I was never a fan of progressive rock when I was a kid – even then, the whole thing struck me as being way too awkward and pretentious and silly for what it was.
My love/hate of King Crimson came much, much later, and is based on other things – and even then I can’t listen to it a lot of the time.
One exception was Yes. When I was 14 or 15, they had their big American hit ‘Roundabout,’ and to steal a line from a rock critic of the era, it was the sort of single that got shorter every time you heard it.
That went for the eight minute album version too, which impressed me greatly. I didn’t like guitar wanking even then, but loved the Allman Brothers Band’s Live At Fillmore East, and especially “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” What I got from “Reed” was – you can play without wasting a note, even if you play for a long time.
Same thing with Yes. The band had a knack for writing catchy tunes and arranging them air tight.
Fragile, the album from which ‘Roundabout’ is drawn, was very good, but was a mix of group and solo efforts.
Close To The Edge, the follow up, was in all ways better, the best of all Yes albums (that I’ve heard). It’s “Roundabout” at album length, filled with hooks, clever instrumental flavors, tight ensemble playing. For a genre that prided itself on excessive soloing, Close is remarkably restrained – the players do their part and get off-stage. Even Rick Wakeman, who pretty much stands for excess in keyboards, spends most of his time providing the cushion.
But listening to the album again after all these years, what jumps out at me the most are the words.
They are hard to believe awful, of course, but the good news (which I had forgotten after 30+ years) is that you can’t make out most of them. The only stuff that comes through clearly are the big lines, like “I get up, I get dooooown…” and “Even Siberia goes through the motions…”, so it’s like “Louie, Louie,” only with wizards and mountains and energy beams and waterfalls. You can’t understand the verses. You can sing along. You can hear the sound of a thousand bic lighters clicking, even now.