Prog Rock Friday

There is an inexpressibly sad story re: the prog rock mega-group Yes in the news this week. I won’t go into here, save to say it prompted me to look back at Steve Howe’s guitar work for adolescent Yes in the 1970s.

Please find below a track from Yessongs, Yes’ first live album, released in 1973 (although recorded in 1972). The song is Yours is No Disgrace (from the Yes Album). I also include a video recording of the group performing the same song for your viewing enjoyment.

What we hear and see is Howe just beginning to wield the full might of his not inconsoderable powers. Simply perfect. Which means it’s time for me to shut up and you to press play (headphones recommended). Look out for the call-and-response between Wakeman (on keyboards) and Howe at about 1:40 (audio recording) or 2:30 (video), as the rest of the song is constructed around it.

Final note before I take you into the first recordings we’re talking about today: 1972 was about the time Yes stopped doing short-form music. If you’re going to listen to this at all, you really should commit to listening to all 14 minutes in one sitting. Then process what you’ve heard and do it again.

 

At the bottom of this post, for contrast, is the studio version, if you’re into that sort of thing, for which Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass) assume pole position.

As you will find out if you listen to it, the studio recording is a completely different piece of music. Studio recordings, obviously, are capable of differing considerably from live shows. But in this instance it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same band.

Of course, there is something going on here that might explain why the studio version is quite that much tamer: it isn’t the same band. First, the studio album was Howe’s first recording with the group, so perhaps he hadn’t quite let his hair down; second, the studio recording had Tony Kaye – who is good, but he’s not Rick Wakeman – on the keyboards.

The live band you see above, which includes drummer Bill Bruford, is on the cusp of greatness – it would go on in very short order to produce Yes’ magnum opus, Close to the Edge, later that year and, wasting little time, would also (minus Bruford) go on to record the similarly epically-set Tales from Topographic Oceans in December of ’73.

Both Close to the Edge and Topographic, to neither of which it is easy to listen, represented a radical departure from Yes’ more “popular” rock roots per The Yes Album and that which preceded it. Either is a candidate for the greatest progressive rock album ever recorded.

A significant reason that each of those records exists is Steve Howe, who is in my thoughts today and should be in yours as well.

Anyway. Enough out of me. Compare and contrast:

Now that’s all done, happy Friday and enjoy your weekend.

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