About Yes – Fragile

     When musicians are asked who inspires you, you will usually hear: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, etc. When I am asked the same question I say: Boston, Yes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, Frank Zappa, and much more. Although I would love to write about all these wonderful artists, I am going to focus on my biggest influence of all, Yes. The album I will be focusing on will be Fragile, although I highly suggest listening to the Yes Album, Drama, and 90125 albums, Fragile is by far one of my favorites.

     In 1971, Fragile, the 4th studio Yes album, included a new keyboardist by the name of Rick Wakeman. Roger Dean did the album cover art, to whom would make a unique cover for the album that explained the mysticism that the album had to offer. The album ended up going gold and the biggest single from the album would be the mind boggling Roundabout. This album along with other Progressive Rock albums around that time (Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, etc.) has set the ground work for what future progressive music will be like. The album includes virtuosic musicians, instrumentation, arrangements, and harmonies that this 5-piece band was able to produce.  The album had songs that ranged from 36 seconds to almost 12 minutes. The album also included solo songs that were the “spotlight” on some of the musicians in the group. The Fish, featured Chris Squire’s bass solo, Mood For A Day, Steve Howe’s solo guitar song, and Cans and Brahms, Rick Wakeman’s classical piano piece. This was different for albums at that time and to come because there were three songs that were meant to highlight the different musicians in the group (not like the long instrumental sections of the other songs don’t already). Just because Steve Howe (guitarist), Rick Wakeman (Keyboardist), and Chris Squire (Bassist) had their shining moments in the album, doesn’t mean that Jon Anderson (Singer) and Bill Bruford (Drummer) aren’t incredible. Jon Anderson has the very high-pitched signature singing range, which made his voice stand out in a mystical way. Bill Bruford is considered one of the best studio/session drummers because of his ability to play the most complicated things. The song Long Distance Run Around has a permutation in the verse, which means the drums play the snare ever other beat every other measure (1st measure the snare is on 1, 2nd measure the snare is on 2, 3rd measure it is on 3, etc.). This made the song sound that much more difficult because of Bill Bruford’s ability to morph the beat into something outstandingly difficult.

     What made this album different than other albums at the time were the complex instrumentation, song writing, and theme. The theme would set the stage for future progressive rock bands because it included fantasy and science fiction elements that went perfectly with the other worldly sounding melodies and harmonic content. Each song on the album had a strange feeling, and what I pick up from it is a Baroque/Medieval sounding band from the 1800s, writing Progressive Rock music. You can hear the classical influences in their music, especially this album the most. It went perfectly with the theme, and immersed you into listening. The other thing that made the album different was the three “spotlight” solo songs. This really showcased the different band member’s abilities as musicians.

     Coming at this album from a musician’s standpoint, this is one of my most influential albums. The incredible playing and songwriting and arrangements just still blow my mind every time I listen to it.  Steve Howe is one of my favorite guitarists, and his ability on the guitar is beyond what I hope to achieve myself as a musician. It is also one of those albums where you don’t appreciate just one or two musicians. When you listen to Led Zeppelin, you think of Jimi Page or John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix, you think of Jimi Hendrix, Santana, you think of Santana, Frank Zappa you think of Frank Zappa, etc. All of these groups have amazing musicians beyond talented, but you just hear the main musician, with his solos or showcased riffs. With Yes, each musician will put forth a very complex musical part, where you can appreciate every band member’s ability on his respected instrument. This has always inspired in more ways than just musically. I believe that whenever you are in a group, you shouldn’t just have one person that gets the spotlight, and that everybody has a part in what is being done. Each band member had such a high respect for each other that they let each other shine so that you the listener are reminded that you aren’t listening to a band, but a group of virtuosic musicians.

     This album has led me to write music in a way that they do, in which the songs are either structured with 3-4 different parts, or very non-linear with 7-10 different parts. I love really complex music and it really challenges me as a musician to try and write challenging music that can also be very easy to listen to like all the songs on the Fragile album. Overall, if this album didn’t exist, I do not know where Progressive Rock music would be, or my biggest musical influence would be.


Electonic Music Innovation – MiniMoog

      If you have ever listened to Progressive Rock, Electronic Music, or most bands with a synthesizer from the early 70’s to present day, then you might have heard a MiniMoog. The MiniMoog was invented 1971 in Trumansburg, New York. At R.A Moog, a man named Robert A. Moog was building Theremins, Guitar Amps, and huge synthesizers. He wanted to make a more portable synthesizer that could be brought on stage, but also wanted the huge sound that his over the top synthesizers brought to a record. He invented the MiniMoog, and since then, synthesizers have never sounded better. It was also one of the first synthesizers/keyboards that had a pitch wheel that could give a whacky bending sound to the notes being played.

     A few artists of the hundreds of artists that featured a MiniMoog in their group were Rush, Yes, Chick Corea, Kraftwerk, Bob Marley, and Gary Numan, Beegees, and Gary Numan. Rush’s more popular songs, Tom Sawyer and Xanadu, use the sound of the MiniMoog to get a cool Analog Lead sound. It is considered one of the most popular Synth sounds. The entire album Autobahn, by Kraftwerk, uses the MiniMoog in excess, and this is an album that had such a huge impact on the world of electronic music. Bob Marley first introduced the MiniMoog to Europe when he played with it on a BBC concert. Gary Numan, another very influential artist, started turning to the MiniMoog because he wanted to, “step away from organic instruments completely.” The fact that the MiniMoog could be used across all genres of music (due to the fact that it is a palate of morph-able, and unlimited sounds) is a huge step up in the music industry, specifically electronic music. The MiniMoog, like stated before, had a Pitch Wheel that could control a bend of the note being played (another first for synthesizers).

     I am a huge fan of Progressive Rock music, and seeing that two of my favorite bands (Yes and Rush) used the MiniMoog to get that iconic synth sound, it very much surprised me. I believe Robert A. Moog was not just an innovator, but he was a true genius because without his invention, I believe that most of the songs and artists made famous by it wouldn’t have had such a huge impact. 

Electronic Music – Kraftwerk

     If someone were to see the name Kraftwerk, you would think it was German. Well this is true because Kraftwerk is a German Electronic Music Group. The music of Kraftwerk spanned from futuristic/scientific sounding music to very Dance/80s era Pop music. Their musical works range from just instrumental to having heavy processed vocals with a synth heavy backdrop. The image of Kraftwerk was nothing like their music. You would think that a group of Sci-Fi astronauts with Flock of Seagull’s lead singers hair, but they are normal looking hipsters (before it became a thing).

     Kraftwerk’s more popular works from 1974-1981 include: Autobahn, Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express. Each of these albums had their own Conceptual Theme. Autobahn’s theme was about road travel, and was inspired by a very fast travelling road in Germany by the name of Autobahn. One track that peaks my interest is Kometenmelodie 2. This song has its moments where I feel like I am listening to a classic rock song turned into an electronic music song. It has that feel and it just has that sound with the chord voicing’s and rhythms. Trans-Europe Express was written based on the international railway service across Europe. The song Trans-Europa Express is my favorite off the album because it has a very cool beat and the different instruments fall on different accented beats which leads to a cool grooving sound. The “Trans Europa Express” vocals in the song are very haunting and heavily processed that it feels as if you are in a sci-fi movie going through space on a train. This album feels different than Autobahn because it is darker at points and seems to have more experimenting with different sounds. Finally, there is Radio-Activity. Radio-Activity is a very clever name for the album because the theme of the album is based on two things: radioactivity and activity on the radio. The title track Radio-Activity is the one song that stood out to me on the album because of the sounds and the panning of the drums. The panning of the drums gave you this dizzying and trippy vibe. This song I felt could have described the 80s migration to the unique and not yet fully explored world of electronic music. I felt that this album out of the other two had the best songwriting and arranging because there’s much creativity with the “studio as an instrument” technique (panning, time-based effects, etc.) and the instrumentation of each song. Each song had its own unique sounds but they all just morphed together to have this similar sound, which gave the album its own specific sound.

     Kraftwerk indeed were an influence to the world because of their creativity and their bizarre sounds that swept people off their feet. Kraftwerk was very original with their sound because there were few to none that would do a completely synthesized record that sounded as if it were orchestrated. Their ability to take a bunch of dissimilar sounds and to bring them together to create a haunting texture is what Electronic Music/EDM is all about nowadays. They also were unique because of their concepts. They did concepts on things that you wouldn’t necessarily relate to music with. They also used this concept and wrote not just the lyrics around the idea, but also the music. It immersed you into the theme and you felt as if you were on the Autobahn, or riding the Trans-Europe Express.

     I am not a fan of electronic music, nor am I in any way a fan of Kraftwerk. That is just my aesthetic view on Kraftwerk, but I can fully appreciate and understand how important they are in the influence they had towards electronic music and the kind of sound they were going for. The reason why I appreciate Kraftwerk is also because unlike present day Electronic Artists, Kraftwerk was, and is, the most original.

Brian Eno – 40 Years of Changing Music

Brian Eno is undoubtedly a unique and experimental artist. His influence as an artist includes the following: R&B, Rock n’ Roll, Progressive Rock, Punk, New Wave, African/Middle Easter/Oriental Styles, minimalism, post-Cage-avant-garde ideas, and electronic music. Not only does Brian Eno do music, but he also delved into visual art in the form of video and sculptures, and is an author. It is safe to say that Brian Eno comes at music with a very experimental and diverse mind set.

Two of Brian Eno’s personal albums/work that stick out to me are Discreet Music, and Here Come the Warm Jets. Discreet Music is a very unique album. The first thirty minutes of the album is just an ambient song, the title track, which consists of ambient sounding chords, and haunting melodies, which pulls the listener into a trance mood, which captivates your mind into being opened up into a state of relaxation. On the second side of the record there are three variations on Pachelbel’s Canon in D (commonly heard song at weddings). This part of the album is so very beautiful because it includes beautiful melodies and wondrous arranging. The ambiences factor is still in place and it can make a listener be at an easy state of mind. Here Come the Warm Jets is different and similar in many ways. It is different in the fact that it has more songs; the album isn’t completely instrumental, it is not an ambient album, and it has a very David Bowie/Rock and Roll sound. The similarities to it are that it has beautiful instrumentations and the melodies are so well done it feels as if the band that recorded this with him was orchestrated. There are some elements of the ambient synths used to create lush harmony and melodies, but it is still infused with the energy of the band. This makes it different in the fact that Discreet Music is to relaxation, where as Here Come the Warm Jets is to less relaxation and more energy driven.

Brian Eno’s projects are very different than most artists’ projects. Besides the fact that Brian Eno is a musical genius and takes influences from such strange genres and types of music, he still can make a song sound naturally made; meaning that even though he might have different cultural influences and genres not related to one another in the same song, the song still sounds like it’s identity is original and to me, that is the most different characteristic about his music. I also enjoy the fact that he doesn’t just do vocal and “rock band” based music, but delves into experimental and ambient instrumental music with weird clashing of instruments and paired harmonic content that may not be “main stream” when it comes to music being written at that time. Brian Eno’s projects also boast creative uses of the studio. He used the studio as an instrument, like the Beatles and Brian Wilson. This led to parts of his music being very different and unique because these effects that took place during some of his songs, can only be created within a studio/computer.

To me, Brian Eno’s whole experimental/mind-trip approach to the arts is pretentious to me because it feels like he tries hard to be something different, which isn’t a bad thing, but I enjoy music when it is naturally spewing from someone and not brought out by use of uncommon elements. I cannot deny that Brian Eno’s Discreet Music album is very beautiful and to me I would consider it a captivating song. I wouldn’t say Brian Eno is my favorite artist, but Discreet Music is my favorite project of his.

About Marvin Gaye’s album, What’s Going On.

     It is safe to say that Marvin Gaye is a very talented musician/artist.  Before his arguably best album, What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye was easily noted as a Motown/R&B artist. His lyrics were happy and good feelings, his music was upbeat and had that classic Motown/R&B sound, and he infused the Pop melodies with old traditions in music such as the Doo-Wop based progressions, and Gospel vocal runs. You can hear these sounds on his albums: The Soulful Mood of Marvin Gaye, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, Moods of Marvin Gaye, and many more.

     When it came to What’s Going On, the inspiration behind the album and the title track is depressing and shameful. One of the men who wrote the title track What’s Going On was named Renaldo Benson. He saw how the police were brutally attacking civilians, and the violence towards the anti-war protestors. Benson thought, “What’s going on?”

     When he presented the song to Marvin Gaye, he knew Marvin would be the perfect fit. Marvin also shared the same views, such as being anti-war due to his brother Frankie serving years in the military and at Vietnam. Marvin was also around the time of MLK Jr. and JFK assassination and just really disliked the violence in the world and felt there should be a change.

     Though the world was having its problems, so did Marvin when trying to release the album. Berry Gordy, the man in charge of releasing the album, said that the record was the worst thing he had ever heard. So to get the record released, Marvin had to pull a childish move and held his breath/left the label until Berry Gordy released the album. With Marvin Gaye out of the label Berry tried his best to get him back but in the end, the record was released without Berry’s knowledge. So in the end, Marvin’s plan worked, and he got to be a professionally trained football player.

     What’s Going On was very unique and different compared to the other Motown/Soul records released in that time. What’s Going On had a very Jazz based instrumentation, including 7th chords and extension chords. There was also the, later known as Smooth Jazz, Rhythm section with the Bongos, Congas, Shakers, etc. that provided an extra Jazzy feel to the songs and harmony. The other element that made it stick out compared to other albums was the lyrical content. The record labels did not want protest songs because they believed they wouldn’t sell, and it just wasn’t part of the “norm” for that genre of music. The What’s Going On album was almost based purely on Protest, but still had that feeling of love in it, which made the Protest more sincere and pleading than aggressive and pushing.

     This album gives me such joy when I listen to it because I am a huge fan of Marvin Gaye and I believe he is an incredible vocalist and musician/songwriter. Every time I hear it I can picture the way people viewed the problems that were happening at the time, so it paints a picture in my mind of what really was going on.