Fragile was Yes' fourth album, their second released in the US (I believe) and the first one to really make a splash over here. It's that album that first brought them to my attention. I was a senior in high school and I'm not sure where I heard it for the first time but once I listened to the cool acoustic guitar intro and the organ solo in "Roundabout" that I was hooked. That song is like a microcosm of everything that Yes can do right. The singing is great, the playing is unreal, the bass line is sing-able and the lyrics are mostly incomprehensible. You can understand all the words, you just have no idea what they mean. But you can tell, just by the way Jon Anderson sings them, that they're really deep, you know what I mean? And the titles of the songs - "Heart of the Sunrise," "South Side of the Sky," "Long Distance Runaround" – these are the kind of songs that you can listen to while contemplating the universe. At least that's the way it struck me when I was 17. This album also had a solo track by each of the five members of the band. Cool stuff and perfect for 1972. This is the way albums ought to be. It even has great artwork. This was their second album with Steve Howe on guitar and their first with Rick Wakeman on keys. All the pieces of the classic line up are in place and the music just soars.
Then, I heard somebody say that they can actually play this stuff live! I was stunned. No band could be that good! But they were – and, in fact, they still are (I've seen them five times.) And during their peak creative period in the 1970s they made some magnificent albums and the four I listed are all brilliant. Close to the Edge, the follow-up to Fragile, is just three songs, two on one side of the vinyl album and one on the other. The band started playing around with longer and longer song forms until, with Tales, they had gone "Over the Edge" and had a double album with just four songs, at almost 20 minutes per song – one per album side. But here's the thing – they were all good! It took a while to wrap my ears around those long songs but once I got them I loved them.
Rick Wakeman left the band and they put out a good album, Relayer, (as opposed to one that was completely mind blowing) with Patrick Moraz on keys and then they made a bunch of solo albums. I was surprised when their next album, Going for the One included Rick Wakeman again (playing pipe organ in spots!) It was great and it had a rockin' song by bassist Chris Squire ("Parallels") and what may be their best long song, "Awaken." The history of the band goes on and on and, while they had some great albums since then (like their mega-hit 90125 with the catchy "Owner of a Lonely Heart"), this is the period which really defines the band.
How do I choose? I have good memories of listening to all these albums. So I'm picking the one that first caught my attention, Fragile. Truth be told, I have so many live versions of "Roundabout" that I'm almost sick of it. But, when I forget how often I've heard it, when I just sit back with headphones and listen to it like I did in 1972 when I was wearing it out from playing it so much, then I remember why it's so good. This is what progressive rock music ought to be about. So, while I'd probably be content with any of the four, for today at least I'll pick Fragile as my desert island album of the week.
There are now four more friends joining me on my Desert Island journey. Check their developing lists:
- Bethany - recently updated with an excellent U2 pick
- Jim G
- I'm pleased to add my Chicago buddy Jim K (exnihiloman) to the list!
My Complete Desert Island List (so far):