JON ANDERSON – Song Of Seven

Following a gruelling tour for their complex ‘Relayer’ album in 1975, the members of Yes took time out to work on solo projects. Steve Howe’s ‘Beginnings’ and Chris Squire’s brilliant ‘Fish Out of Water’ most closely resembled the directions the a Yes album could’ve taken, while Jon Anderson’s ‘Olias of Sunhillow’ opted for something far more experimental. Its forty five minutes blended pseudo-science fiction lyrics with ambling new age and prog rock sounds. Although loved by fans, it didn’t offer much in the way of actual songs. Despite its lack of commercial potential, the album reached #8 on the UK album chart, making it the most successful of the Yes solo discs.

By the time Yes reconvened in 1977, they adopted a much leaner approach to songwriting. On their next album ‘Going For The One’, the indulgent epics that had dominated their three previous albums were largely sidelined in favour of something more accessible. This saw them applying their usual prog traits to something more rock based on the title track, exploring Jon’s new age pop on ‘Wondrous Stories’ (a surprise UK top 3 hit), and in the epic ‘Awaken’, there was even a chance to appease the die-hards who pretended to enjoy ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’. In many ways, ‘Going For The One’ is the archetypal Yes album – it showcases the broadest range of the musicians’ talents while offering something for almost every interested listener. 1978’s ‘Tormato’ followed the same formula but yielded a lesser result, but still contained a few genuine gems. Nearing the end of the decade and having survived changing musical fashions, Yes seemed to be on a roll. Things then fell apart when tensions arose during the demo stage for the next recording. Keyboard player Rick Wakeman left the band for the second time and – potentially more devastating – vocalist Jon Anderson, one of Yes’ most distinctive contributors – followed him.  Looking to pastures new, Jon quickly embarked on other projects. Sessions with keyboard virtuoso Vangelis (who’d missed out on a Yes job in the mid 70s and worked with Jon on his own ‘Heaven & Hell’) resulted in a very successful album, ‘Short Stories’ and a huge hit single in ‘I Hear You Now’. Armed with a couple of old demos and a whole world of ideas, Anderson then set about crafting what was to be his second solo LP.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – Living On The Hill: A Danish Underground Trip 1967-1974

Europe’s love of progressive music has been well documented. The Italian record buying market was one of the only territories to take to Genesis before 1973 and The Netherlands’ own mark on the psych and prog genres became legendary thanks to bands like Ekseption, Trace and omnipresent yodellers Focus. Greece bore Aphrodite’s Child which, in turn, gave the world the talents of Vangelis, while the Germans’ own brand of progressive music took a much more experimental turn with Krautrock. Despite being fairly marginal from a commercial, both Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream were taken to heart by a broad spectrum of UK record buyers in the 70s.

 Despite so many different progressive subgenres breaking into the album charts from and wide, the Scandinavian contingent got far less of a look in. Sweden’s Kaipa latterly became one of the best known exports thanks to Roine Stolt’s later success with The Flower Kings and Anglagaard were loved by a few die hards, but outside of John Peel’s influence, Scandinavian prog never really found a true champion in the 60s and 70s or scored any genuine chart action.

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PROCOL HARUM – Something Magic

Procol Harum’s ninth album, the prosaically titled ‘Procol’s Ninth’, is hugely disliked by some fans. A far cry from the pomp, adventure and bombast of their early work, it took them in more of a pop-rock direction under the influence of producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. Against the band’s wishes, the record included covers of Leiber/Stoller’s ‘I Keep Forgetting’ and The Beatles’ classic ‘Eight Days A Week’. Although, in many ways, it remains a true oddity within the Procol canon, its an album to which time has actually been very kind, sounding better decades on. …And regardless of what you may have thought of the original LP, the two discs’ worth of live material appended to the Esoteric Records deluxe reissue in 2018 created a fine package.

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SAMURAI – Samurai

By the end of the 60s, jazz fusion band The Web had recorded and released two interesting but commercially unsuccessful albums. 1970 found the struggling musicians in a period of minor flux: a change in line-up saw frontman John L. Watson replaced by vocalist/keyboard player Dave Lawson (ex-Alan Bown) and a change of label took the newly christened Web [no longer the definitive; that was so last decade – just ask Pink Floyd] from Deram to Polydor. The new phase saw the release of their third and arguably best known LP, ‘I Spider’. ‘I Spider’ became their most famous work not through any increased exposure or notable sales, but by eventually becoming one of the era’s most sought after rarities.

By 1971, the final Web line-up changed their name to Samurai, switched record companies again and released one sole LP on the Greenwich Gramophone label. Like its predecessors, ‘Samurai’ failed to convince the record buying public and eventually faded into relative obscurity. Much like ‘I Spider’, the Samurai LP gained interest on the collectors’ market over the following quarter of a century, but never really got the mass re-appraisal it deserved. Despite the band showing lots of talents that should have found them mentioned in the same breath as Gentle Giant, King Crimson and early Soft Machine, the name Samurai is likely to be greeted with a shrug.

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ANDREW GOLD – Lonely Boy: The Asylum Years Anthology

Andrew Gold had a prolific career, but to many people he will be best remembered for three songs.  The schmaltzy MOR pop of ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’ gave Gold a massive hit in 1978; his ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ eventually became an evergreen number thanks to being re-recorded as the theme for hit US comedy The Golden Girls and 1977’s ‘Lonely Boy’ became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  A genuine pop classic, that song’s multi-layered kitchen sink arrangement ensures it sounds as good now as it ever did – a rival to the complex pop of 10cc and a track that gave Jellyfish every reason to exist.  It’s a four minute joy: a world of stabbed pianos and a story-telling verse leads into a massive chorus full of whoahs, which in turn gives out some great staccato guitar work and ultimately one of the greatest guitar solos you’ll ever hear.  If that sounds overly indulgent, it surely is – but it’s also power pop perfection.

‘Lonely Boy’ takes pride of place within this box set – presented in no fewer than four versions – but  that’s only a small part of the picture.  This anthology provides the ideal opportunity to explore Gold’s four albums for the legendary Asylum label, along with a host of extras within one lovingly curated package.

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