are any number of reasons to bring a masterpiece of '70s progressive rock to our jukebox,
an album that almost inaugurated an entire era by itself. The least important
one is that it was released 43 years ago, on 13 September 1972. Another one,
unfortunately, is the death this June of Chris
Squire, a bassist who deserves his own chapter in the encyclopedia of the
genre. The same goes for Steve Howe,
the guitarist of that legendary yet fleeting union of talents that joined
together under the name of Yes. Howe is actively involved in the
current six-string scene again via a self-released anthology that he revisited
live onstage in a series of critically acclaimed London concerts complemented
by a handful of insightful interviews. Now that is a good reason.
Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Bill Bruford, there is a line-up of musicians whose names can be spoken with the same respect football fans hold for their teams. Sadly, they broke up before they could explore their full potential, leaving behind only a pair of albums that set the standards too high for their successors. The good thing is that when they fell apart, other groups benefited from their talents, like King Crimson to give just one example. In the early '70s, rock was a pressure cooker where all kinds of concoctions were being cooked up. One segment of these sorcerers' apprentices was hell-bent on elevating rock to the same level as classical music, the so-called “serious” music...as if they weren't already serious musicians! Today we call it progressive rock; originally the preferred adjective was “symphonic”.
The guitar is indispensable to the Yes sound despite the group's success being grounded in the combination of all their individual components, from Wakeman's organ to Squire's powerful bass and the crystal-clear vocals of Jon Anderson. It is Howe who bears the weight on Close to the Edge of carrying the melody that the 18-minute title track of the album revolves around and his acoustic 12-string turns into the featured instrument on And You and I. His trademark blend of the simple and complex at the same time.
On Siberian Khatru, the group up tried to shock everyone with an almost completely instrumental piece displaying their respective talents. Behind his long straight blond hair, Wakeman pulled sounds from his legendary banks of synthesizers to take full advantage of his moment of glory (or several moments, to be more accurate). But it was Howe and Squire who shined brightest during this fake jam by having their respective guitars engage in a dialog that was a genuine display of technical fireworks. In truth, everything was planned to the last note by musicians known for being obsessive perfectionists.
Close to the Edge brought Yes its first major commercial success in both Europe and the US, although a better measure of its importance in rock history would be the numerous reissues and remastered versions that are regularly released every few years. That is the best proof that it continues to be an essential, undeniable album.