Roundabouts and other traffic stuff


Yes is undeniably in my top 3 of bands of all time.  It may well be number one.  I can listen to Yes songs all day long.  Frankly, Fragile is not my favorite album. Maybe it is because I burned out on listening to it so often. And there was some stuff on it, though likable enough, was sort of repetitive and I hate repetitive stuff.  Going for the One, Close to the Edge, 90125 and even the recent Heaven & Earth, as whole albums, I think I like better.

But, Fragile is to Yes what Dark Side of the Moon is to Pink Floyd.  It is there iconic album.  And the songs on it are fantastic.  My favorites are definitely South Side of the Sky, Heart of the Sunrise, Mood for a Day, Long Distance Runaround and, yes, the one hit that is just amazing and iconic–Roundabout.  Fragile came out in 1971, but it wasn’t when it came out that I became so enraptured by it.  That would be about 1976 or 1977 when I first heard it and then listened to it again and again.

Here it is in its original form.  With some cool Roger Dean-esque graphics.

Roundabout opens the album. The intro is a guitar instrumental that every aspiring guitar player learns to play.  In actuality, the opening note is not a guitar harmonic, rather, a backwards looped piano chord that apparently it took the engineer, Eddie Offord, hours to get right. If you want to learn to play the intro on guitar, here it is:

The song was written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe.  You can tell that it started out as heavy on the guitar from Steve Howe. He even said that he originally wrote it as a “a guitar instrumental suite … I sort of write a song without a song. All the ingredients are there—all that’s missing is the song. ‘Roundabout’ was a bit like that; there was a structure, a melody and a few lines.”

If you have ever listened to any of Steve Howe’s solo stuff, you can tell that he was a driver behind the finished song. Here is an acoustic rendition by Yes. It’s got a kind of jazzy feel to it.

From what I can learn, the song was written while on tour in Scotland. Some of the key lyrics came while they were driving in their van. The scenery inspired Anderson–“Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.” described the mountains appearing and disappearing in the clouds on the way from Aberdeen to Glasgow.”In and around the lake” is a reference to Loch Ness. The line “Twenty four before my love you’ll see I’ll be there with you” was because Anderson was looking forward to returning to his home and wife. And, of course, the title and word that comes up in the chorus, roundabout, was literally referencing a roundabout traffic circle.

To end this, here is a live version from Yessongs, the first Yes live album and a film that Scott Harline and I saw about a gazillion times at the Campbell dollar theater.



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