s skippy the bush kangaroo: Feature or Bug? Yes edition

skippy the bush kangaroo

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feature or Bug? Yes edition

I know my musical taste is slightly off.  I prefer Hearts and Bones to Graceland, am far too fond of Street Legal(a disease shared with Harry Brighouse of Crooked Timber), and would rather listen to Speaking in Tongues than Remain in Light (and probably both over Fear of Music).  But until yesterday I never had cause to ponder that my skewed perspective on pop music might also harm my perception of "Prog-Rock."

Jim Henley, taking a moment of Twitter time from trying to save the world from spreading Santorum, suggested yesterday that "Wonderous Stories" (the second hit single* from Going for the One) is "the worse Yes song," rather than "Don’t Kill the Whale" (the first single from the subsequent Tormato albumen).

I dissented, and Jim was gracious enough to explain his reasoning, noting that the lyrics to "Don't Kill the Whale" make more sense than those of "Wonderous Stories."  So I know we’re looking at the same data.**

But that’s the problem. You see, Jon Anderson lyrics aren't supposed to make sense.  I mean, really:

Bluetail, tailfly / Luther in time / Suntower asking / Cover, lover / June cast, moon fast

In the end we’ll agree,we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize/That the truth of the man maturing in his eyes

And here you stand no taller than the grass seas / And should you really chase so hard / The truth of sport plays rings around you

Only the second example, and that just barely, can be passed off as the lyrics of someone whose natural bent is not toward "goofy."****  Were Anderson not a castrati, David Byrne’s career might well have ended somewhere between "Love is a Building on Fire" and "Life During Wartime,"***** in recognition that tracks such as "Burning Down the House" or "Stay Up Late" owe their lyrical structure to ransom notes and Tales from Topographic Oceans.

As we follow the path of the band, we see Anderson becoming less and less lyrically obscure—a problem compounded as the music never gets more interesting. Variations on Stravinsky or Copeland sound less unique in a time when aspiring mainstreamers such as Barry Manilow are adapting Chopin, and eventually the audience realizes that they can go to the symphony instead, and the band is left to produce the Love Beachs and Tormatos of this world.******

In short, there seems still some faint glimmer of hope left when "Wonderous Stories" is released; that hope is dashed upon the rocks a year later with "Don't Kill the Whale."  At least, that was my perspective.

Jim, dealing with the singles, clearly disagrees.  So I leave it to the Skippy readership:

Don't Kill the Whale

or Wonderous Stories (which doesn't appear to have had an Official Music Video)

I report, you decide.

*Phrase used loosely.

***I haven’t verified that we’re in agreement that Going for the One is a superior Yes album, which seems rather like saying that one’s latest bowel movement was solid and relatively monochromatic. The homoerotic Roger Dean cover—a naked man staring up at a skyscraper; Robert Plant, one suspects, can relate—and the presence of the Obligatory Unending Song That Takes Up the Second Side*** make that a recognizable Yes album, while Tormato makes ELP’s Love Beach obituary seem like Foxtrot, or perhaps Selling England by the Pound. The band is, by that point, dead in the water, and their inevitable follow-up with the most successful single of their career, "Cloner of a Top Ten Hit," only proves that.

***I suspect "Awaken" takes up the second side; I owned it on 8-track. Certainly, it is as interminable as the album version of "Roundabout."

****A friend who is much more of a Yes fan than I, even to this day, declares that the secret to Jon Anderson lyrics is that if your interpretation of them makes sense, you’re probably hearing them wrong.

*****"Think of Memphis/Home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks"—had Byrne not freely admitted that was a gaffe, he could have taught history with Victor David Hanson

******Or find themselves being turned into something else, e.g., McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman, where Byrds songs and instrumentation were produced to sound like all the other Capricorn Records of the time.

Labels: ,

posted by Ken Houghton at 11:35 AM |


One of my favorite songs by Yes is a cover of "America".
As a teen, I was never one to buck the mainstream (although I did listen to Strawbs and Steeleye Span) but once hitting college, I discovered punk, alternative, world and other unclassifiable music (how does one classify Throbbing Gristle). Even later, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Guided by voices, They might be giants and Swell(never lost my pop sensibility). The list goes on.
commented by Blogger acrannymint, 5:08 PM PST  
all i know is "tales from topographic oceans" got me thru a specific part of a lonely era in my life...
commented by Blogger skippy, 7:22 PM PST  

Add a comment