Just A Couple Of Prog-Rock Blokes

I’ve never much cared for the “progressive-rock” band Yes (except for their 1985 reboot, saying which always starts an argument with my Yes-fan friends). And in saying that, I’ll stipulate a lot of that disdain was my own adolescent “too cool for school” arrogance about music.

But “a lot” ain’t everything. “Progressive Rock”, with its orchestral pretensions and acid-fueled subject matter, annoys me almost as much in retrospect as it did then.

But as I noted five years ago with the death of their founding bassist Chris Squire, they could really play.

Of course, they knew it. One of the things that probably got me off on a bad foot with Yes were a series of interviews I read with guitarist Steve Howe; with his academic background and classical guitar training, Howe came off like he was working on a cure for cancer, rather than…songs.

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman – he of the Gregg Allman hair and flowing robes and mad-scientist stacks of keyboards – is inseparable from Yes (although he’s left the band a few times, so Yes is clearly separable from him). In the seventies, Wakeman was practically a synonym for bloated pretension.

And they were right – but as always, there’s more to it.

This is htt a fairly fascinating piece about the Rick Wakeman story, including a lot of things I really never thought I’d want to know but am glad I now do. And I’m actually kind of interested…

…in the guy. Not the seventies Yes albums, or Wakeman’s (not making this up) ice show about the legend of King Arthur – although reading about the guys he produced it all with just gets more and more interesting.

And to circle back to Steve Howe? I saw this a few years ago, before Squire’s death – a “rig rundown” of Howe and Squires instruments, amps and other gear. And Howe comes across as a pretty dang likeable…

…well, not so much a “bloke”. Maybe more of an affable old professor who’s taken to genial chats about his favorite light reading.

There are times I kick myself for having sorted so much of the world out according to cliches I picked out of Rolling Stone.

10 thoughts on “Just A Couple Of Prog-Rock Blokes

  1. I liked Relayer, still do (except for the “cha cha cha cha cha” corus…i mean, wtf?). Still have the vinyl I bought in ’82.

  2. Aaaaand now “gates of delirium” are stuck in my head.

  3. Howe’s technique did not escape the ravages of age. In the newer videos, you can hear the missed notes and missteps. Maybe in his old age he is becoming more humble due to his limitations. Surprised you did not mention Bill Bruford though, even in passing.

    And thanks for the ear worm, swiftee! You couldn’t think of a less pretentious peace, couldn’t you!

  4. The prog-rock genre and its immediate precursor, art-rock, came forth during a golden age of sorts in pop music where almost any band could get a listen (think, Captain Beefheart or Soft Machine as examples of *any* band).

    The problem is that success in pop music requires the ability to write music that people like. No amount of technique or non-conformity is going to mask the fact of a lousy song (think, every single song on every single album by Gentle Giant)

    Song length was a funny thing. It was, of course, a sop to the egos of the musicians. But many, most people don’t know nor remember how rigidly controlled pop radio was prior to the 70s. Three, three and a half minute songs were the limit – there was lots of talk when the Beatles used their clout to insist that the 7 minute long song, “Hey Jude”, be played and sold without being shortened (the fact that it was ultimately uninteresting after the first 4 minutes is not mentioned). So then *everyone* had to stick it to the Man and his stupid song length limitations. And prog rockers jumped on this big time. The Yes song, Roundabout, is a fine pop song which even concludes after 3:20, but then the ego-sopping technical wizardry takes over…

  5. Oh, yeah, I forgot. This is so true.

    There are times I kick myself for having sorted so much of the world out according to cliches I picked out of Rolling Stone.

    The last time I ever bought or even read any music review from RS was after they convinced me to buy the Clash’s Sandinista!. To be clear, it wasn’t just a single review, as I recall it was a whole effing issue devoted to this pompous, self-righteous POS encouraging us all to support the commies of Nicaragua.

    The Clash produced a prog-rock album in that the songs sucked (and were long-ish) but without any of musical technique. An amazing tour d’farce.

  6. Reading through Wakeman’s life, it is interesting he had heart problems at such an early age. It is also amazing he did not allow that to stop him, just like one Carroll Shelby.

  7. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 07.08.20 : The Other McCain

  8. The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge (especially) and Going For the One formed my learning of Yes as a teenager/young adult. Loved all these albums and the Howe-Squire-Anderson trio at their heart. Still do. Saw them twice live here in Cincinnati in late 70s/early 80s – (Going for the One & Tormato tours?) great concerts by my account & great party time for one night ……. Thanks as always for the memories Mitch!

  9. “The Clash produced a prog-rock album in that the songs sucked (and were long-ish) but without any of musical technique. An amazing tour d’farce.”

    Yes jdm, the bands that you liked only knew 2 chords. What a musical genius you are.

    This was not a prog album. Learn something before you next bloviate.

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