Up the Downstair

Being a weeklie podcaste from Madison, Wisconsin featuring several remarkable curiosities therein occurring being a compendium of live music from divers artistes

Forgotten Gems by Yes (And an Encomium for Trevor Rabin To Boot)

January 23rd, 2011

I found a nice blog post last week in which some people delved into Yes’ back catalog and chose their favorite deep cuts. The four choices are excellent – “Does It Really Happen?”, “Sound Chaser”, “It Can Happen”, and “South Side of the Sky”. There are certainly four great songs and I appreciate that they included tracks from Drama and 90215 which are overlooked and/or maligned because of the absence of Jon Anderson/presence of Trevor Rabin.

So, are there any more gems from Yes that are buried deep in their back catalogue? Are these four songs the best of the band’s output that have been forgotten?

When I ponder those questions and the list, the one song that I can’t argue with in any way is “Sound Chaser”. Mark Saleski’s breakdown of it is spot on. The jazz fusion opening, Squire’s manic bass, Howe’s melodies born of fury, and Alan White improbably keeping it all together with his work on the hi-hat & snare. “The Gates of Delirium” gets all the attention on Relayer because it is 20+ minutes long and takes up the whole of side 2 on the album so “Sound Chaser” is surely a hidden gem.

As I said above, I was pleased that the choices included something from Drama and “Does It Really Happen?” is a good choice. But I’ve always had a thing for “Tempus Fugit”. Squire’s bass snakes around the song and imbues it with a sense of urgency. And I love how the guitar and keyboards alternately do unison runs with the bass and then provide counterpoint. In a way, the song is a cousin of “Sound Chaser”.

“South Side of the Sky” is no doubt a classic. I love the song and was elated to be in the audience back in the summer of 2002 when the band played it for the first time in 30 years. (I believe it was also the first time “We Have Heaven” was performed by the band.) But how forgotten is any track on Fragile really? As one commenter at the article says, everything the band does gets compared to the “holy troika” of The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge so can any of these albums have forgotten gems? I suppose that, if they can, then “South Side of the Sky” is surely in that list but I would also argue that “Perpetual Change” is a strong contender for the title.

Nick DeRiso gives the write-up for “It Can Happen”. Again, great song and a great write-up of it. But, again, is it really forgotten? It did hit #51 on the Billboard singles chart and is surely more well-known than most of the songs on 90125, though it may be better than the other clearly forgotten songs. But I take DeRiso’s point.

The Trevor Rabin era is much maligned by many Yes fans. However, I don’t think he’s deserving of such derision. Back in 2002 or 2003 I read an interview with Rick Wakeman and he said that Rabin carried the torch of Yes through the 1980s. Without him, the “classic” line-up wouldn’t be touring at that point. In addition to keeping the band alive, he helped make some great music.

I have a soft spot for Big Generator. On paper it sounds like a wonderful album. You’ve got a couple songs that breach the seven minute mark and the writing credits indicate that this is perhaps more of a collective effort by the band as opposed to Jon Anderson adding lyrics and vocals to Trevor Rabin songs that Chris Squire may or may not have added something to. Plus there are horns, strings, and harmonica to be had.

Listening to the album it mostly lives up to the promise of the liner notes. The title track has some brawny guitar work and feels like it builds upon 90125 with its samples. “I’m Running” is the longest on the album and it takes a great moody prog performance and imbues it with a Caribbean touch. “Final Eyes” is a beautiful song with some great acoustic guitar work, something lacking on 90125. And so on. My only gripes are “Almost Like Love” and “Love Will Find a Way”. It’s not that they’re bad songs, but rather than they just don’t work well with the rest of the album. I wish that they’d had some tweaking done to them – something to make them a bit more off-kilter. As pop songs go, they’re great but, when I listen to them, I am disappointed that there isn’t anything about them which throws the listener off a bit. “Where’d that come from?” They’re too plain and don’t sit comfortably next to the rest of the songs on the album.

Back in the fall of 1987 when the album came out I was already a fan of the band and familiar with both the classic and new Yes. So I think one reason I like Big Generator so much is that is navigated and played with my expectations really well. Would it harken back to the sound of the band in their proggy heyday or would it expand upon 90125? In various ways it did both and neither. The horn samples on the song “Big Generator” will sound familiar but the heavy riffing is new to the band’s sound, “Machine Messiah” notwithstanding. 90125 was devoid of acoustic guitar yet it dominates “Final Eyes” and “Holy Lamb”. A Caribbean lilt to a proggy epic? How did that get there? “Shoot High Aim Low” – a Yes song with the drums up front carrying the song?

To their credit, both “Almost Like Love” and “Love Will Find a Way” play with expectations as well. The former is faux R&B while the latter almost completely divorces itself from Yes that it stands alone. Like I said, these aren’t bad songs, they just need some tinkering.

Let me begin my quick run-through of the rest of the Rabin era by saying the Union is an unmitigated disaster. The ABWH material had session players replace parts by Howe and Wakeman while many of the Rabin led Yes songs were barely more than glorified demos. Despite this, “Lift Me Up” and “Miracle of Life” are great tunes.

Talk, Rabin’s swan song with the band, turned out a hell of a lot better than I thought it would and I would argue that it belongs in the second tier of Yes albums. It’s not a classic that belongs at the top but, taken on its own terms, it holds up really well and has a lot of great music.”The Calling” is blatantly catchy and relentlessly upbeat and positive. It’s a paean to the music of the world and, to my ears, invokes “Sweet Dreams” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”. The song is just so fun and joyful plus there are some great solos and harmony vocals. “Real Love” is a heavy slab of prog while “Endless Dream” is a 15-minute epic and the closest Rabin ever got to sounding like Yes in the 1970s. High marks for “I Am Waiting” and “Where Will You Be”.

Talk is an underrated album and overlooked because Rabin and Tony Kaye would depart after the tour in support of it and be replaced by Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe.

Trevor Rabin’s contributions to Yes shouldn’t be overlooked and it’s difficult to choose but one alternate hidden gem to complement “It Can Happen”. Aside from “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, the Rabin era is ignored and that’s too bad. But this morning I am going to choose “Shoot High Aim Low”.
It has the trademark Yes vocal harmonies in addition to Rabin and Anderson trading lead. White drums are centerstage with everyone else adorning his part with their own. Rabin plays a lot of parts that color the song instead of a riff around which the song is built and his soloing is fantastic. Plus I love the keyboard sounds. There’s some traditional organ but also these wonderful synth parts that evoke wide open spaces. Everyone contributes here and everything just comes together. It shows beyond a doubt that Rabin is capable of much more than riffs and pop songs.

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