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Going for the One

Atlantic SD 19106
Released: July 1977
Chart Peak: #8
Weeks Charted: 21
Certified Gold: 8/2/77

Rick WakemanAlan WhiteSteve HoweChris SquireJon AndersonRock & roll's dependence on, and imaginative extension of technology makes it a science-fiction medium by nature. Even Chuck Berry, whose images of transcendence -- cars -- were mechanical, was able to suggest an otherworldly dimension by idealizing his cruising machines into virtual rocket ships. "You Can't Catch Me" is a science-fiction hymn.

By the late Sixties, rock festivals had become explicit science-fiction landscapes, and groups began to produce program music for drug-inspired futurist fantasies. But it wasn't until the current decade that rock bands began to institutionalize sci-fi -- the utopian idealism of such Sixties sci-fi masters as the Jefferson Airplane was replaced by the dispassionate technology of Led Zeppelin and Yes.

Yes - Going for the One
Original album advertising art.
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These bands saw themselves as component units of a record industry that had mutated its psychology and become a quasi-totalitarian science-fiction setting itself. Festivals were eliminated in favor of controlled indoor arena programs where virtuoso instrumental technique (Jimmy Page/Steve Howe, John Paul Jones/Rick Wakeman) and sci-fi-inspired fantasy lyrics (Robert Plant/Jon Anderson) became fundamentals.

Yes has always represented the lighter side of this process, its members trying to project themselves as organic, life-affirming good wizards as opposed to Zeppelin's demonism. This was especially true of their music, which was programmatic in its tonal airiness (especially Anderson's voice and Howe's guitars) and in the intricacy of its often classically inspired arrangements. They didn't nail this image down until Fragile, the first album to use illustrator Roger Dean's visual images of their cosmic programs. The group's style changed at the same time, when keyboardist Tony Kaye was replaced by Rick Wakeman and his overbearing flash.

Yes had solved its programming goals, but like all closed systems it was subject to entropy. As the band continued to run through the possible program readouts, less and less creative energy became available and Yes sank into cosmic torpor.

Going for the One reverses this process in a fascinating move that ties the band even more closely to Zeppelin. The title track is the most vital piece of music Yes has recorded since The Yes Album, opening with Howe's fiercest guitar playing in years, a gut-wrenching slide pattern pinned down by Alan White's straight-ahead rock drumming. Howe's tone is darker here than it's ever been, and the newly returned Wakeman refrains from throwing wholesale Bach clips into the arrangement, instead using his keyboards for tasteful fills and added texture. Even Anderson's normally squeaky voice is a lot less stylized than usual -- he actually sounds like part of the band. He even includes a few self-critical lines:

Now the verses I've sang
Don't add much weight to the story in my head
So I'm thinking I should go and write a punch line
But they're so hard to find
In my cosmic mind

A sense of humor is the last thing I expected from this band. Anderson goes on to sing percussive, four-syllable couplets over Howe's wobbling electric guitar, a totally Zeppelin-like trick that works extremely well.

"Turn of the Century" is more typically Yes, a mostly acoustic cameo about a sculptor trying to preserve the memory of his lover in a piece of art. "Parallels" uses Wakeman's church organ to good effect and features another gritty guitar solo. "Wonderous Stories" and "Awaken" are more fantasy/sci-fi mythologizing, with Wakeman playing nicely layered Polymoog backing on the former and Howe adding Page-like guitar (while White slugs out John Bonham-like garbage-can drums behind) on the latter.

By letting the Chris Squire-Alan White rhythm section construct a bottom for Howe's guitar, and by using Wakeman's unquestionable keyboard talent intelligently, Going for the One takes the right step toward downplaying Anderson's conceptual stranglehold on the band. Entropy can work to your advantage. You just have to be selective about where the energy is taken from.

- John Swenson, Rolling Stone, 9-8-77.

Bonus Reviews!

Yes has claimed to be the best musical conglomerate in the world, which is okay by me though it might miff the New York Philharmonic, the Swan Silvertones, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, the Julliard String Quartet, and the Who, to name just a few. If you're a Yes fan, you probably agree with the group's high opinion of itself. I'm not a fan, but I can see -- up to a point -- why one might be. They're meticulous craftsmen, gifted and even individualistic instrumentalists (Steve Howe and Chris Squire in particular), and they've managed to shatter, for better or worse, the rigid structures of the music from which their own material derives. Where fans and I differ is on the "for better or worse" part. Yes strikes me as having achieved its freedom at the expense of compositional logic and discernible emotional content, but Yes fans think the music has Olympian grandeur.

With all that up front, let me simply report that Going for the One has a certain boozy brashness that has been absent from the band's last few albums, and it confirms that the Yes-men do have a sense of humor after all (which was suggested by reports of their performing "I'm Down" as a concert encore). Nevertheless, the material here is mostly more of the usual sterility masquerading as "serious" music. If you like Yes, of course, you don't have to take my opinion any more seriously than I take the band.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 11/77.

This boldly experimental classic rock quintet, with original keyboardist Rick Wakeman rejoined after a gold album career on his own, is clearly going all out here to create its most ambitious and awesome work yet. Recorded in Switzerland, with one cut done on location in a church to feature Wakeman on a thunderous organ with a full choir, the LP contains five long songs. Jon Anderson's lyrics and high tenor vocals set off a mood of futuristic romantic poetry which the lush, romantic interplay of the four instrumentalists extends into a haunting sound tapestry. Yes is science-fiction rock in its spirit, rather than in lyric catch phrases or instrumental gimmicks. It represents the spirit of fantasy in contemporary advanced pop music probably more thoroughly than any other contenders. Best cuts: "Going For The One," "Wonderous Stories," "Awaken."

- Billboard, 1977.

The title track may be their best ever, challenging a formula that even apologists are apologizing for now with cutting hard rock guitar and lyrics in which Jon Anderson casts aspersions upon his own "cosmic mind." But even there you wish you could erase Rick Wakeman, who sticks strictly to organ pomp and ident noodles throughout, and elsewhere Steve Howe has almost as little to say. C

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

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