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.

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The Beatles and Revolver

The Beatles image and music before Revolver was very Pop/Pop-Rock sounding. Their “British Invasion” sound, and the look that they portrayed, which was the iconic “Boy Band,” had young and old people (specifically girls) loved them for it (Simone & Schuster, 2001). When it came to Revolver, the Beatles were beginning to use hallucinogens and Acid based drugs, i.e. LSD, to help with their song writing creativity and add some of their songs to the rising Psychedelic Rock era. “Revolver can be seen as a transitional period for the band. The Beatles haven’t necessarily left their Pop-rock sound, and they’re just beginning to explore the limits of their musical potential (Campbell, 2012).”

Like I previously stated, the use of non-musical influences, such as drugs, helped them with their song writing and musical creativity. Not only did they use drugs for music creating, they also did it for performance based side effects. Ringo Starr said this in an interview, “This was the point of our lives when we found pills, uppers. That’s the only way we could continue playing for so long. They were called Preludin, and you could buy them over the counter (The Beatles Bible, 2009).” On the Everything Was Right podcast, the song “Tomorrow Never Know,” you can hear a psychedelic sound and lyrics, which was influenced by LSD and an ancient Tibetan book. “The first song recorded for Revolver was the psychedelic “Tomorrow Never Knows,” featured lyrics adapted from Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s 1964 book The Psychedelic Experience, itself a modern reworking of the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead (The Beatles Bible, 2009).”

When it came to recording Revolver, the Beatles used the studio as an instrument for their recording. They used different studio techniques such as reversing, slowing and speeding up the tape, tape flange, and many more techniques which helped with the psychedelic vibe that normal instruments couldn’t accomplish (Lewisohn, 1988).

If you listen to song, “I’m Only Sleeping,” you will hear this example with the instrumentation. “…It exudes a very dreary expression and a unique sound of reversed guitar arrangements that gives it a very hypnotic vibe (Campbell, 2012).” There is no way back then to reverse a guitar sound without the use of the studio. In the song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” if you were to listen to the song you could hear the sped up tape loops that were used for the psychedelic vibe. Another example of innovations used by the Beatles off Revolver was the sampling of a Sousa March in “Yellow Submarine” (Lewisohn, 1988).

When I listen to Revolver I will always get attracted to the catchy melodies, and exciting elements that make the psychedelic and unique sound that the Beatles sculpted into their image. As an industry professional I love the different studio techniques and weird elements that the Beatles included into their music but they still make the songs catchy and very easy listening.