How’s that for suck: A fair and balanced look at Yes

Posted: February 6, 2011 in music, Record reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

“Owner of a Lonely Heart”
Yes has been around so long, they had to postpone their first gig until Sir Francis Drake could defeat the Spanish Armada. In the 1970s, Yes and a collection of art-school escapees including King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Traffic, Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer created their own playpen of popular music: progressive rock. Prog-rock songs have two underlying characteristics:

1) Too many notes.
2) Boredom.

Yes enjoyed tremendous commercial success with their overinflated songs, and long after the rest of these pompous mammoths had been stuffed and mounted, Yes was still blundering about, bugging the hell out of me. Because Special D says I should stop being a grump, I’ve decided to say something nice about Yes. In fact, my research has revealed so many nice things to say about Yes that I’ve tabulated them for your convenience.

Table 1. Have You Heard the Good News About Yes?
The song “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is superior to all of its contemporaries:

  • Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
  • Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart”
  • Hart to Hart starring Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers
  • Most crud by Heart

If the sacred mission of prog rock is to clear the dance floor of all human life, why did Yes record a dance song? Not only does this heresy remain unexplained, “Owner of a Lonely Heart” became Yes’ only #1 hit! In 1983 this seemed about as likely as the Dukes of Hazzard hosting Masterpiece Theatre. I understand now that the years in which Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and the band’s 1,000 other members spent honing their craft, blowing everything out of proportion and infusing their albums with a heady dose of tedium, was all in the service of this one moment.

Where eagles dare
The song starts with the guitar clearing its throat like a brontosaurus heading for its mud hole. I like it already. Over the next two minutes, the spectacle of a band this inept attempting to create a dance-club hit by straining Thomas Dolby through Deep Purple can’t help but win you over. They even snap their fingers. This stretch of music isn’t really danceable; it’s slow and lumbering. But Yes fans can dance to it, for they are slow and lumbering.

And then, with the music swelling and the falsettos becoming ever more false, we’ve safely reached the end. Right? The song has acquitted itself with honor and can now retire. Right? You know I’m going to say Wrong! We have instead arrived at the bridge. The band doesn’t transition into the bridge so much as trip over it. This is Steve Howe’s cue, or maybe this is what wakes Steve Howe up. With a mighty heave of his fingers, he uncorks a guitar solo that kicks like a line of retired Rockettes. Don’t you always laugh at this point and flail about the room with your air guitar? Of course you do.

Having shot its wad with these bold ideas, Yes contentedly rolls over for the last 60 seconds. The song slowly deflates, leaving you with the memory of a good time and the thought that within 24 hours they’ll be ready to do it again.

What other band could’ve done this?
Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” was a very different song for The Boss, though he sort of repeated that glossy, ’80s-feathered-hair sound a couple years later with “Tunnel of Love.” The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man,” a bright, poppy tune, was just a tiny bit out of place on an album that included “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and the rest of their suicidal oeuvre. The Grateful Dead took a stab at disco with “Shakedown Street”; if only disco had stabbed back. But I can’t think of any band that reached so far beyond itself as Yes did with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Now that’s progressive.

  1. Orin Schmitt says:

    There are a few of us out there that were born between the baby boomers and the Gen x’ers. We are the ones who were not yet born to fully appreciate FM radio. We would see our older brothers singing songs we had never before while they were brushing and brushing their hair, getting ready to sneak out on a date. Truth be told, the only station I knew of that played “rock” in Portland OR was 92.3 KGON. I only listened to KGON when I was in an architecture class I took in junior high school. That was the first time I had ever heard talking heads, Doobie Brothers and Queen. I don’t remember any YES, or Graham Parsons or Captain Beefheart or any “Progressive” rock played on the air. Now you can’t turn on KGON without hearing YES or Jethro Tull but it is always the same album cuts. (Is that Roundabout I hear?) People who live in Portland Oregon are still sheltered from great music because there are no stations that play album cuts. The last one we had was KINK until they got bought out by one of those conglomorates. You might get to hear more variety from a KBOO, KMHD or get sattelite stations. We are not California, New York or Chicago. Pretty sad. Those are just my thoughts!

  2. Run-DMSteve says:

    I was only kidding about Pink Floyd. You’re never too annoyed for Floyd.

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