"Roundabout" 45 RPM single.
It’s safe to say that when two of a band’s signature tunes are collected on one 45 RPM record, it’s a prime candidate to become the featured single of the day. Such was the case with a Yes single released in 1972. The band that would eventually become known as Yes was formed by vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire in London, England in 1968. Squire had been in a band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop with vocalist Clive Bayley, drummer Bill Bruford, and guitarist Peter Banks. Bayley left the band, as did Banks, but Banks returned after only three weeks, and the band added organist/pianist Tony Kaye. Now Anderson, Banks, Squire, Kaye and Bruford were in the lineup, and Banks came up with the name Yes, with the rationale that the three-letter name would stand out on posters. The band soon distinguished itself by taking other people’s songs and turning them into expanded, progressive compositions (e.g. their cover version of The Byrds’ “I See You” from their debut album). Their second album, “Time And A Word” (1970), featured a 30-piece orchestra. Before this album’s release, Peter Banks was fired and replaced by Steve Howe. “The Yes Album” (1971) was the first Yes album to consist entirely of original compositions by the band and the first to be produced by Eddie Offord. After the release of this album, Tony Kaye was either fired or quit; he was replaced by highly-regarded session musician Rick Wakeman. With Wakeman on board, the classic Yes lineup was complete, paving the way for the release of “Fragile” (1972), which spawned today’s featured single: “Roundabout” b/w “Long Distance Runaround”.
“Roundabout” is arguably Yes’s most recognizable song, and it exists in two forms: an 8 minute, 32 second version included on the album, and an edited, 3 minute, 27 second version featured on the single. And the single was rather successful, peaking at number 13 on the Billboard singles chart. “Roundabout” featured all the elements of the classic Yes sound, with longer instrumental passages, firmer bass guitar playing from Chris Squire, and sublime, even abstract lyrics. It opens with an ominous sounding note (sounding like a piano note played backwards) and a classical-sounding acoustic guitar. This section lasts about 40 seconds before launching into the song proper, and for once I can’t say that the song is built around a simple guitar riff – rather, the melody is busy and erratic (and fluid). When the song reaches the first occurrence of the chorus, the wisdom of bringing in Wakeman becomes apparent as his percolating, ethereal keyboard (at times it resembles the sound of a church organ) floats effortlessly above the guitar din. About 4 minutes into the album version, Wakeman gets a chance to shine with a brief keyboard solo. 4 minutes and 55 seconds in, we get a recurrence of the opening melody, with Anderson softly singing the chorus: “In and around the lake/Mountains come out of the sky and they/Stand there”. [Well, mountains don’t come out of the sky, but who can argue with such lyrical flair?] This gives way to yet another distinct passage, with a much lengthier keyboard solo, weaved in between a Steve Howe guitar solo, which in turn leads us to the end of the song, with a rocking version of the chorus followed by the band dreamily singing “Da da da da/Da da da” into the classical guitar strumming the closing melody, bringing us full circle. Even by the lofty standards of 1970’s progressive rock, one has to admit this is a rather elaborate piece.
“Long Distance Runaround”, by comparison, is relatively simple, although there’s a lot going on here as well. As one critic has noted, in the context of the album it initially seems no more significant than any of the shorter pieces on the LP that are sandwiched in between the three epics “Roundabout”, “South Side Of The Sky”, and “Heart Of The Sunrise”, which together account for about two-thirds of the album’s total running time. Perhaps this is why the song was relegated to the B-side of this single. It begins with a guitar and a keyboard playing an upbeat melody in unison, joined shortly by the rhythm section (Squire’s bass once again plays a prominent role). Steve Howe’s guitar incisively cuts through the song’s melody with a remarkable economy – he sounds as if he is racing towards the song’s finish – and Anderson’s vocals are delivered with a dreamy indifference that somehow seems appropriate for the lyrical content (“Cold summer listening/Hot colour melting the anger to stone”). The song is not at all like some of the more ornate pieces in the band’s repertoire; even so, the insistent rhythm of the song was a good indication of the direction the band would eventually take.