September of 1972 marked the release of quintessential progressive rock album Close to the Edge, from Yes. Recorded in a period of approximately six months following the bands tour of previous album, Fragile. The band chose a different approach to song composition, with inspiration from classical music structure; the band composed three long tracks consisting of smaller movements, rather than composing many songs of short-medium length (much like 1971’s Fragile). Recording of the album was often tense, heated and stressful, especially so for drummer Bill Bruford, who described recording the album as like “climbing Mount Everest”, as well as the band being in “a constant state of friction between Anderson, Squire, and [myself]” . The tension came to an abrupt halt as Bruford left Yes prior to the bands largest tour to date. Bruford favored more improvised and jazz-orientated styles of music which Yes did not provide (but yet incorporated in 1974’s Relayer). As a result, Bruford defected to another progressive rock giant, King Crimson, as he joined Robert Fripp with the new incarnation his band in July of 1972. Bruford was replaced by John Lennon drummer and percussionist Alan White, who had to learn the entire Yes live repertoire in under two weeks. That is not an easy feat! Alan has been with the band ever since.
Opening the album, and taking up side one is “Close to the Edge”, the title track written by Jon Anderson and Steve Howe jointly on music and lyrics. The songs lyrics are based off of Hermann Hesse novel Siddhartha, and also inspired by a dream that Anderson had. Although the lyrics are very metaphorical, essentially the concept deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery. Musically, the songs structure was greatly inspired by music by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The musical theme introduced in part one, “The Solid Time of Change” is continued in “Total Mass Retain“. What I find particularly interesting is that musically, the first verses variation of movements one, two, and four (“a seasoned witch… “, “my eyes convinced, eclipsed…”, and “the time between the notes…”) is that it is played in A minor then modulates to A major at the end of the bar. This is such an interesting technique that can be difficult to use correctly and sound good, but Yes, no doubt, do it well (An example of this would be “Creep” from Radiohead, where the chord sequence is” G-Bm-C-Cm“). A new musical section appears in part three as “I Get Up I Get Down”, which to my knowledge was mostly written by Steve Howe. Lush and prominent vocal harmonies can be heard from Howe and Chris Squire, joined by Anderson on the lead (“two million people…”). By far, the slowest section in terms of dynamics and tempo, the energy is slowly built up to a piping climax (see what I did there?), seguing perfectly into the final movement of the song – “Seasons of Man“, which consists of the main theme that was introduced in part one, but played in a much more complex manner, most noticeably in the piano. Closing off this grand track is the birds, flowing water, and other environment sounds that can be heard in the songs opening.
Side two open with “And You and I”, a folk-influenced song that had the working title of “The Protest Song”. The track contains four movements which features music written by Bill Bruford, guitarist Steve Howe, singer Jon Anderson, and bassist Chris Squire. Musically, an approach similar to that of side one is taken again, with a theme introduced and then reintroduced later in the song in a slightly different forms. Movements one and two were released as a single which reached #42 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rick Wakeman said regarding the song: “It has different movements which all go into each other. The object was having a piece of music that was everything that the Yes critics hated us for and the Yes fans loved us for, which was emotion.” A true album for the fans, it is evident that this intention has payed off greatly for the band, as the album is considered top-tier. When asked about the lyrics in an interview who “you” refers to, Anderson says “Probably God. Or it could be we collectively. The audience and I, collectively we look for reality of being a true understanding of the beauty of life. We reach over the rainbow for an understanding of things. You and I climb closer to the light.”
Closing off side two and the album is “Siberian Khatru” written by Anderson, Howe, and the keyboardist wizard Rick Wakeman. The song immediately takes off with an explosive guitar riff from Howe, with the main musical theme entering, which is played by Wakeman. The song is noted its convoluted lyrics, polyrhythm, and ever-changing time signatures. Despite the inner tensions in the band, Squire and Bruford have an irresistible interlocked groove between the bass and drums in particular on thus track. Since its release, the track has been a live staple, with it often being a live concert opener, segueing directly from “The Firebird” (Stravinsky). Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante, took a notable influence from guitar-work from Steve Howe, in particular on the song “Get On Up”. Howe’s influence can ever be heard on other RHCP tracks like “Animal Bar”. Lyrically, the song can be interpreted as “unity among cultures”, as Siberia is very far geographically, yet still “goes through the motions” like the rest of the world. This is in line with Anderson’s spiritual views of peace, love, and unity.
All in all, an astonishing album marked by the labor of love, and extreme amounts of stress. Despite the mostly happy tone of the music, internally within the band, there was a great amount of tension and stress. Members were lost, and members were gained; soon paving the way for the exit of Rick Wakeman, and entrance of Patrick Moraz. At a time when the Stones were Exiled on Main St, Bowie rose and fell as Ziggy Stardust, and Steely Dan couldn’t Buy A Thrill, Yes were signaling a change in direction for the band, with leanings to long classically-arranged songs with grandiose concepts. Arguably this is the band at their very peak, with a continuation (or deterioration, depending on who you ask) with 1973’s Tales from Topographic Oceans. Close to the Edge may also been seen at one of the greatest in the progressive rock category as a whole, epitomizing the unique qualities that define the genre.
What do you think of Close to the Edge? Would you have known there was so much tension (literally close to the edge!) in the band based of the sound or quality of the album?
Written by Nik MacDonald