Much of pop and rock ’n’ roll of the late ’50s and early ’60s leaned toward simple, catchy tunes. A barrage of quick, three-minute earworms flooded the airwaves thanks to artists like Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and Elvis as well as the girl groups of the time like The Shirelles, The Ronettes and The Cookies.
But in the second half of the ‘60s things began to change. The Beatles turned the music biz on its head and went from the simplicity of tracks such as “Love Me Do” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” to more experimental and instrumentally diverse pieces like “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Other acts took their cues from the Fab Four, which opened up the door for more complex musicianship to work its way into the musical landscape as a whole.
By 1967 hordes of bands were questioning what the definition of a pop song was, and more importantly, what it could be. And in 1968, a group named Yes emerged from England, incorporating complex timing and atypical song structures and arrangements within their sound, while wholly dismissing the snooty idea that rock ’n’ roll was any less sophisticated than jazz or classical music. The band was fronted by Jon Anderson and would go on to influence countless musicians over the next half century.
While the current lineup of Yes does not include Anderson, he continues to record, and recently released a solo album titled “1000 Hands,” much of which was actually recorded nearly 30 years ago and shelved. Its recent release has inspired Anderson to tour and he will arrive 7 p.m. Monday, July 29, at the Ocean City Music Pier for a live show that mixes his solo material and Yes classics.
Anderson was nice enough to chat with me for a few minutes about the album the tour and the future of prog rock as a whole.
Ryan Loughlin: How has touring as a solo act been? What’s the show like?
Jon Anderson: It’s an 8-piece band. The idea is to do a lot of Yes songs in a powerful way and in a more interesting way — for me at least. You don’t want to replicate exactly what is on the record, but you do want to evolve everything soundwise. It’s been great. We are doing classic Yes songs plus new songs. People who know who I am know that I’m going to put on a good show. It’s visually fantastic and the musicians are very talented.
RL: Much of your new album “1000 Hands” was actually recorded in 1990. Your producer Michael Franklin decided to finish the album this year after receiving your blessing to do so. Tell us about the experience of putting this album together with him.
JA: Well the most important thing was that Michael was able to bring in so many great people to perform on it. Happily the tapes survived for so many years in my garage and when we listened to them on the computer, they sounded fantastic. And Michael was able to add all these wonderful musicians to play on it over a period of six months and that really opened up the music so much. And then I added three or four more songs with Michael. So it turned out for me to be a learning experience that music can be timeless.
RL: Do you still feel a connection to these songs? Do the lyrics ring true to you so many years later?
JA: It’s funny because to me, the lyrics still stand up. I’ve never been one to write really obvious lyrics in terms of songwriting. I leave that to the professionals. I like doing a sort of adventure lyric writing. One of the songs is actually very relatable to what’s going on right now in Congress with nobody being able to relate to each other. It’s a very bad way to run a country.
RL: Given the current state of pop music, do you think technically complex music such as prog rock will ever become popular again?
JA: I think so. It goes through waves. In the early 60s, right before the Beatles came, everything in music was very much like it is now. Everything was pop music. You had big band pop music, you had Frank Sinatra pop music, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis … which was all pop music. And it was fantastic. But then The Beatles came and recreated pop music by starting off initially with very commercial songs, then evolving to “Sgt. Pepper” over a four-year period. This major musical jump made everybody in the music world expand their thinking. George Harrison worked with (Indian musician) Ravi Shankar which is how world music really started to grow, and in the ‘70s it expanded again. So I’m thinking in the next 10 or 20 years music will evolve on such a level, which is very, very exciting to me because I really believe in the adventure of music.
RL: Any chance of a Yes reunion being in the works?
JA: I’ll call you.