Noted prog-rock author Will Romano's meticulous argument for Yes hits the mark
When it comes to discussions of influential classic rock albums known for their groundbreaking use of state-of-the-art studio wizardry and musical exploration, two titles typically come to mind, The Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon”. In his new book “Close to the Edge: How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock”, Will Romano takes a deep dive into another less-mentioned landmark achievement in the evolution of modern rock.
In 1972, Yes released what Romano and other fans of the progressive rock movement of the early 1970s consider to be the seminal work of the genre. His very entertaining and passionate case for “Close to the Edge” representing the epitome of the much-maligned prog-style that infatuated older brothers across the US and Europe before punk blew it all up digs into the band’s history, working methods, spiritual and musical influences, equipment and live shows. The research is deep and detailed, including going back to multiple college newspaper accounts of the CTTE tour to uncover how it all went over with the fans and the difficulties of reproducing the complex music featured on the album in hockey rinks, horse tracks and other makeshift concert venues of the time. Romano’s decades of experience writing for Guitar Player, The New York Post, Modern Drummer and other publications shines throughout the book.
Starting out with the most impressive summary I have seen in print of each founding member’s career prior to joining Mabel Greer’s Toyshop (the band that eventually changed its name to Yes), Romano takes the reader through the making of the first four albums that preceded CTTE before exploring the book’s namesake. Interesting quotes and tidbits abound, such as the fact that future Elvis Costello and the Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas was a member of Bodast, the group guitarist Steve Howe formed pre-Yes, post-Tomorrow (of My White Bicycle fame). “… he would keep coming up with these riffs for me to play, but there were too many tempo changes and funny timing to get my head around,” Thomas says of working with Howe. One omission I did find odd was the complete lack of any mention that Rick Wakeman turned down David Bowie’s offer to join The Spiders From Mars and chose Yes instead, but this is a minor complaint.
One of the more impressive aspects of the writing is the attention paid to the production of the album by long-time Yes collaborator Eddy Offord. It is easy to forget in these days of digital recording that all of the layers that make up the pastiche of sounds heard on the album were recorded on analog tape. The amount of editing and splicing rivaled that of a film editor, so much so that the band had to dig one important piece of tape out of the trash behind the studio when it was accidentally tossed out. A story from Offord about drummer Bill Bruford sums up what must have been a painstakingly dull experience for him, leading to his exit to join King Crimson as soon as the album was completed. Singer Jon Anderson was fond of saving experimental bits and telling Offord that they could use them in the background, so Bruford replied one day that they should just put the entire album in the background and be done with it.
Prog has never been a fashionable genre and I doubt that anyone who does not enjoy Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, etc. will have any use for this book. But if you have a “progologist” on your Christmas list or with a birthday coming up, it will make an absolutely perfect gift.