50 Years on "The Edge": Yes' Close to the Edge at 50
With all the hullabaloo (and gallons of ink) spent on the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell's Blue (with which this reviewer, while loving and admiring the album, did not share the same sense of "history" that most others did -- see my review here), I felt it was just as (if not more) important to give some richly deserved ink to the 50th anniversary of Yes' Close to the Edge -- which is among the three or four most important albums in progressive rock. The album was released on September 13, 1972.
In fact, the very first article I ever wrote for Culture Catch -- "The Absolutely Essential Progressive Rock Listening Guide" -- was essentially a "desert island disc" list of the dozen most important progressive rock albums of all time. Close to the Edge is on that list. And while the album also appears on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time," at a criminally low #445, it appears in the Top 10 of every single list of the greatest progressive rock albums of all time. (Eat that, Joni...lol)
Although some important, even seminal, progressive rock albums appeared before it -- including King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed (1967), On the Threshold of a Dream (1969), and A Question of Balance (1970), Jethro Tull's Aqualung (1971), Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (1970), and Yes' own The Yes Album (1971) and Fragile (1971) -- Close to the Edge marked a few significant turning points for progressive rock.
It was only the third album to feature a side-length composition (Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and Tull's Thick As A Brick came earlier), something that terrified Atlantic Records at the time. And featuring only three "songs" total only added to their fears: no one had ever attempted this (again, other than Tull). Even the band was not entirely certain how the public would respond, but they were far too busy experimenting and creating extraordinary music to worry about that.
The album also had the most sophisticated production ever attempted at the time (though The Moody Blues were doing some radical things as well). Just the opening minute of the title track took two days to record. And the producer built a near-full-sized stage inside the studio so the band could simulate the way they sounded live: Yes would become experts at this, creating and recording their music with the live experience in mind. (Genesis would eventually follow suit, and beginning with Wind and Wuthering had also built a stage -- with concert lighting -- in their recording studio.) The sheer depth and density of the production on Close to the Edge has rarely been equaled.
According to Wiki and several articles I found, influences on the album ranged far and wide, and included Lord of the Rings, Siddhartha, Sibelius' Symphonies #6 and #7, Holst's The Planets, Wendy Carlos, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. I would add contemporaries including Genesis, Frank Zappa, The Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd.
Perhaps most importantly, Close to the Edge arguably influenced more progressive rock groups and albums after its release than anything since In the Court of the Crimson King. Along with Thick as a Brick, it made it safe for others to create much lengthier compositions, and along with The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, it focused progressive rock groups on the possibilities of production, particularly sonics (i.e., atmospheres). It is probably no coincidence that, shortly after its release, we got Genesis' Foxtrot and Gentle Giant's Octopus, among many others.
The composition of the "songs" on Close to the Edge is also noteworthy, as they are far more complex than anything that Yes -- and even most other progressive rock groups -- had done before. "Orchestration" -- i.e., a more "classical" approach to composition -- had come to progressive rock with the advent of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed (the first commercial album to feature a classical orchestra) and had been picked up by others, including Pink Floyd and ELP (though the latter was applying rock sensibilities to classical works -- both properly attributed and not). Yes took that approach to a whole new level with Close to the Edge.
In the late 1970s, I fronted a progressive rock cover band. And among many other things, we played the entirety of Close to the Edge (i.e., all three compositions). It was by far the most intricate music we (or I) ever learned, both technically and sonically. And although I had the pipes then to hit Jon Anderson's notes, it was also the most difficult music to sing (the complex, and often bizarre, lyrics added to the complexity). But it was a true joy to perform: I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Having listened to the album again recently, I was reminded of just what a tour-de-force it is. And the power that it holds has not waned in the 50 years since its release.
From the title I thought it would be about U2.... Best Concert Experience Ever: "I Get Up, I Get Down", MSG 1977 I agree, the RS rating at #445 is off by a few hundred points. #5 post-1969 would be a little closer. Unfortunately, albums like this had their unintended negative influence too, as dozens of less talented bands tried to imitate them and created a deprecated "prog rock" that was ripe for a punk takedown. But Close to the Edge still stands as a monument of creative and technical achievement, well worth a 50th anniversary tribute. And a 100th, though perhaps not by us!