Recording Yes' "Roundabout"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by John B, Mar 26, 2003.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    Anyone who has listened to "classic rock" radio will be familiar with the dramatic backward piano chord that opens the FM staple "Roundabout." The song introduced the masses to the British band Yes and their singular brand of progressive rock. Progressive rock was spearheaded in the early 1970s by such bands as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Yes, all of whom proved that a band could be different from the mainstream and still enjoy commercial success. "Roundabout" was not only a hit single for the band, but it also brilliantly captured Yes without compromising their artistic integrity (a rare thing indeed).

    Although the band was made up of genuine virtuosos, they never played just for the sake of technique. Every member of the group performed an important role in the construction of their music. The rhythm section of Bill Bruford (drums) and Chris Squire (bass) were hardly content to just slip in to 4/4 groove and coast. Instead they would utilize different time signatures, emphasize precise off-beats and still be able to find the groove. Steve Howe (guitars) would play his bold and inventive guitar passages over this unique backing. He was known for his ability to perform in many different styles of music (classical, jazz, country, ragtime, rock), as well as being able to synthesize these different elements into a cohesive whole. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was from the Royal Academy of Music and brought his classical influence to Yes. His classical technique came through in his elegant piano lines and Mellotron string harmonies, yet he could also play a burning Hammond organ solo, as he does in "Roundabout." Then over this tapestry of sound, vocalist Jon Anderson would add his high-pitched vocals, usually on relatively simple melodies. This was important because it was the hook that the average listener could grab onto, not the complex musicianship that surrounded it. Anderson's abstract, non-specific lyrics were another reason for the band's popularity, because they invited listeners to interpret them however they pleased, thereby making them seem more personal to the audience. "Roundabout" showcases Yes in their prime with all of these elements on display in a sprawling eight-minute odyssey.

    Yes was born in 1968 in London by a chance meeting between Anderson and Squire. They discovered they had a mutual vision for a rock band that would be strong both vocally and instrumentally, and set about putting the first lineup of Yes together. Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Bruford were enlisted to join them playing some truly awful gigs in the hopes that something would materialize from it all. The hard work did finally pay off--they slowly built a faithful audience and, on the strength of some good press notices, were able to secure a contract with Atlantic Records. Their first two albums, Yes and Time and a Word revealed a group that was still searching for its sound, and neither was very successful commercially. Banks was fired (beginning a trend of constant personnel changes that continues to this day) and was replaced by the multitalented Howe.

    The first record with Howe, The Yes Album, changed the group's fortunes completely. The success of that album led to their being invited to tour America as an opening act for Jethro Tull. They returned from the U.S. enthusiastic and energized, realizing that indeed there was a large audience for their style of music. But before they entered the studio again, they dismissed Tony Kaye and recruited ex-Strawbs member Wakeman as their new keyboardist.

    The song "Roundabout" began its life as a guitar instrumental suite that Howe had written during a tour of Scotland in 1970. He showed the structure of the song to Anderson, and they came up with the majority of the lyrics and melodies to it on their long bus ride back to London--many of the sights from that bus ride, such as Loch Ness, are included in the words. Even at the time, they felt that they might have written a timeless rock song, and when they brought it to rehearsals for the next album sessions, the other bandmembers gave their own input into the complex arrangement. When they were finished with rehearsals, Yes moved into London's Advision Studios with producer Eddy Offord for what would prove to be an intense month of recording. Advision was so named because it was primarily used for recording commercials and jingles, but rock bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer (whom Offord also produced) were known to record there as well. It had the distinction of being one of the first independent studios in London.

    Although Yes had extensively rehearsed "Roundabout," it was in some ways unfinished when the studio sessions began. Offord explains, "The band would write skeletons of songs in rehearsal and they were just skeletons. When we got into the studio, we would record every song in minute or a minute-and-a-half sections with just drums, bass and maybe a scratch guitar. On the 24-track tape there was a splice every minute or so, and when you rewound it to the beginning of a song you'd hear the edits go by--swish...swish. We'd be in a song a little bit and someone would say, `Let's try to put an acoustic section here, let's try this here...' It was all very experimental, but we kind of built it up as we went along."

    Bruford recalls, "We were well-served in all of this by having the ability to tape-edit--and having Eddy Offord, who would slash a 2-inch master tape without thinking about it and just glue another bit onto it. Tape editing was fundamental to this band creating this music at all. Because we couldn't play any of it through until we'd learned it." The 24-track and 2-track mastering deck were both Scullys. The console in the studio was custom-made by Advision, as were the monitor speakers (though they were created from JBL components). Offord reports that the speakers weren't very accurate in reproducing the music's low end, so this had to be taken into account as the track was recorded and mixed.

    One of the most distinctive elements on "Roundabout" is Squire's dynamic bass guitar sound. Squire played his Rickenbacker 4001 through a Marshall bass amplifier on the basic track and then doubled his parts with one of Howe's big hollow-body jazz guitars (miked acoustically) to give the bass such a bright presence. Bruford played his Ludwig kit (with Paiste cymbals), and his famous snare sound was achieved by hitting rim shots on his metal snare drum miked with a Neumann U64. He also remembers playing milk bottles during the heavy bass ostinato portion of the song to create a different percussive effect. Howe used his beloved Martin 00-18 for the dramatic intro (his use of harmonics is said to have inspired The Edge of U2), and for all of the electric guitar parts he played a Gibson ES5 Switchmaster through a Fender Dual Showman amplifier. The guitars were recorded with an old AKG C28. Wakeman created his original Hammond organ sound by using a phaser and flanger simultaneously. Wakeman describes the settings for the flanger as "just slightly bubbling--set on the verge of getting the non-tonal type of sounds. The phasing had a really heavy sweep to it, and the Leslie was being turned on and off constantly." He also used his then-new Mini-moog synthesizer for fills (in harmony of course) and a Mellotron for the flute sound in the interlude.

    Offord recalls that recording the vocals was quite a painstaking process. He tracked Anderson and Squire individually and had them each sing the song line by line, using the U64. Anderson has revealed that in the final three-part vocal passage (before Howe's acoustic guitar coda) that another vocal melody is introduced--from the children's nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice." "It was a very, very creative time," remembers Offord. "There was fighting, but it was all towards a common purpose. Everyone was just enthusiastic and wanted everything their way! But it was positive, it was great."

    "Roundabout" was an enormously successful song for Yes. A severely edited single reached Number 13 on the American charts, and the album cut has been played on FM radio ever since, becoming a true classic rock song. On the basis of that song, the album Fragile rose to Number Four in just four short weeks and is still considered to be one of Yes' definitive records.

    The group continued to have incredible success throughout the '70s, but that lineup splintered apart in 1979 for a variety of reasons. Anderson and Wakeman left the group and were replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles (who had a hit single with "Video Killed the Radio Star"). The resulting album, Drama, and supporting tour did disappointing business, and the group was put on ice for a while. Yes was reformed in 1984 (with guitarist Trevor Rabin) for the album 90125, and the single "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was a huge hit all over the world. 90125 was the most successful album Yes has ever made (selling more than 6 million copies), and it gave them the momentum to continue on through the '80s. More recently, Rabin has left the band to score movies, and Howe and keyboardist Igor "Ivan" Khoroshev have joined Yes. In the fall of '97 they released a double live album entitled Keys to Ascension II, and a new studio album called Open Your Eyes is forthcoming. The band continues to tour regularly. And, of course, they still perform "Roundabout," as they have on every tour since 1972.

    by Tim Morse (Tim Morse is the author of Yesstories)
     
    Gardo and hi_watt like this.
  2. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    Apologies to Arin - Bill Porter was not involved in this session. ;)
     
  3. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497

    Location:
    Connecticut
    Wow, Great post John. A classic tune, and a DVD-A spectacular!
     
  4. John B

    John B Once Blue Gort,<br>now just blue. Thread Starter

    Location:
    Toronto, Canada
    Glad you like it Jon. Care to comment on the DVD-A?
     
  5. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    You couldn't go anywhere in early '72 without hearing "Roundabout" or "Low Spark Of Hi-Heeled Boys" on FM radio, while "American Pie" was all over AM(and FM, too, come to think of it). The 45 edit of "Roundabout" brought in even more fans, though this was never going to be a singles band. Later attempts at editing stuff from their album met with erratic success, even when the airplay potential was there. GOING FOR THE ONE, their most commercial effort before the eighties, couldn't even generate a hit single, and it was tailor-made for just that.

    Nice of someone to put the non-album chart 45 "America" on the DVD-A of FRAGILE as a bonus track. Not always a perfect mix, but a fun listen if you're a Yes fan.

    ED:cool:
     
  6. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Wasn't FRAGILE recorded in Nashville? No? Hard to believe...:D

    ED:cool:
     
  7. Stax Fan

    Stax Fan Active Member

    Location:
    Midwest
    Yeah, the world's an imperfect place. ;) By 1972, Bill Porter was working as Elvis' sound engineer on his live shows. I'm afraid Mr. Porter and Yes are about as far separated in recording techniques as they could possibly be, but I'm a big fan of both. Another great choice, John!

    I'm glad Bill Bruford's snare drumming was mentioned specifically. I really love the snare sound in "Roundabout". I reached a Yes burn-out stage several years ago, but recently pulled out some old A//1,B//1 UK pressings since joining the forum. I guess some time away was the cure because I really enjoyed it. Quite a talented group of musicians.


    __________
    AC
     
  8. JohnG

    JohnG Boney Fingers Jones

    Location:
    Long Island, NY
    Doesn't early Yes (especially The Yes Album) resemble CSNY at times in their harmonies?

    JohnG
     
  9. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Yes, moreso than on any other album--it's as if they were channeling CROSBY, STILLS & NASH through Mallory. Cool album, another great DVD-A choice if they ever put another out, though I think 90125 is the next obvious choice. Not mine, but WEA's:rolleyes:

    ED:cool:
     
  10. Steel Woole

    Steel Woole Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Actually Ed, Close To The Edge would be the next obvious choice.

    That is, if the multitracks ever show up!

    I would love to hear a DVD-A of The Yes Album.
     
  11. Taurus

    Taurus Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    I have a question for you recording experts that has bugged me for years about "Roundabout".

    I no longer have the CD version, but near the end of the song (you'll have to bear with me--I don't know music technical terms) during the guitar/organ solo, in the background you can hear a faint but unmistakable tone, or really a beep, almost sounding like a high-pitched telephone button tone. This happens twice. I could clearly hear it on my system (Technics SA-DA8 receiver, Technics SL-PG4 CD player and Boston Acoustics CR9 speakers). I have also heard it on the radio, if the reception is good. And my memory is fuzzy on this but I think it's also on my vinyl version too (last heard in 1989!).

    But, on the dvd-audio version it is gone.

    Using the DTS track so I can see a time readout, the two tones would have been around the 6 minute, 24 second mark.

    How could the record company let this happen?

    [T]
     
  12. Taurus

    Taurus Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    I can't be the only one that has heard these sounds!

    [T]
     
  13. Steel Woole

    Steel Woole Forum Resident

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    Is it during the acoustic guitar & flashy-fingered organ break before Jon comes in with "In and around the lake...?" I've always noticed the sound of guitar-string decay without the pluck/attack in that spot.

    I played my cd and the time mark you indicate doesn't correlate with a guitar/organ solo!
     
  14. Taurus

    Taurus Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    That time mark was taken from the dvd-audio so it may not correlate exactly with the CD version. I just listened to it again to get better timing (for what it's worth) and the missing tones are around the 6 min 18sec to 6min 24sec mark.

    But yea, the tones are in that relatively "quiet" section near the end of the song, in the section you described. Right after the tones Jon starts singing in a slightly whispered voice (seemingly right into the microphone) "In and around the lake, the mountains..........". Then the full band comes in.

    A little story about my hearing:
    A couple years ago I had the CV joint replaced on the driver side of my car, and I immediately noticed a tiny jingling noise from the that wheel, like a little sleigh bell (I also drove with the window down--no A/C). I took it back to the mechanic, he drove it & couldn't hear anything. Then the service manager drove it; he didn't hear anything either. Finally, at home I looked for the problem myself. I removed the aluminum wheel's axle cover and peered in there. Ta da! There it was. On that big threaded shaft is a special locking bolt (I think called a "castle bolt") which has small cutouts in its top. The cutouts are there for a cotter pin, which makes sure the bolt stays on the shaft. Well, the cotter pin hadn't been bent over very far and the result of this was that while driving, it was moving back & forth slightly on the shaft and bumping up against that big bolt. This is where the jingling noise came from. Thank God! I knew I wasn't going insane or taking too much allergy medicine!!! So I just bent the pin back ALL the way making it snug. Drove it down the block--no more sleigh bell. Ahhhhhhhh...........

    [T]
     
  15. Taurus

    Taurus Forum Resident

    Location:
    Houston, Texas
    HEY I FINALLY GOT MY DVD-AUDIO PLAYER TODAY!!!

    And the tones ARE there!

    I just now listened to the Fragile dvd-a disc--the STEREO track--and heard the tones at exactly these time marks 5 min 20 sec & 5 min 25 sec. Clear as day!

    Hehe, my brand-new Pioneer DV-656A comes through!

    [T]
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page