Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Yes - Big Generator (1987)

Yes looked to generate some heat after a lonnnggg lay off in 1987's Big Generator

This is a tale that begins in November of 1983. When I first started to listen to a lot of music in the early 80's, I had a neighbor next door (also named Mike) who was into rock and would lend me his records and tapes. When not trying to push Gary Moore on me (Mike was convinced Moore was the talent of the century) he would send other items of interest and one was Yes. I knew of Yes because my Aunt was a fan, though I didn't know any of their music at that time. My friend said "You like Asia, well Yes is better because they have two singers. Listen to this." He handed me Yes 90125 and it started a worship for this band that has never stopped.

I played 90125 to death, I knew it backwards and forwards. I saw Yes not once, but twice on tour in support of this great album. The catchy pop rock choruses, the psuedo intellectual lyrics, the whiz bang production and sterling musicianship made this a constant favorite. So after their tour ended in 1984 I anxiously waited for a follow up. In 1985, a new Yes record was coming! Uh...Yes! No! It's a crappy live album 9012Live: The Solos. '86. There's got to be a new Yes album in '86, look how long they have to record it. Well, then again, maybe not because no new album. And then, Big Generator was released in 1987.

When it was released, my College roommate and I were both big fans of Prog rock so I often think of that guy when I think about Big Generator. We even went to the Yes concert together in 1988 and played this CD often in the dorm room. So, Clive, this one's for you where ever you are buddy.

1. Rhythm of Love
This song had a lot to live up to, Yes West fans like me had waited for an eternity to hear new Yes and all we had been given was the toss off 9012Live (1985) record instead. The frilly opening was perfect and then the track lunged into an OK pop rocker about sex. Over time, the song would grow on me as it became a staple of Yes West performances. I love the guitar solo as it is great to hear guitarist Trevor Rabin cut loose while bassist Chris Squire lumbers about. This was the second single from the record and the biggest hit (I think it reached #30 on Billboard). There was a dance remix of this song that was pretty crazy and was used to open shows on this tour.

2. Big Generator

...or as I like to think of it, the Yes jumble. A sort of scrambled song with a slowed down "Owner of a Lonely Heart" guitar riff, heavily mixed vocals, cascading keyboards and a great part where drummer Alan White and guitarist Rabin race each other on their instruments. The song sort of represents the album which was alleged to take a long time to make due to the band's famous ego battles following the success of 90125. Once the dust had settled, 90125 producer Trevor Horn had left taking his art of noise with him. But my main memory of this song was live, where lead singer Jon Anderson decked out in all white with white eye makeup prancing from one end of the stage to the next for the audience sing along of the chorus. Ever the Astral Traveller, Anderson is a one of a kind performer and I mean that in the best way.

3. Shoot High Aim Low

Arguably the biggest hit on the album wasn't a single, "Shoot High Aim Low" dominated album rock radio for a few years and deservedly so. The song showed Yes West stretching out with juxtaposed lead vocals by Rabin and Anderson plus an ominous mood. Fine guitar work by Rabin textures the track and drummer Alan White shines as the song pairs down to a single beat. When cranked up over the Dorm PA system, that beat kicked ass! That and the jackhammer sound at the beginning and end of Rush's "Force Ten". At any rate, this track was the artistic pinaccle of Yes West.

4. Almost Like Love

So what song should follow one of the best on the album? One of the worst. "Almost Like Love" was almost like bad as a hippie trippy rocker with Blues Brothers style horns plastered on top. The lone redeeming feature was hearing Trevor Rabin cut loose in a way he usually reserved for live performance. There's many bands that benefit from dipping into their R&B roots. Yes ain't one of them.

5. Love Will Find A Way

The lead single that hit about #40 on Billboard, "Love Will Find A Way" has been pointed to by Yes fans as the deal breaker for the Classic Yes following. I guess there was a lot of backlash about the poppiness of the song, personally it's one of my favorites. From the fancy strings at the beginning to the vocal trade off between Rabin in the verses and Anderson in the chorus, its all magic to me. Even the harmonica solo couldn't bring me down. And keyboardist Tony Kaye even does a little something (many of the keyboards of Yes West were by Trevor Rabin though Kaye gets full performer credit). Originally intended for use by Stevie Nicks, Rabin took the song back after the other band members heard the tune and wanted to do it. Giving us another Yes song with a totally awesome dance mix.

6. Final Eyes

A sort of rewrite of "And You And I" for the 80's, its a great song with Rabin's pleasant strumming guitar and atmospheric synths. A nice vocal blend in the chorus and Anderson really shines with some of his best lyrics of the album.

7. I'm Running

One of the strangest songs in the Yes canon, combined with "Final Eyes" it showed some of the Classic Yes mentality starting to creep into Yes West. A song filled with Nuclear fear, "I'm Running" brings back some of the epic longform songwriting the band was once known for. But what makes it different is this inexplicable Latin feel. The song jumps from this dancing Latin beat to a sleek Arena Rock groove and then the Classic Yes style of revisiting the chorus with a slightly faster performance each time around. It's a really good song, even if it is the equivalent of chocolate in peanut butter. And Tony Kaye shines again with a great keyboard part.

8. Holy Lamb (Song for the Harmonic Convergence)

During my summer job, I had this foreman that was asking each employee if they knew what the Harmonic Convergence was when he was handing out pay checks. If they said they didn't know, he threw their pay check on the ground for them to pick up. So when my turn came up, I said Yes. He asked me what it was and I faked it and said it was when all became like one. So he handed my pay check. I had no flippin' clue what the Harmonic Convergence was, but thanks to the song title I had heard the words before and could get by. Even after hearing this song, I had no clue. I looked it up once, I still can't remember what it meant. So what this song means to me is I got handed my pay check instead of picking it up out of the dirt. Thanks Jon Anderson!

Big Generator was a commercial disappointment compared to the previous record. Hmmm...I wonder if the four year wait had something to do with that. Anderson was very unhappy at this point in the bands career, he had come in at the tail end of the 90125 recording sessions so he didn't have a lot of influence over the bands sound at that time. He asserted himself more during Big Generator leading to...what's the phrase? Too many leaders and not enough followers? Anyway, between Anderson, Yes West creative guru Trevor Rabin and super Producer Trevor Horn the ego battles tore down the band. After the tour, Anderson would jump ship to form Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe in an attempt to reboot Classic Yes. But that is another story.

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