entire 19-minute track.

stopwatchYou see, here we are, three minutes into a song – a length of time greater than some of the best rock songs ever recorded – and Yes haven’t even reached the main melody of the first section of the first song!!! Being a Yes fan takes patience and concentration, but you are rewarded for your efforts. Patience because the songs are so long, and concentration because sometimes – if you’re not paying close attention – it’s difficult to hear how all the parts fit together. Usually the bass, drums and keyboards are each playing ridiculously intricate parts at the same time. But at 3:00 of “The Solid Time of Change,” a very nice section of pop-rock jon andersonnormalcy is exhibited. It’s a bit baroque sounding, with individual instruments playing frilly, light parts. After another minute, just after 3:54, the vocals begin – harmonies by Anderson and Howe, with Squire joining on the chorus. Anderson is one of those helium-voiced 70s singers that pose a large problem for many rock fans. But really, if you’ve listened this far – 4 minutes of woodland sounds, weird guitar, a jumbled knot of instrumental chaos, and faux-baroque powdered-wigcraft – don’t let a high pitched man drive you away.

One of the reasons I find Close To The Edge so dreamlike is that for a good two years of my life, I would come home from college classes and play it in my headphones and fall asleep – well, sort of asleep. I’d travel along that strange sleep/wake border, and Close To The Edge was my traveling music. So Howe’s guitar parts are ingrained in my head, and the solo he plays at 4:54 is one of my favorites. It’s actually two different solos that he plays over top of each other, and when Anderson picks up singing the next verse, he continues to fill in with nifty figures and runs.

We’re now at the 6:00 point, still not as long as “Hey Jude” or “Hotel California,” but then again, bill brufordthis song isn’t yet a third of the way complete!! The song has now entered Section Two, titled “Total Mass Retain.” This is actually a pretty cool, nearly funky section, with syncopated bass and drums. It’s only a bit over two minutes long, but it may be my favorite part of the song. If you listen to only one section of this song, it should be this section. You’ll hear how each instrument plays a different part, how drummer Bill Bruford somehow manages to keep it together, and how they sing harmony while they play this stuff!! It probably sounds ridiculous for me to say, but there’s a fifteen second section – from 7:10 to 7:25 – that gives me CHILLS when I hear it, every time! Maybe it’s from the years of subliminally listening while sleeping. I don’t know. But it has an effect on me, dear reader.

There’s some more powdered-wigcraft from 8:00 to 8:30, rick wakemanand then … Okay, I get it. You’ve been listening to the same rock (ostensibly) song for 8 and a half minutes – about as long as CCR’s “Suzie Q” – but we’re not even at the halfway point. You might need a break. Now would be the time to take it, as we enter Section 3, “I Get Up, I Get Down.” It’s a subdued, magical hippy-trippy section, with water drip sounds and a medieval forest vibe. It has some nice harmonies, but I feel like they could’ve skipped this section and gone right to keyboardist Rick Wakeman’s second (yes, SECOND!!) pipe-organ solo. I’m hoping by now it doesn’t surprise you that Yes would decide on TWO pipe-organ solos in this song, actually played on an organ at a famous church, the Monty Python-esquely named St. Giles-without-Cripplegate church (I shit you not.) This second solo starts at about 13:10.

We now enter the fourth and final section of this beast of a song, this veritable giant, dangerous, shaggy ant/bear-but-really-a-penguin of a song that I’ve listened to a million times and will listen to a million more: the rather heroically, if strangely gendered name of “Seasons of Man.” chrissquireIf you haven’t been listening to the song in its entirety, and you really want the full Bombastic Yes Effect, tune in to 13:10 and listen to the majestic build of the pipe-organ, the tension Wakeman creates up to about 13:55, where a synthesizer takes over and builds things up some more til it all flies apart in a fury at 14:12. (There are three notes at 14:12 – I think on guitar – that always remind me of the bells rung by the Philadelphia trolly cars at intersections in the mid-80s.) Howe reprises the melody he first posited way back in Section Two, this time in a minor key, and at the 15:00 mark, Wakeman returns with a blistering synth solo. We’re approaching the end of the song, and I still haven’t mentioned as much as I should have about bassist Chris Squire. Brother/Sister, if you’re a fan of bass guitar at all, you need to go back to the beginning and just listen to the crazy stuff he plays throughout the whole song, all Four Sections (while participating in three-part harmony, I should add!) What he does is truly stunning.

The song returns to another verse/chorus from Anderson, with harmony vocals and dazzling instrumentation, and concludes with a return to the gentle woodland sounds. Good heavens, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted!! You’ve just made it through a song even longer than the famed “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Yes didn’t even pad thingssleep with a three-minute drum solo, like Iron Butterfly did! You may have noticed that I didn’t discuss the song’s lyrics at all. Really, at this point, what is there to say? Jon Anderson writes very strange, yet cool-sounding lyrics, stringing words together like an 8 year old at summer camp with a lanyard and a new bucket of beads. I just listen and think, “Whatever, dude, sounds great …”, but if you’d like more insight into them, here’s an article in which he discusses them in-depth. He says stuff like “[The line] ‘A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace’ – that means your higher self will eventually bring you out of your dark world.” I’ll take his word for it. I like singing along, I like the mood the lyrics create, but I haven’t done enough drugs to allow me to attempt to decipher meanings!

Okay, look, we’ve still got two songs left, and they’re both epic, grand pieces of progressive rock. It’s been a long haul already. I don’t know about you, but I’m moving on. Please join me – we’ll do this together. Let us consider TRACK TWO (which indeed marks the beginning of SIDE TWO of the vinyl/cassette) … “And You And I.”

Believe it or not, this puny 10-minute song single ayaiwas actually released as a single! It was released as “Parts 1 and 2,” with the first quarter on Side A and the second quarter on Side B. It begins with Steve Howe tuning his 12-string acoustic guitar, and at about 1:12 flows nicely into a 70s singer-songwriter type of song with a lilting melody, and (of course) strange lyrics. This first section is called “Cord of Life,” and lasts until about 3:47, when part two, “Eclispse,” begins. Similar in feel to the “I Get Up, I Get Down” section in “Close to the Edge,” this passage is another psychedelic, ethereal journey howe andersonto the center of a British hippy’s mind. I particularly like Bill Bruford’s bass-drumming (of all things) in this slow passage.

Section Three begins (about 5:48) with a return to Howe’s acoustic guitar. It leads to the jaunty section, “The Preacher, The Teacher,” which I love for two reasons: 1) Steve Howe’s guitar, of course; and 2) Anderson’s kooky lyrics, such as “There’ll be no mutant enemy, we shall certify/Political ends our sad remains will die/Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you.” The famous Dr. Dave and I have spent hours giggling over lyrics like these. If you’re gonna be a big Yes fan, you can either defend Anderson’s poetry to all critics, or – like Dr. Dave and me – admit they’re pretty silly, but belt them out nonetheless. Or, like Hollywood impresario Joss Whedon, name your production company after them. Section Four, “Apocalypse,” consists of the final 50 seconds of the piece.

We are almost there, nearly experienced this entire, fantastic sphere of Yessian reality, but I know you must be tired. You may need a break. So here’s a cool clip of the early 70s Monday Night Football theme song for you to watch.

anderson 2The final song on this sojourn to the very edge of … rock music? Rock instrument virtuosity? Human listening endurance? SANITY!!?? Well, whatever the edge is, we are close to it, and as if things haven’t gotten crazy enough in the 30 minutes of music we’ve been enjoying, the band, and Anderson in particular, has now had to make up a new word to properly express what it is that is inside them. Thus, the song “Siberian Khatru.” Jon Anderson says Khatru is a Yemeni word meaning “as you wish.” (How Siberia fits in remains unclear.) Yes fans have other ideas about the word. Heaven knows, the lyrics themselves offer little, if any, insight. But we are in a dreamland, folks, and it doesn’t have to make sense to pick you up, give you a shake and kick you in the ass. And that’s what this polyrhythmic song does just fine.

Again with the Steve Howe Guitar. And again with the Chris Squire Bass. And the Bill Bruford Drumming, and the Rick Wakeman Organ. At about 25 seconds in, Howe begins playing a little riff that he’ll return to throughout the song, and at 52 seconds he hits the main riff of the song, with Wakeman doubling on organ, while Bruford and Squire play around them. It all sort of doesn’t fit, but fits perfectly – like a shaggy bear tranquilized by my cousin’s husband.concert2

Anderson starts in with the melody (he may write goofy lyrics, but he sure writes great melodies) and the guys sing their harmonies. It’s a groovy song, with a strong, strong early 70s feel, and at billboard3:03 Howe blesses us with a brief sitar-esque solo, which ends in some major powdered-wigcraft: harpsichord (!) and bass interplay between Wakeman and Squire. Howe rejoins at 3:30 for an airy, breezy answer that breaks into a traditionally-picked solo at 3:48. It all leads to Anderson, at 4:14, gently inviting us to hold down a window to reveal an unspoken Khatru. (No, really. Look, you’d better be listening to this song, because it sounds WAY better than I can describe it!!) At 4:50 they’re rockin’ again, and you’d think they’d just go with it for a while. But we’ve learned that these dreams of Yes take all kinds of twists and turns, so by 5:21 they’re getting all slow and trippy again, and Bruford plays some furious, FURIOUSLY TIGHT rolls on the snare. At 6:21 they snap out of it, and return with typical abandon to their intricately crafted parts. But then at 7:21 they interject a hiccuping, yesbandvocal section, a part that, if this song really was a dream, is the part where you start to realize you’re dreaming, and if you liked the dream you try desperately to remain inside that world, and if you don’t like the dream you make the firm decision to wake up. It’s a sense that we’re reaching the end. By 7:37, the dream’s landing gear is down, Howe plays some of his coolest shit, as does Squire, and we gently glide our prog-rock ship into its proper berth.

There you go, dear reader! You are out the other side. I hope you didn’t find the dream too disturbing. I expect you may have found it weird, or it may seem like a place you don’t wish to revisit. Some of you may have enjoyed it greatly and hope to return again. I encourage you to do so, and find your own hidden paths and vistas within its alien world. Like our dreams, music is personal. It’s hard to say what it is about music that makes it relatable or moving. Close To The Edge is very different than many of the other albums on my list. But I love this bearantpenguin of an album, and it is with me forever.

Track Listing
“Close to the Edge”
~~i. The Solid Time of Change
~~ii. Total Mass Retain
~~iii. I Get Up, I Get Down
~~iv. Seasons of Man
“And You And I”
~~i. Cord of Life
~~ii. Eclipse
~~iii. The Preacher, The Teacher
~~iv. The Apocalypse
“Siberian Khatru”

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