Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Yes (1984)

90125 was released in 1983, and the opening guitar riff to "Owner of a Lonely Heart" totally grabbed my attention. Len also owned a copy of Classic Yes, the concise but essential greatest hits collection released in 1981. I recall an 11th grade lunch room conversation in which John Clark remarked that he didn't like 90125 because it didn't sound anything like old Yes. My feeling, at the time, was that I wasn't a huge fan of the older material, so I didn't care. In hindsight, as questionable as that assessment was, there's no denying the fact that 90125 was the album that piqued my interest in Yes.

Eventually I would come around on "old Yes" and near the end of the summer of 1984, Len, Mark and I would plan to go see them live at the New Haven Coliseum. Len and Scott were both working as lifeguards at Manchester Gardens, the apartment complex that Len's father managed. I showed up there one afternoon to ask Scott if he wanted to go with us. Scott was there with his girlfriend Laurie, and as I walked into the pool area, he said, rather brusquely, "Len's not here". When I informed him of my purpose for being there, he warmed up a little, but I kind of had a feeling that Scott didn't like me. Regardless, from the day of the concert on, Scott and I quickly became good friends. I don't know if it was due to watching me throw up after a pre-concert Uranium 232, or because we bonded over being scared out of our minds as the speedometer of Mark's 1972 Pontiac Catalina hit 116 on I-84 on the way home, but it seems that Yes concert was the pivotal moment in our friendship.

Oh, the infamous U232. Rob and Len returned from a class trip to Russia in the spring of 1984 (Scott and John were on that trip as well), and for three hazey Thursday afternoons in May (one on my 17th birthday), we consumed copious amounts of vodka. For that three-week span, the Thursday Afternoon Pact was born, reached its zenith, and came crashing to earth, along with our bodies and many brain cells. Twice at Rob's house and once at mine, the three of us played quarters with shots of vodka, and you can just imagine the results. I'm not even going to get into explaining what a U232 was, but I will say that it was born out of my desire at the time to do everything to extreme.

The third session, and the pact, ended with Rob and I, aided by an extremely amused Mark, dragging Len into his bedroom, putting a trash can next to his bed and leaving him to his misery...not to imply that we were really in any better shape. Later, Rob would get lost walking home from my house, or so he claims, and his mom would call me demanding to know what he had induced. I denied vehemently that we had been drinking, claiming that Rob just got sick on some pizza. Rob's mom, concerned that drugs were involved, called his Uncle Brian, who assured her that if he was puking then it had to be alcohol, and if you couldn't smell it on his breath, it must be vodka.

Although considered somewhat legendary in the classic rock realm, the strength of Yes' entire catalog was not beyond question. Just a few years ago, I would introduce a somewhat subjective type of music trivia discussion which went something like this: What bands, who have reached the status of icons, have actually produced more albums not worthy of their legend than records that live up to that status? The example I intended to use was The Rolling Stones, but I came to decide that Yes were, in fact, the poster children for this affliction.

It's difficult to remain objective about 90125 because of its nostalgic meaning to me, but other than that, there are only three Yes albums that are inarguably very good, The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge. All three of these albums were released within a two-year period (1971-1972) of Yes' 30+ years as a rock 'n roll entity. Tales of Topographic Oceans, Relayer, Tormato, Drama, and everything post-90125 are pretty much crap. Everything else is in that gray area. Still, Yes produced enough good material to earn their spot as the most successful of the British prog-rock bands, even if they weren't my favorite.

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