“Maybe you had to experience this one live, like I did, fifteen years old, opening song of Yes’s 1975 Relayer tour. Stravinksy’s Firebird suite crescendos, the curtains part, and holy f***ing sh**! Call Sound Chaser an intervention. The gods themselves imposing on my affairs. Ecstatically so. Like the Apocalypse itself, but in a good way. Like these musicians, these sorcerers, weren’t really playing this music, they were conjuring it, shaping and turning and chasing this mad and superlative noise that just kept bubbling over, ricocheting all around, setting even the atmosphere on fire. Or as my old muso friend Robert once put it, Sound Chaser‘s the one where Yes finally got to that edge they’d been aiming for, flirting with, singing about – not close, not over, but right the f*** on it. Maybe not their greatest achievement, but definitely their sharpest, fiercest, most dazzlingly precarious. Like a gauntlet thrown down. This is where music must go. Here are untold galaxies for us to explore. Except I guess we missed it. Because disco came along, and punk, and whatever else, and somehow we stopped with the progress, and that was that.” (Philip Random)
It’s 1981 and, after a seven year hiatus, Robert Fripp has decided to reboot the monster known as King Crimson. The new album is called Discipline and it’s clear from the opening seconds of the first track Elephant Talk that it’s all for the good. Tight and modern as the album title suggests, but also dangerous and beautiful in a primal, wild animal sort of way. Special thanks to new guy Adrian Belew‘s guitar athletics. And his vocals aren’t bad either. Not exactly rapping on Elephant Talk. Not singing either. Just arguing, agreeing, babbling, bantering, ballyhooing, chattering, chit-chatting, diatribing … and so on. Which is rather what the world sounded like in those days. As it still does.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the original 1971 studio recording of Yes’s Perpetual Change. It just doesn’t go as far as strong as gobsmackingly wow!!! as the 1972 live recording that showed up on the triple live set Yessongs. Because they really do set the atmosphere on fire here, one of the last tracks ever recorded with drummer Bill Bruford, so yeah, the classic Yes lineup (my version of it anyway), which does need to be raved about if only for that point maybe halfway through Perpetual Change where the band are effectively playing two completely different songs at the same insane time, and it works, finally blowing off into a feedback overload that quickly segues into a Jon Anderson vocal harmony, and then BAM!!! into an extended outro, the tightest band on the planet at the time (seriously, even Led Zeppelin had to be looking over their shoulders in 1972) bouncing back and forth from improvised bits to insanely abrupt changes, on and on, higher and deeper until the only real flaw, which is the overextended drum solo (not bad, just not necessary like pretty much every other 1970s drum solo). As a musician friend once put it, Perpetual Change is the secret to everything that was great about Yes, because they were perpetual change (up until around 1975 anyway), not just evolving from album to album, but within the songs themselves. Everything was possible and they had the smarts (and the chops) to make it so.”
“Manfred Mann’s Earth Band being an example of a darned strong outfit that never bothered much for hype or glory, particularly in their early days, but rather just put everything they had into the music. In the case of Father of Night Father of Day, that meant taking a sub two minute Bob Dylan acoustic throwaway about the glory of God etc and electrifying it, amplifying it glorifying until it was almost ten minutes long, and miles higher. The whole album’s a killer by the way, 1973’s Solar Fire. The Roaring Silence got all the sales and notoriety three years later because of the big deal hit Blinded By The Light, but Solar Fire is superior by orders of magnitude, the definition of a rock that was progressive, and at a time when that still mattered.” (Philip Random)
“Procol Harum achieved improbable levels of success with their very first single, 1967’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it was taken rather seriously. Because it was rock meets Johan Sebastien Bach with lyrics obscure enough to almost make you forget that Bob Dylan had taken a vacation, more or less. But then what do you do for an encore? You go further, higher, deeper, longer, you give all of side two of your second album to a single seventeen minute track called In Held Twas In I, which to many ears, ranks as the first genuine prog rock epic. In other words, yeah, it probably goes too far, too high and deep, definitely too long. But what do expect from young men cut loose from the herd, more or less commanded to go climb the highest mountain? Or as the Dalai Lama puts it in the intro. Life is like a beanstalk. Isn’t it?” (Philip Random)
“By 1971’s Islands, their fourth album in barely two years, the force of mind and nature known as King Crimson were not so much lost as just a very long way from shore. Down to only two of the original five members, and one of them (Pete Sinfield) had never provided much in the way of actual music, just “… words, sounds and visions, cover design and painting, production” (and in fact, he was on his way out, Islands would be his last Crimson involvement). Robert Fripp, on the other hand, was firmly ensconced on whisper-to-apocalyptic-howl guitar, with Sailor’s Tale a particularly powerful offering. Just wait until whatever high you’re riding is at its peak, then crank the sound system and wait for that sucker punch eruption at around the 4-and-a-half minute point. Not a sudden eruption from silence. No this is far trickier than that. Because the song’s already charging along at that point. It just suddenly goes way further. The earth shakes. The skies open. A gaping hole gets blown from the jigsaw of time.” (Philip Random)
Second of two in a row from Gentle Giant’s prolific and dense and rather brilliant early 1970s phase. Inmate’s Lullaby being one of those songs that absolutely succeeds insofar as, even if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, you know what it’s about. It’s about madness, insanity, but in a nice way, like a nice day at the asylum. The inmate looks out his window and smells the flowers and hears the birds and comes to believe he’s in paradise, heaven even. Does heaven have inmates? If it does, you know they have a band, and it likely sounds a lot like Gentle Giant do here, working all manner of archaic and weird (for any kind of rock outfit) instrumentation to evocative effect.
“I first stumbled onto Gentle Giant via late night TV, maybe 1975. My first thought was, these guys are strange. And I’ve never wavered in that estimation. Or more to the point, the stranger the better. And they never got stranger than Knots, from the album called Octopus, and Knots is nothing if not Octopus like – at least eight separate arms all reaching for something beyond their grasp. I’m sure I’ve heard it a thousand times, yet I’m still not entirely clear how it even goes, though lyrically, it does seem very connected to the psychology of RD Laing.” (Philip Random)
The Solid Time of Change has been our overlong yet incomplete history of the so-called Prog Rock era – 661 selections from 1965 through 1979 with which we’ve tried to begin to do justice to a strange and ambitious time indeed, musically speaking.
The final stage of the journey went as follows:
Yes – And You and I
King Crimson – Court of the Crimson King
Genesis – Supper’s Ready
King Crimons – Starless
Beatles – A Day in the Life
Yes – Close to the Edge
If you’re late discovering all of this and wish to start at the beginning …
Randophonic airs pretty much every Saturday night, starting 11 pm (Pacific time) c/o CiTR.FM.101.9, with streaming and download options usually available within twenty-four hours via our Facebook page. We have no clear plan for what shall happen next beyond more superlative noise in some form or other …