June 6-30, 2010 – Tom Wilmeth Presents: One Question With . . . #3
If I had one question with a specific individual, what would it be?
Here is the third entry: One Question with Yes!
Tom Wilmeth: Um . . . thanks for being here. But I’m not really sure who you are.
You guys in the band Yes have not aged well, but I don’t recognize you at all.
Guest: Hey; back at ’cha, old man. You can call me “Corporate Yes.” Once we hit Rock God status in the early 1970s we really became a corporation logo more than a band.
CY: Perhaps disappointing, but true. Don’t feel too badly for us, though – we sold a boatload of units after the corporation mentality kicked-in. We found the formula and milked it dry! Still at it.
CY: Sorry, I meant “product.” No, wait -- I meant “albums.” I meant to say “works of art.”
TW: So you are not Jon Anderson or Chris Squire or Rick Wakeman or . . . ?
CY: No man – Corporate Yes! People got to know the distinctive sound, but very few could name the current members of the band at any given point. And that became a good thing. Also, people identified us visually from those trippy Roger Dean album covers. That helped us.
TW: You didn’t use his art work until the Fragile album.
CY: Right. That was the 4th record and also where we truly hit our stride.
TW: If only briefly.
CY: Bite me. That album was the template for all the Yes music which was to follow.
TW: Your previous release, The Yes Album, was a superior collection of songs.
CY: Probably right. We smelled what a hit single could do for a band with The Yes Album. “Your Move” threatened to become a hit, but it stalled.
TW: Fragile’s “Roundabout” was the hit you sought.
CY: Yep. And the best part was that we were still seen as an FM college radio album band – above the Top 40 hits of the dying AM radio. But there we were with a hit single, still acting like we were above it. Way too cool for the room.
TW: But you played that song at every concert.
CY: Hell yes. It’s what people wanted to hear. We encored with “Roundabout;” still do.
TW: Sort of your band’s “Whole Lotta Love.” One huge Top 40 hit that serves as icing on the concert cake.
CY: Yup. But those Zeppelin guys had the class to throw-in the towel when one of them died.
TW: Why didn’t you do that when Jon Anderson left before the Drama album?
CY: We had been through so many personnel changes by that time that we felt it was OK and not deceiving the fans if the line-up changed.
TW: Even if it meant replacing the distinctive sound of your lead singer?
CY: Right. Let’s move on.
TW: And the money was still really good.
CY: Hey ass hole! Did you have a question for me or not? Wait -- Anderson can suck it. He leaves the band and gets mad because we carry-on without him. Twice. And quite successfully, I will add! Wakeman is a prima donna – not even an original member. Shows up for the 4th album and then thinks he’s too big for the band. Comes and goes at his whim.
TW: Sort of the group’s own personal Neil Young!
CY: Hm. . . . So what’s your question?
TW: We were talking about Roger Dean’s distinctive album cover art work. I had a friend who claimed that the band Osi Bisa had a career only because stoned hippies saw Osi Bisa albums in record shops and bought them thinking that they were new Yes albums.
CY: Good one. We’ll, it’s been real . . .
TW: Wait. That wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
TW: OK – On the CD reissue of your album Tales From Topographic Oceans, you . . .
CY: Oh Hell! You aren’t going to ask about that albatross, are you?
TW: Clearly I am.
CY: That era was our highest high and lowest low – as it was happening! I mean, when half the band openly questions to the press what the hell we are doing – that’s never a good sign.
TW: Healthy bands regularly fight.
CY: This was different. Wakeman summed it up pretty well when he said he left the band because he was unable to answer interviewers’ question about what the work was about. He got tired of defending it. I think they all did after a while, but Anderson and Howe wouldn’t admit to it.
TW: Assessment of the work?
CY: “Of the work.” See, you are acting like it is some important piece of art.
TW: I was a fan. Was it an achievement for Rock Music?
CY: An “achievement”? Maybe. But parts of it also got pretty close to self parody.
Those are bad memories for me, even though the fans tried to accept it and we were still OK with the record company because it sold quite well – especially for a pricey double album.
TW: Time Magazine listed it among the top rock albums of the year .
CY: Ah yes, “That good old rock mag Time,” to quote a friend of yours. Time was just trying to jump on a band wagon – magazine sales were beginning to slip. Reach out to the youth!
TW: Time Magazine dissed The Beatles’ White Album when it was released [November 1968].
CY: Same sort of thing – trying to be hip – knocking down a sacred cow in that instance.
TW: Was Tales From Topographic Oceans still rock? It’s a long way from Chuck Berry.
CY: Rock almost did what jazz had accomplished in the post-bop era.
CY: The musicians drove away the fans by playing for each other instead of the audience. How many non-musicians could understand anything coming out on the Blue Note label in the 1960s, for example?
TW: Tales from Topographic Oceans was written for other musicians?
CY: No. Good point – we were going for our rabid audience. But after the success of Close to the Edge, what do you do? Only 3 songs on that album. I know – we’ll make a double album with one song per side. Song or suite or “composition,” or some damn thing. Can you remember a single melody from that thing – that 90-minute work?
TW: um . . . maybe a couple of the riffs from side 4.
CY: I rest my case – “Some of the most beautiful passages” in the Yes canon, to quote the All Music Guide, but try to hum any of it. Note what happened as far as the structure of those albums. Three songs on Close to the Edge, one HUGE composition on Tales, then we backed-up into a 3-song structure on the next album, Relayer. Then we started to worry as sales slipped and we went back to albums with almost regular-length songs.
TW: I got off the bus with Relayer – the next album after Tales from Topographic Ocean. And by the way, you yourself also refer to Tales as a “composition.” A bit high hat, aren’t you? You must have had pretty healthy self-esteem at the time to release a double album like that. Am I right in thinking that you would not let people into the theatre for seating once you began the lengthy 4-part “piece” in London?
CY: I’m not proud of all this, but we did consider it to be a theatrical event.
TW: Like Pink Floyd’s The Wall? Like Jethro Tull’s Passion Play?
CY: Different than those. Not better – it’s not a contest, remember. But certainly different.
TW: OK. I thought Relayer was Close to the Edge under another name. I was getting bored.
CY: You weren’t listening.
TW: I was listening closely. You were recycling; the three new songs on Relayer were exact parallels to the three on Close to the Edge:
“Siberian Khatru” = “Sound Chaser”
“And You And I” = “To Be Over”
“Close to the Edge” = “The Gates of Delirium”
CY: Well . . .
TW: Don’t get me wrong. Yes was a very important band for me, but I peaked with the live Yessongs album.
CY: Join the club.
TW: I saw you guys twice – on the Tales tour . . .
TW: Don’t apologize for the Tales concert – I’m glad I saw that unique show. I know Yes freaks who are very envious that I saw that tour. The only thing I was disappointed with was the lack of older tunes.
CY: Can’t play them all.
TW: Right, but you ran down the three tunes from Close to the Edge, three sides of Tales, encored with “Roundabout,” and split. A couple of older tunes would have been welcome.
CY: That was the nature of that tour. You can’t have it both ways. It was a full 2 hours, right?
TW: You win that one. Why did you decide to stop performing the second side of the album on the final American leg of the tour – too hard to play live?
CY: God, you’re an asshole.
TW: I’ll take that as a yes.
CY: Very challenging to perform live, you are correct. Dick.
TW: So you bailed.
CY: So we bailed!
TW: Were you getting bored with the whole thing?
CY: I’ve talked about that. What was the other time you saw us?
TW: Tales in Minneapolis ; the Relayer tour in Iowa City the following year.
CY: And that show?
TW: Well, as I say, you guys played well and the light show was amazing, but it was still all newer stuff – Close to the Edge and up. And as I said, Relayer was rehash.
CY: Yes, you mentioned that.
TW: The coolest thing about that Iowa City show was at the end when you did a brief medley of high points from the first three sides of Tales from Topographic Oceans, and then went screaming into a full length take of side four. That was great.
CY: Thank you; glad you didn’t go away disappointed.
TW: Then I heard that on the next tour you were doing a bunch of older tunes again.
CY: Sorry. I think we are all pretty tired of this – did you have a question?
TW: OK. On side one of the Tales from Topographic Oceans Lp, the opening sequence is distinctly different from the CD reissue. The album starts immediately with unaccompanied vocals while the CD has nearly two minutes of an instrumental passage leading-up to the introductory vocal. Why the difference and why no indication on the CD that a change was made?
CY: You must remember that nobody really listens to that album.
TW: Maybe, but this is the very opening of the whole thing – the one part that you would hear if someone was to ever put it on.
CY: I do not know. Maybe you have an early pressing of the album and we later changed it to include the passage. Happens, you know.
TW: I do have an early one – I bought it the day it was released – January 1974. Speaking of which, why didn’t Atlantic Records make you get that out in time for the Christmas consumer season? You would have sold even more.
CY: You, sir, are a cynic.
TW: But you really don’t k now about that difference or why it is altered?
CY: Sorry. And I’m also sorry that you know that there is a difference. Isn’t there some book you could be reading or movie you could go watch? IS this really worth your time?
TW: Interesting comment, coming from you.
CY: I get paid to do this.
TW: Right. But I’m the cynic? I keep confusing art with units sold.
CY: Oddly enough, I envy that. And with this I believe we have come full circle. Good-night.
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PROVISO: The above “interview” is fiction – written by Tom Wilmeth.
[Instant review of the above by Tom Wilmeth’s son, Dylan Wilmeth:
“Well, it probably won’t be the weirdest thing on the internet. But still . . .]
exciting new web site (of musty old reviews): web site: http://wilmethway.blogspot.com/