Fifty Year Friday: Men on the Moon, Yes, Larry Coryell
“That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong
Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, television gave us nearly front row seats as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin each made an appearance on what is still today, the most distant theatrical stage ever occupied by human performers, while above, circling around 60 miles above them, was their ride home. It was such an extraordinary event that there are individuals and semi-organized clusters of people that deny that this amazing technical performance, this greatest non-musical show of all time, ever even happened. Did Keith Emerson’s piano rotate around at the California Jam in 1974? Could one see some of the jazz greats of all time at the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse Café throughout the early and mid seventies? Did Elton John dress up in something akin to a large sequined chicken suit as part of his performance at the Fabulous Forum in 1974? Could one, without more than an hour in line, get an up close seat in 1978 to see Peter Hammill at the Trouboudor perform “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers” or a seat in the front three rows to see Gentle Giant perform their very last U.S. concert at the Roxy in 1980? All these things, as unbelievable as they may seem, actually happened!
And rock was reaching new heights, proving its relevance beyond dance music, beyond catchy three minute pop songs tailored for car radios.
Recorded in Spring of 1969 and released on July 25, 1969, the world heard the very first Yes album. Their first studio effort is indeed impressive and immediately identifiable by its sound as both progressive rock and, more relevantly and significantly, a Yes album! Authored primarily by Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, we already have that recognizable, identifiable Yes style from their compositions and collaborations, Peter Banks pre-Howe guitar work, Tony Kaye’s keyboards, and Bill Bruford’s percussion work, influenced by such cosmic musical giants as Art Blakey and Max Roach.
Most of us baby boomer progressive rock fans, first heard Yes in the 1970s, initially from either their third album, The Yes Album, or their fourth album, Fragile. The reality was that most of us music lovers usually started with the third or fourth album of a number of the so-called progressive rock groups — and as we had some spending money, we invariably went back and purchased earlier albums of groups like Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Genesis or Yes — even after knowing (after the first back catalog purchase or two) that the albums would not be as good as the later albums. The fact was that even those earlier albums were still good enough and provided further insight and material from some of the finest bands outside of the jazz universe — but maybe not so completely outside of jazz as one might think: the jazz influences were indeed there for many of these musicians in these bands. And worth noting, so was the classical music influence.
So even though this first Yes album isn’t up to the standards of their third album, The Yes Album or Fragile, it still is Yes, and the music is captivating and engaging. It’s way too easy for those of us used to the later Yes to find fault with this album, but if we just listen to this in the context of it’s own time, when jazz, rock, and classical styles were first intermingling, its remarkable nature reveals itself.
The album opens up with “Beyond and Before” from Squires, Banks and Anderson’s previous band, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. Even at this early point in time the music sounds clearly the work of Chris Squire with co-authoring credits (perhaps the words) for Clive Bailey, the guitarist and vocalist of Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. The bass/drums pairing of Squire and Bill Bruford and vocal combination of Squire and Jon Anderson establishes the framework of a style that would become unmistakably a feature of the Yes sound. The music is not as polished as later Yes, but is clearly a different sound distinct from anything else being released, and Peter Bank’s guitar work is representative in both it’s uniqueness and its sometimes rough edges.
There are two covers on this album: the second track on side one is of the Byrds “I See You” and the second track on side two is of the Beatles “Every Little Thing”, both absorbed and incorporated into Yes’s own sound.
The other five tracks are Yes originals, ranging from good to borderline excellent. Also recorded during these sessions is the amazing cover of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, which is included as a bonus track on some CD reissues, or in most of the many Yes anthology albums.
- Jon Anderson – lead vocals, incidental percussion
- Peter Banks – guitars, backing vocals
- Chris Squire – bass, backing vocals
- Tony Kaye – organ, piano
- Bill Bruford – drums, vibraphone
Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell
One of the earliest, if not the earliest true jazz-fusion albums, Lady Coryell features the complex, multi-track layers of Larry Coryell’s jazz and rock guitar polyphony. Joined by drummer Bob Moses from Coryell’s earlier psychedelic, rough-edged jazz-rock group, “The Free Spirits”, the album moves away from the more British-rock influenced style of the earlier Free Spirits’ Out of Sight and Sound into a more convincing blend of rock and jazz. Coryell sings, less than exquisitely, on most of the tracks, but his guitar and bass guitar work is beyond reproach. Jimmy Garrison provides acoustic bass on track seven, and Elvin Jones provides drumming on tracks 7 and 9.
- Larry Coryell – guitars, bass, vocals
- Jimmy Garrison – bass (on 7)
- Bob Moses – drums
- Elvin Jones – drums (on 7 and 9)