Wednesday, 24 January 2018

My weird take on Yes

When I mentioned Yes in my post on Progressive Rock I got this tweet. I asked why weird and got no reply so here are some more weird opinions.

Yes, like Elbow and Camel, are so much better live than on record. Rick Wakeman describes their albums as "sterile" and he is often right. The Union album is quite dreadful, but the tour that went with it, eight musicians playing for the music rather than themselves, the convenient doubling of everything except Bass & singer allowed songs like 'Awaken' to expand and evolve. The current state of play is that there are two bands called Yes, with 2 or 3 "proper" members each, and some extras. The whole mess is explained in detail at Henry Potts' site. Personally I could care less.

So why write about them? I joined in with the Drama album in 1980, and only dabbled with their music until the Internet came along. Drama was and is a great album, top drawer songwriting, crisp production, and the best ever examples of Chris Squire's bass as lead instrument style in 'Does It Really Happen' and 'Tempus Fugit'. The new boys brought new vigour to the music. Geoff Downes simpler sound pallette feels more integrated with the rest of the band, particularly Steve Howe's guitar, than Wakeman did on either of the previous two albums. They were unafraid to innovate, Trevor Horn playing bass on Run Through The Light for instance.

So with the advent of the interwebs (in my world) about 1999, I started looking backward, and catching up with what bands were doing. This was the heyday of the email newsletter and information and opinion about new releases and band activities was filtering through as never before. Yes had one and I subscribed, just in time for "The Ladder", another album with a fair bit of innovation, while remaining undeniably Yes. It's the best songs 'Homeworld (The Ladder)', and 'The Messenger' that work best and Bruce Fairbairn's production doesn't pander to their more noodly tendancies. The Ladder songs come properly alive on "House of Yes: Live from House of Blues" the album resulting from the following year's worth of touring. Some of the old stuff is given a makeover and Steve Howe manages to play on Trevor Rabin era songs, although he is far from happy about it.

After the orchestral "Magnification" album which failed mainly due to lack of good material and being released on 10th September 2001, innovation and progress stopped in Yes-World. They retreated to the formula pioneered at the Keys To Ascension shows in 1996, largely ignoring anything after 1979 (ok they did play the title song of Magnification in 2002 and a couple more newer songs in 2004). Innovation having died, and unwilling to wait on Jon Anderson's health the band fractured recruited a couple of Jon-alike singers and set off on tour in 2008. None of the resulting music or numerous live albums sound like anything other than going through the motions. With Chris Squire gone and Alan White using a sub/back up drummer in recent years they increasingly sound like their own tribute band. The "other" band Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman spreads its net wider, talking in material from all eras (except Drama which none of them played on)

So my weird conclusions are that Yes work best when a producer has a firm hand on the tiller. They thrived on innovation, particularly live. The best Yes music is song based and not about awesome musical technique. They were and probably still are a band ruled by their business decisions, rather than musical ones. Oh and Chris Squire is God's own Bass Player.

This being true I would suggest listening to

Yes (1969) A good bridge between the sixties and seventies, with a few cracking songs
Going For The One (1977) The return to songs after the noodling years
Drama (1980) Something new and different
Talk (1994) The best Rabin years album, with a good balance between his & Jon Anderson's influence
Keys To Ascension (1996) The best look back at the seventies, technology had caught up and the material was fresh after being set aside for a while.
House of Yes (2000) A contrasting look at old material and some new songs

I have to say I'm looking forward to Fly From Here - Return Trip in March 2018, same album with Trevor Horn taking lead vocals, the follow up to both Drama and The Buggles Adventures in Modern Recording which Yes fans should certainly hear. The best Yes album of the last 15 years is Anderson/Stolt's Invention of Knowledge, 

With the blue touch paper lit I'm now retiring to a safe distance. Feel free to disagree with me...

Monday, 8 January 2018

France Gall Est Mort

A while ago I suggested that  Lulu was the nearest British equivalent to France Gall who has died aged 70. I was wrong, the French treat their singers far better than we ever treated Lulu, Dusty or Sandie, they let them grow up.

A quick history...

1964-67: Serge Gainsbourg started writing for her, best song from her Ye!Ye! period is Laisse Tomber les Filles. Won Eurovision and kick started the novelty song era of Eurovision songs.

1967-74: Stopped working with Gainsbourg after unwittingly recording a song Les Sucettes that turned out to be one big Double Entendre (it means Lollipop, she was 19, it was 1967, work it out). Career stalls until she met and ultimately married star songwriter Michel Berger.

1974 - 92: With Berger writing the songs she matured into a mix of all round entertainer, musical Starmania being the highlight here, and albums artist. Eight studio and six live albums over twenty years, all of which did respectable business in France and not a light here.

1992 - 97: Berger dies of a heart attack, and after one more studio and a raft of farewell live albums, with the death of her daughter in 1997 that was it.

Why should you care? Because all through her career she worked with quality songwriters, and always developed and progessed her music, changing arrangements, styles, and hair while remaining uniquely herself. For me she is top of the list of Ye! Ye! singers. To learn more about this fascinating era try Ye-Ye Girls of '60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel DeLuxe. and Ace Records Ces't Chic compilations. Later on, while she certainly chased fashions in music, there were some great albums. "Babacar" with her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald is her best album as album, but very few of her later ones are without merit. The conventional wisdom has it that Michel Berger didn't write the quality of songs for Gall that he provided Franciose Hardy or Veronique Sanson. Not so, he just wrote more for his wife. The quality over 20 years of songs is very high. There aren't many double cd compilations you can listen all the way through to without hitting skip sometimes, Gall's "Evidemment" which covers her whole adult career is one I play all through often.

Gall regularly shifted the focus of her music, disco, pop, rock, and used the best French and imported musicians. Her last band featured Prince's New Power Generation rhythm section and David Sancious. Magma bassist Janick Top was a fixture for many years. Compare songs like 'Resiste' from it's slightly insipid pop roots in 82 through to live show anthem in '96. Her voice can be a bit shrill at times on the uptempo numbers, but give her a ballad like 'Ella Elle L'a' or‘√Čvidemment’ and she can do no wrong for me.

I have been pondering a blog about the appeal of French music for a while, why you should hear people like Nolwenn Leroy, and Couer De Pirate. I will get to it soon, but in the meantime I will be playing "√Čvidemment" and her last live album "Concert Prive, Concert Public" and remembering one of my favourite singers.