Is Awaken the pinnacle of Yes music? 371

Produced by Jeffrey Crecelius, Wayne Hall, Preston Frazier, Bill Govier and VR Hoisington

Going For The One and its singles
Going For The One and its singles

Mark and I tackle the question of Awaken this week and consider its importance for Yes. We also chat about the recent Jon Anderson interview where he talks about the upcoming 1000 Hands Part 1 album and tour.

Listen and let us know what you think!

  • What other songs might be more emblematic?
  • Can we sum up Yes music in just one song?
  • What does Awaken sum up?

Japan Set lists on Forgotten Yesterdays

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Show notes and links

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Producers:

  • Jeffrey Crecelius
  • Preston Frazier
  • VR Hoisington
  • Bill Govier and
  • Wayne Hall

Patrons:

Aaron Steelman Scott SmithLobate Scarp
Bob MartilottaSimon BarrowMark ‘Zarkol’ Baggs
Brian SullivanSonicbondMark James Lang
Chris BandiniSteve DillMichael O’Connor
Craig EstenesSteve RodeMiguel Falcao
Dave OwenSteve ScottNeal Kaforey
David HeydenSteven RoehrPaul Hailes
David PannellTerence SadlerPaul Tomei
David WatkinsonTim StannardPaul Wilson
DemTodd DudleyPeter Hearnden
Fergus CubbageHogne Bø PettersenRachel Hadaway
Fred BarringerWilliam HayesRobert Nasir
Geoff BailieGuy DeRomeScott Colombo
Geoffrey MasonHenrik Antonsson John Holden
Jamie McQuinnIanNBJohn Parry
Jeremy NorthLindJohn Thomson
JimKen FullerJoost Doesburg
John cowanKeith HoisingtonJoseph Cottrell
Martin KjellbergDoug CurranSteve Perry
Tony Handley

Robert and David

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Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from the following two creative commons sources: thanvannispen and archive.org

22 thoughts on “Is Awaken the pinnacle of Yes music? 371”

  1. Awaken is for me the last piece of Yes Music. It may well be the pinnacle as it is so distilled. While I’d not choose it over Close to the Edge, or some of the Topographic Oceans pieces, Awaken has all of the elements which define Yes Music. If only it had been better produced.

    1. Agree totally. Awaken to me operates in their catalogue like a hymn that is on the one hand celebrating the band’s own greatness and on the other saying farewell to a musical world they were in the process of leaving behind. I would also say that Awaken is their last adventure in European Art Music.

      Not to say there isn’t music by both the various post-Tormato Yes line ups that I like very much but none of it has the same magic combination of elements that produced that first decade of creativity. There is plenty of later Yes music that has ambition (Key Studio, The Ladder, Magnification and Fly From Here are proof of that) but even with the long form pieces there is a sense that the handbreak is always and the stakes are too high for them to take big risks with the music.

  2. I have to agree with Mark,I think Gates of Delirium is a “peak”moment for the band..to me ,as far as the epics go,this song seemed to have the perfect structure if you will..I actually think it’s the best composed structured music I’ve ever heard…in my humble opinion of course…

  3. Fascinating conversation among the two of you! Much as I love Awaken, Gates of Delirium, Ritual, and of course Close to the Edge (really a perfect piece of music as far as I’m concerned), I might vote for Heart of the Sunrise – a great distillation of everything Yes is about.

  4. Fantastic episode. Apologies in advance for the long post.

    Tricky one this. The band’s Facebook status at any point in its history would almost certainly have to be “It’s Complicated”.

    To my mind any band playing Yes music with Trevor Rabin at the helm is Cinema not Yes or rather, for the most part, it is a Trevor Rabin project with Yes as the facilitators of his vision.

    Any band calling itself Yes and playing Yes music with Steve Howe on guitar is Yes.

    Union is an ABWH album ruined by commercial imperatives. I can’t hear any Yes in there I’m afraid.

    That is simple enough on the face of it but most of their post Drama music is still kind of problematic when measured against the band’s original mission and vision. Once a North American / Mid Atlantic composition and production sensibility was introduced then the music was going to change. Particularly when painstaking perfectionism was preferred to the thrill of an on-the-fly warts ‘n’ all creativity. And when the result of that kind of cultural implant is as successful as 90125 was then there’s no going back. The DNA of the band was irrevocably altered at that point. Doesn’t matter whether all or none of the 90125 band are in the current line up Yes has absorbed that influence and it cannot be expunged. After that Yes music became in some ways much more generalised, harder to locate to a specific time and place and much less about the European Art Music (with American influences) with which they made their name. However hard they might try to go back to the sound of 1973 the fact that 90125 exists would stand in their way.

    So I think it is safe to say that we would have a totally different Yes today if 90125 had been a Cinema album. Of course without those 80s hits we may not have a Yes today at all but perhaps they would be occupying a space now more akin to that of King Crimson – the world’s biggest underground band. Of course it is a lot easier to maintain the continuity of a creative process when one person had been in charge of it for most of the 50 years of its existence.

    Speaking of American influences I actually think Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood have contributed (and continue to contribute) mightily to keeping the band viable and credible. To my ear they are far truer to the Yes mission than some other people who might be thought of as closer to being core members. I sense their idea of what Yes music should be probably predates 90125 too.

    After Rabin, The Ladder, Magnification and Fly From Here seem to me to be records that carry the Yes gene without compromise. Open Your Eyes, the Key studio tracks and Heaven and Earth however are neither fish nor fowl and seem to have been made in some kind of limbo. They are what they are. The difference to me is the quality of the writing. When the songs are strong the arrangements seem to almost suggest themselves. Where the songs are weaker there is a lot of musical filler going on. For me the Keys tracks have aged especially badly compared with how I felt about them at the time.

    All that said I do think it is kind of unreasonable to expect musicians who were tyros in their 20s to be as vital and to still have their fingers on the zeitgeist 30, 40, 50 years later. I certainly don’t want them to echo old glories like the Floyd tried to do by recreating a signature “classic” sound on Distant Bell and Endless River and the comfort of that sonic familiarity under-pinning some very ordinary material. I also don’t want Yes chasing hits or trying to keep up with the current generation of artists by aping other people’s innovations.

    I do expect them to still try to be adventurous though, to try and expand their vocabulary and find new ways to express the essence of Yes. It’s hard though and doubly hard when you add fame, wealth and the distance and detachment (from musical roots and band mates) that they can bring. Also very hard to keep pushing boundaries into dangerous places when establishing those boundaries in the first place has brought untold success.

    Anyway as a long term fan I would love it if they went into studio mode and revisited all the disparate elements that made them – film music, classical music, psychedelia, 60s pop, alternative spirituality, modern jazz etc etc – and made something new out of them with no thought to what might be popular with us fans or indeed what could be commercial. I’d like them to make a record that surprises me and that I have to work hard to unlock. That’s what I miss and that is what made them so important – the band opening new doors in the music and the listener having to follow them into that new space.

    1. We can rely on your for epic posts! It’s a fascinating tapestry isn’t it? I can find myself agreeing with you on the Rabin era Yes…if only on selected days… ‘Adventurous’ might be the best hope for more great music, as you say.

  5. Truly an epic but for a group which has created so many, it’s never easy attributing a ranking and pinnacle status to them – that said, for a personal favourite which in my view encompasses all elements of what makes the band so special I’d stick with the same album and look no further than Turn of the Century !

  6. For me (and this is very similar to most of what has been written above) Awaken and, to some extent, the whole of GFTO (album) is a consolidation of what’s gone before. Physical Graffiti was the same for Led Zepellin. (The same could be said for A Day at the Races by Queen, though nothing on that album was as good as what had gone before).
    Awaken a fantastic number with some of the most powerful stuff Yes ever produced yet and is frequently my favourite Yes track (whatever that means – it changes daily).
    Yet part of the appeal of Yes is their pushing of boundaries – every album prior to GFTO broke new ground and I don’t think that can really be said for this album (Turn of the Century is the only track which feels at all innovative to me).
    So, simply because it doesn’t introduce anything new to Yesmusic, I cannot regard it as the “pinnacle”
    As for what is, we’re rather spoilt for choice – the big three mentioned before (CTTE, Ritual, Gates) are all candidates and were all innovative. Personally I’d go for CTTE as that made a greater impact on popular music – although all 3 contain all the Yes songwriting and musical hallmarks. As does Heart of the Sunrise, mentioned by Peter above.

  7. Thank you to Mark for confirming what I have said all along. Relayer and Gates of Delerium ARE the pinnacle of Yes. Awaken stands with the other epics in the pantheon of epics, from CttE to GFTO. I remember in an interview at the time, Jon Anderson saying that Awaken was “the conclusion of the Topographic way of thinking”. But I’ve said all this before…

    The topic I was really interested in commenting on is the “What If” that you briefly touched on. What if Rabin, Squire, Kaye and White, and eventually Anderson, remained as “Cinema”. If Jon & Chris resisted calling their new music “Yes”… I think it would have gone something like this:

    — 90125 is successful, but not the smash hit that the name Yes might have given it. They would not have had the drawing power to play the largest venues. Owner of a Lonely Heart could have gone on to some success, and Cinema could have gone on for an album or two with the same kind of success that Asia saw. In fact, both bands would continue to be annoyed by the comparisons.

    — Eventually, Jon steps away from Cinema, as he struggles over artistic direction with Trevor. He forms ABWH, except this time, they actually call themselves Yes. This is the rebirth of Yes. They put out two albums of successful material, playing large venues as Yes. Cinema, meanwhile, moves forward with a new lead singer… Hodgeman of Supertramp? Their next album disappears into obscurity. Rabin decides to move on to film soundtracks and other projects.

    —There is no Talk. There is no Union. There are no Yes East/West legal battles.

    — Bruford and Levin have moved on from Yes to work on yet another incarnation of King Crimson. Anderson, Wakeman, Howe, Squire and White get together in a little town called San Luis Obispo. What results are a live album of classics followed by a new studio album called Keys to Ascension.

    — The rest of history continues similarly to our existing timeline.

    What do you think?

  8. First to answer the question of the pinnacle of Yes music. For me Awaken is A high piont, not THE high piont. Sometimes it is the ultimate piece of music for me when I expereince it. Like as the last piece before the encore in Denver 2004. Woah! Or last time I listened to the Keys version. But other times it is just another great piece of music. Just depends on my mood. Even tho Yes is indeputedly the greatest band ever, music is subjective 😉 Other pinancles for me are Gates, Sound Chaser, the entire CTTE album, and HOTS to name a few. Just my 2 pence. And finally thanks for the Jon interview. Loved the stories and music! I am super-psyched to see him in May in Chicago!!!

  9. I am in agreement with Kevin that Awaken forms a sort of pinnacle of the YES oeuvre to that point, a spiritual & musical summation of their ideas, though also including new elements such as the real pipe organ, choir, and extended meditative segment. Regarding Mark & Kevin’s frustration with ARW’s apparent dissipation: it’s more complicated than just having “too many cooks.” It has been reported that Trevor Rabin desired to return to his film scoring gigs. Rick notes in his blog this past Christmas that he had been dealing with (unspecified ) health issues and that his doctor had advised him to cut back his workload. So, as Mark indicated, Jon A. seems to be the only member of the trio committed to creating new Prog-style music and touring with it. I’ll be seeing him May 11 at a casino in Biloxi, MS, can’t wait!

  10. As a Yes fan since 1971, and staying up with the releases as they came out, I’ve always felt like a bit of an odd duck when it comes to this piece which is so revered by so many of my contemporaries, and Yes fans of all stripes. So before I get too far in, please know that I DO like Awaken a great deal, and nothing is meant to denigrate, or deflate the piece in any way. Having said that, Awaken is not even in the top 10 for me of songs which I think define Yes, and in fact, it isn’t even my favorite song, or even my favorite mini-epic on the album Going for the One. (That, for me, would be Turn of the Century which I view in the same way as I think many people regard Awaken). But for a song that defines all that Yes had ever been and ever would be in the classic era, I think I agree with Mark that it would need to be Gates of Delerium. The grand epic from what I believe to be the apex of the classic Yes core trajectory which began in earnest with The Yes album, and ended with Drama. Yes after Relayer was just never quite as intense for me again on record. Concert wise, in 1974, some of their best days were still ahead of them, but on record, Relayer was about as far as the rock format could go, and still have some footing in popular music by virtue of it’s intense hooks and melodies which stir and haunt me to this day. But after Gates, my list would be something like Close to the Edge, Revealing Science of God, To Be Over, Ritual, Heart of the Sunrise, And You and I, Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper, South Side of the Sky, Turn of the Century, Machine Messiah, and even a couple non-classic era pieces, (Endless Dream, and Homeworld), which come to mind as better records for me, and more representative of the overall Yes experience for me). It’s tough for me to explain why this is so. Sure…..we all have our own tastes, and things that move and excite us. That’s fine and all. But I would like to be able to point to something tangible. Awaken does an extraordinary job of checking all the boxes. It’s epic and expansive. It builds. Key changes and time signature shifts galore. Movements. It has an identifiable crescendo. A strong melodic release culminating in a beautiful resolve. But somehow, on record, it just never worked for me as well as all these other songs. I rarely have passages of the song going through my mind during the times when I’m just daydreaming music. So, I guess it doesn’t haunt me the way many other Yes pieces from those years do. Maybe it’s some kind of nebulous production value that I don’t even understand. But the long and short of it, is that I was listening to just Yes music for several hours, the song likely wouldn’t be played. Add in Queen, the Beatles, my favorite singer/songwriter artists, some classical, some jazz, some Moody Blues, Renaissance, Pink Floyd and a few Steven Wilson or Neal Morse projects, and Awaken just doesn’t come to mind all that much more me.

    But if all this isn’t odd enough, Awaken remains one of my favorite songs by Yes in a live context. I’ve never seen a disappointing live performance of the song. Maybe it was created to BE a live piece, and can only flourish in a live presentation? Or maybe, (and this is the most likely), I’m just weird. 😉

  11. When I’m sick (which I have been a lot lately), I lie in bed and put on my headphones and listen to Awaken. It always makes me feel better.
    I agree that it is the pinnacle of Yes music. It has a really wonderful form. It is also perhaps Anderson’s best lyrical work after Close to the Edge. I really like the repeating lyrical themes (the “Workings of Man” section, and the “Master of Images” section) which build to a crescendo just like the music does. Then, when Jon sings “Master of Time… Farewell, Farewell” and Rick plays that organ toccata, I stop breathing. The climax of the piece is then after Steve’s solo and the big drum roll, then those two huge organ chords and the choir — it’s the most epic moment in all of rock music, but it has really broken the moorings of rock at that point and escaped into pure classical music. This is essentially classical music played by a rock band — not like the pastichy stuff ELP did, or even the straight-ahead classical of Emerson’s concerto, but a new kind of music altogether — a true rock classical fusion. Then the coda which returns to the very beginning, and the final little guitar flourish. Who has a dry eye then?
    Yeah, Awaken is the best of the lot.

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