Fragile (1971)

Best Yes album? Fragile or Close to the Edge?  Both are outstanding.  I’ll go with Fragile.

Roundabout45The decision was made that the album would include individual as well as group songs.  Some critics referred to this approach as showing off, each wanting their time in the spotlight.  According the band, they felt it was important for fans to get to know each of the musicians.  Whatever the reason, it did give everyone a chance to show their wares and reflect their own style.  At first, I wondered if these made the album weaker but in nearly five decades, these individual pieces are part of what makes this album special.  Taking away these songs would subtract from the experience, whether these are great songs or not, they are part of the Fragile DNA.

1971-10-06 - Greens Playhouse - Glasgow - Front Cover
Howe

Jon Anderson – lead and backing vocals
Steve Howe – electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Chris Squire – bass guitars, backing vocals, electric guitar
Rick Wakeman – Hammond organ, grand piano, RMI 368 Electra-Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron, Minimoog synthesizer
Bill Bruford – drums, percussion

Produced by Eddie Offord and Yes.  Offord worked with the band through their classic 1970s period.

Side one

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Length

  1. “Roundabout” Jon Anderson, Steve Howe   8:28  An edit of this song was released as a single, reaching number 13.  Perhaps the best known track on the album, it is a must for any concert.  Howe wrote the music, developing it as group of guitar parts that were embellished in the studio with help from Wakeman and Squire as the song was built into the classic.  Anderson wrote the lyrics, describing how he took word phrases that he had collected, incorporating images from a long drive through Scotland.
  2. “Cans and Brahms” (instrumental) Johannes Brahms, arr. Rick Wakeman  1:35  The story goes that Wakeman couldn’t receive any writing credit because he was contractually prohibited by his solo recording contract with A&M Records.  It’s representative of Wakeman’s grand style, whether he actually likes the song, he says he did not, but it’s all Wakeman.
  3. “We Have Heaven” Anderson  1:29  Anderson’s solo piece, a series of vocal overdubs that highlight his ability to shape a compelling melody.  This is light and airy, and soars along.
  4. “South Side of the Sky” Anderson, Chris Squire  7:52  An underrated piece on the album, grand musically, Squire come up with another amazing riff that is the spine of the song.  Wakeman provides a very creative piano section, while Squire and Anderson provide Beach Boys type vocals.  Howe’s guitar is the focus of the last section of the song as it ends with a big musical exit.

Side two

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Length

  1. “Five Per Cent for Nothing” (instrumental) Bill Bruford   0:33  Drummer Bruford would go on to have a grand career as a writer and performer outside of Yes.  He would stay one more album (Close to the Edge) before leaving to join King Crimson, then Genesis, back to King Crimson and then his own jazz band for many years. Bruford would earn a doctorate in music from the University of Surrey.
  2. “Long Distance Runaround” Anderson    3:29  The opening riff is a good one that Squires plays off with his bass, the the style shifts into a different phase, and segues into “The Fish.”
  3. “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)” Squire   2:36  Squire’s solo track, he uses his bass as a lead guitar, and develops a compelling and romping piece of music. His bass established the rhythm and beat, giving the guitar a pattern to follow.  Even though the same riff is repeated, he makes it fresh and interesting.
  4. “Mood for a Day” (instrumental) Howe   2:56  Howe was not a strong vocalist or lyricist, but was a steady writer.  His command of the acoustic, steel and electric guitar are extraordinary. This was an acoustic piece, one of many he would write during his career. This is a fine piece of music, one I would miss if the individual tracks went away.
  5. “Heart of the Sunrise” Anderson, Squire, Bruford   11:27 This may be the best song on the album, it is a musical triumph.  Squire effortlessly develops bass patterns that along with Bruford power these songs.  The song shifts gears back and forth, fast and slow, and back again, giving the band a platform to show exceptionally talented they are musically.  Not a finer piece of progressive rock exists.

 

Yessongs_front_coverAs complex as these songs are and the layered production, they have sounded great played live, without the assist of additional musicians or recorded tracks.  The keyboard and guitar parts are incredible and lesser musicians couldn’t pull it off.  Yessongs, the 1973 live album, contains many of the songs on Fragile and Close to the Edge, some of the most complex and dense music of their career.

29SQUIRE-obit-articleLarge
Anderson and Squire

English artist Roger Dean designed the album cover, and would go on to design many covers for them.  “Fragile described the psyche of the band. And I thought about that very literally,” Dean said.

The album reached number four on the Billboard chart and certified Gold, and would go on to sell several million copies.

But make no mistake the Yes people have a lot to be excited over. Gorgeous melodies, intelligent, carefully crafted, constantly surprising arrangements, concise and energetic performances, cryptic but evocative lyrics when all these present Yes is quite boggling and their potential seemingly unlimited….Some problems remain, however: They’re good and they know it, so they tend to succumb to the show-off syndrome. – Rolling Stone review

Fragile was Yes’ breakthrough album, propelling them in a matter of weeks from a cult act to an international phenomenon; not coincidentally, it also marked the point where all of the elements of the music (and more) that would define their success for more than a decade fell into place fully formed. – Allmusic review

Fragile was the band incorporating shorter rock songs with longer progressive rock pieces.  Over the next several albums (Close to the Edge, Tales of Topographic Oceans and Relayer), fans would be chin-deep in progressive rock.


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