Friday, August 14, 2015

Close to the Edge, Squire

Yes, it's the next entry in my series on the late Chris Squire and his remarkable run with the progressive rock band, Yes. And so far I've done posts on songs written or co-written by Squire that highlight his talent and innovation on the bass guitar, but now it's time for something a little different.

As I've previously mentioned, the group's three best albums all were produced in a relatively short period of time, between 1971 and 1972, with The Yes Album and Fragile both coming out in 1971, and Close to the Edge the next year.

Close to the Edge featured the same line-up as Fragile, Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Bill Bruford on percussion, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Squire on bass, of course. What made the album remarkable was the fact that the title track, "Close to the Edge," took up an entire side of the album, clocking in at 18 minutes and 43 seconds on side 1. This was not unprecedented, certainly not for a live recording from a jam band like the Grateful Dead, but this was a studio recording. And of course The Beatles included a 16 minute medley on side 2 of Abbey Road, released in 1969, but that was clearly a medley of different songs. The Who's Tommy, also released in 1969, was a double album billed as a rock opera, and while the songs on the album all were more or less connected to the narrative, they were all separate songs, none of them all that long or complex. Of course another progressive rock group, Jethro Tull, released Thick as a Brick, also in 1972, with the entire album taken up by a single song, but it was a really a blending of a number of separate songs as well. There are other examples as well, but none of them can really be compare to what Yes accomplished on their 5th album.

 What made "Close to the Edge" special was the fact that it was an integral, well-orchestrated piece, one that demonstrated that progressive rock musicians could aspire to something more than making a bunch of pop songs or jamming away in the tradition of jazz, that they could aspire to something that approached, however distantly, the quality of classical music compositions. At a time when rock was still struggling for respectability, when the music that baby boomers embraced was denigrated by their parents, what Yes was doing was in effect saying roll over Beethoven in a whole new way.

Within the progressive rock movement, Yes was categorized as symphonic rock, in that they had experimented with including an orchestra on their second 2nd album, Time and a Word, and had utilized synthesizers such as the Moog to incorporate a symphonic sound on their 4th album, Fragile. With "Close to the Edge," Yes also incorporated symphonic elements, this time not just in the sound but also in the structure of the composition. This meant going beyond the surface and into the depth of symphonic sound.

The music of Yes was also labeled as classical rock, in that they drew on classical music. And while some others listed in this category were content to transform classical pieces into rock songs, with "Close to the Edge" Yes brought some of the structure of classical music into the rock idiom. This meant not just playing classical music in a rock context, but creating something akin to classical music.

The song, which is divided into 4 movements, is credited to Anderson and Howe, which means that Squire didn't write it. No doubt that's why the bass is never at the forefront of this song, although it drives the rhythm and progression of the music all the way through, with the exception of the spacey third movement. And it's hard to believe that Anderson and Howe actually wrote the bass line that Squire plays here, which is perhaps why on later albums, many of their more elaborate pieces are simply credited to Yes, meaning  all of the members of the band playing on that particular album.

Listening to "Close to the Edge" what stands out are Anderson's vocals and cryptic lyrics, Howe's lead guitar, which carries the main melodies through most of the movements, and Wakeman's keyboards, which open with the sounds of a natural soundscape, of birds and waters, proceed to give the song structure throughout, take the lead in the 3rd movement, are also featured in the 4th, and close with a return to the sounds of nature. That's what I remember best from all the times I've listened to it. 

But "Close to the Edge" also provides an opportunity to hear what Squire does with a song that is not his own. Listening to the bass guitar line, he certainly does more than keep the beat, and it actually gets increasingly more complex and creative as the song progresses from the 1st to the 2nd movement, and starts to take on an organic quality, one that strikes me as sounding like something alive, perhaps primordial, a voice from the depths. That sound returns in the 4th movement. 

Moreover, Squire is the primary backing vocalist behind Anderson throughout the song, and his singing takes the initial lead on the 3rd movement, and continues in counterpoint to Anderson afterwards.

So, enough chit chat, let's enjoy this classic Yessong, with the very cool video utilizing Roger Dean album cover art, once again produced by vzqk50HD Productions:

And now for those lyrics:

I. The Solid Time Of Change

A seasoned witch could call you from the depths of your disgrace
And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace
And achieve it all with music that came quickly from afar
And taste the fruit of man recorded losing all against the hour
And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one
A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun
And take away the plain in which we move
And choose the course you're running

Down at the end, round by the corner
Not right away, not right away
Close to the edge, down by a river
Not right away, not right away

Crossed the line around the changes of the summer
Reaching out to call the color of the sky
Passed around a moment clothed in mornings faster than we see
Getting over all the time I had to worry
Leaving all the changes far from far behind
We relieve the tension only to find out the master's name

Down at the end, round by the corner
Close to the edge, just by a river
Seasons will pass you by
I get up, I get down
Now that it's all over and done
Now that you find, now that you're whole

II. Total Mass Retain

My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love
It changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above
I crucified my hate and held the word within my hand
There's you, the time, the logic, or the reasons we don't understand

Sad courage claimed the victims standing still for all to see
As armoured movers took approached to overlook the sea
There since the cord, the license, or the reasons we understood will be

Down at the edge, close by a river
Close to the edge, round by the corner
Close to the end, down by the corner
Down at the edge, round by the river

Sudden cause shouldn't take away the startled memory
All in all, the journey takes you all the way
As apart from any reality that you've ever seen and known
Guessing problems only to deceive the mention
Passing paths that climb halfway into the void
As we cross from side to side, we hear the total mass retain

Down at the edge, round by the corner
Close to the end, down by a river
Seasons will pass you by
I get up, I get down

III. I Get Up, I Get Down

In her white lace, you could clearly see the lady sadly looking
Saying that she'd take the blame
For the crucifixion of her own domain

I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down

Two million people barely satisfy
Two hundred women watch one woman cry, too late
The eyes of honesty can achieve
(She would gladly say it amazement of her story)
How many millions do we deceive each day?
(Asking only interest could be layed upon the children of her domain)

I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down

In charge of who is there in charge of me
(She could clearly see the lady sadly looking)
Do I look on blindly and say I see the way?
(Saying that she'd take the blame
For the crucifixion of her own domain)
The truth is written all along the page
(She would gladly say it amazement of her story)
How old will I be before I come of age for you?
(Asking only interest could be layed upon the children of her domain)

I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down

I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down

IV. Seasons Of Man

The time between the notes relates the color to the scenes
A constant vogue of triumphs dislocate man, so it seems
And space between the focus shape ascend knowledge of love
As song and chance develop time, lost social temp'rance rules above
Ah, ah

Then according to the man who showed his outstretched arm to space
He turned around and pointed, revealing all the human race
I shook my head and smiled a whisper, knowing all about the place
On the hill we viewed the silence of the valley
Called to witness cycles only of the past
And we reach all this with movements in between the said remark

Close to the edge, down by the river
Down at the end, round by the corner
Seasons will pass you by
Now that it's all over and done
Called to the seed, right to the sun
Now that you find, now that you're whole
Seasons will pass you by

I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down
I get up, I get down


The lyrics are influenced by symbolist poetry, with a strong current of eastern mysticism running through them, and the sense of spirituality born out of the New Age movement is clearly present. There is an additional strong influence from Herman Hesse's Siddhartha narrative in the lyrics and music, the sound of the river especially.



But overall, it is the interplay of everything, lyrics and vocals and instrumental music of this quintet that make "Close to the Edge" one of the best songs ever written and recorded by Yes, truly an ecological and media ecological work in my view, and one of the most memorable performances by Chris Squire. 

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