By: Dave Cooper
Yes bassist Chris Squire sadly passed away on 27th June 2015 as a result of leukaemia. Here, Echoes and Dust’s Dave Cooper talks about Squire’s legacy as one of the musicians credited with creating and developing progressive rock, and as one of the world’s finest bassists.
When I was 11, I heard for the first time one of the records that would change my life. It was 90125 by Yes.
I had heard their song ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ on Top Of The Pops one Thursday night, and immediately loved it: it was memorable, appeared to have a positive, motivational message, but had a flavour all of its own, something very different to the other music in the chart at the time. The promotional video, all mirrored skyscrapers and a passing eagle, intercut with video of the band, now seems endearingly of its time, yet you disparage it without my earshot at your peril. It was, in short, one of those songs that became an instant favourite, an instant part of my DNA. Somewhere deep in storage, I still have the 7” single of ‘Owner…’ in its now tattered sleeve.
By this time I was discovering The Album, and the benefits of the album format; a longer running time, more and longer tracks, thematic links between songs, all those sleeve notes, the artwork… in short, something that was a more immersive and affecting experience than the humble single. So naturally, having been bitten by the Yes bug, I simply had to go out and buy a copy of 90125, the band’s new album. By the time I was three or four tracks in, I was besotted. I have been a faithful Yes fan ever since.
But my exposure to Yes was to trigger a greater change in how I felt about the music I was listening to. I had dabbled in the waters of progressive rock before – I was already a Pink Floyd fan, although I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with tagging them as a progressive rock band, and had heard and enjoyed records by other prog bands, notably Camel, and King Crimson (both bands I would come to love in time, but at this point my exposure – and therefore my love of their music – was limited), but with Yes, it was a different experience. ‘Owner…’ had felt so very much like ‘my’ record, something I’d come across all on my own, and so Yes became ‘my’ band. With no conception of how many albums Yes had released or in what order, I started snapping up copies of the albums when I happened across them. I seem to remember Fragile was the next Yes record I heard, followed by Close To The Edge and The Yes Album. Fans of progressive rock reading this can probably imagine the impact hearing those records at that age had on me. It was as if the top of my head had unscrewed and my brain had floated off into the clouds. Roger Dean’s distinctive artwork for so many of those classic Yes albums was entirely appropriate: the sleeves, like the music, were a whole other world to escape to.
In short, listening to Yes changed the way I thought and felt about music. I had heard long, 10-minute plus tracks by other artists, but the way Yes constructed their longer pieces was a game-changer to my 11-year old mind. Motifs would be introduced, disappear, re-appear and be recycled into different forms throughout a track; periods of blissful calm would give way to frenetic rhythm-driven parts that would leave me unexpectedly holding my breath; band members would take solo spots that would shoot off on unexpected tangents or introduce completely new elements into the music. Over and under it all, vocalist Jon Anderson would reel off these mesmerisingly weird and wonderful lyrics, some more opaque in their meaning than others. They always had a strong sense of positivity, however; they always felt somehow heartfelt and hopeful. Listening to Yes set you up for the day. It made you feel re-invigorated and engaged. It told you that we should all take care of each other and our planet a bit more carefully. A bit spirit of ’67, perhaps, but then I always was a flower child.
As I delved deeper and deeper into the Yes back catalogue, I was struck by how the band always sounded like themselves despite the adventurous spirit embodied by their exploratory approach to composition which frequently juxtaposed all manner of styles and moods, and the band’s frequent line-up changes. But I didn’t really figure out why and how this had happened until several years later, when having finally bought all of the Yes albums that were available to buy, I picked up a copy of Yes bassist Chris Squire’s solo album, Fish Out Of Water. Having pressed play for the first time, I marvelled as the familiar style I so loved Yes for sprang from the speakers. The busy but fluid bass lines, the massed harmony vocals, the same melodic sensibility… the things I loved about Yes were here, too. And so it was that I learned just how important Chris Squire had been to Yes.
Squire was not important merely to Yes, however. Squire was one of the giants of progressive rock – indeed, very few musicians have proven to be so formative an influence over time, irregardless of genre. Whilst Squire’s lengthy tenure as the one fixed touchstone in Yes evidently inspired a great many progressive rock musicians, his loud, busy, aggressive style influenced bassists from across the spectrum of recorded music, from pop to metal. Social media has been alight with tributes since the news of Squire’s death from leukemia broke on 28th June, and it’s a testament to the high regard he was held in by musicians across the world, that a variety of acts from every conceivable musical genre have posted heartfelt tributes.
It might seem incredible now, but in many ways his trademark cavernous bass sound happened at least partly by accident. During an early recording session, the producer kept asking the engineer to turn Squire’s bass up as he was listening to playback over a tinny pair of headphones and Squire’s parts weren’t coming through clearly. As the producer had elected to mix the recording over headphones, the end result, when the finished recording was played back over a decent set of speakers, was Squire’s typically thunderous performance, perched as high in the mix as the traditional lead instruments. As Yes continued to make records, Squire’s bass has remained essentially a lead instrument, in sharp contrast to how bass is usually employed.
Something else that may seem incredible: when Squire started out as a musician for hire, he had real problems getting jobs as most musicians disliked his busy, aggressive style. They wanted him to play something a lot more basic, something that never sat well with the driven Squire, who was constantly working on developing his playing. When Squire formed Yes, in many ways it was to allow him the freedom to develop his own style without the constrictions that other musicians wanted to place on him; in fact, Yes were essentially a band comprised entirely of lead players.
Squire’s contribution to Yes didn’t end with his bass playing or his writing, however, and as with most musicians that excel at several things, his outstanding vocal contribution to the band is often overlooked. Squire’s aim with the creation of Yes was not only instrumental excellence, but vocal excellence. Squire – an ex-choirboy – worked tirelessly to develop the heavily harmonised vocal sound employed by Yes, and his backing vocals – often more like dual lead lines – are a key component in the Yes sound. Indeed that huge vocal sound and Squire’s inimitable bass playing style are constants throughout Yes’s near 50 year recording career, ensuring that despite innumerable line-up changes and constant stylistic evolution, all the band’s records are clearly and identifiably Yes albums.
Squire’s untimely death – he was only 67 – has robbed the progressive rock community of one of its leading lights. A giant of a man, both in terms of his legacy and his physical presence. At well over 6 feet, Squire could be a striking and intimidating presence; but as his friends often remarked, his tall frame harboured a gentle soul, a soul whose influence on the profoundly emotive and soulful music his band produced over the years remains evident for all to see.
Yes are currently on tour without Squire, for the very first time in their long career, long-term occasional band member Billy Sherwood having agreed to deputise for Squire whilst Squire sought treatment for his illness. In the wake of Squire’s passing, it’s impossible to say whether this is the last chapter for the legendary band. Squire had long assured interviewers that “there will always be a Yes” and had envisaged the band carrying on with new members long after all the original members had left. Squire seemed to feel that the band were more of an idea, a specific mindset or approach to composition, than as a specific group of people. After the many varied line-ups that have written, recorded and toured under the Yes banner it would be a foolish to consider the band a spent force. For the time being, however, the band and their fandom mourn the passing of the man who is inarguably the principal driving force behind a band that has changed the face of music for millions, and who continue to inspire musicians young and old across the globe.
Rest in peace, Chris. We will miss you.
Oh, wounded sparrow of my heart
Your time has come
So soon will you mend
All windows open to you now
Doubt falls away
Rise and transcend
(Yes, ‘Subway Walls’, 2014)
Five essential Chris Squire records:
Where Squire’s dramatic bass style truly coalesced: witness the driving power of his bass throughout ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ or the big, gliding lines that underpin the spiralling space rock of the end section of ‘Starship Trooper’. This record also showcases the band’s vocal harmony work – check out ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ for a dynamite example of Squire’s approach to vocal arrangement.
Worth it just for ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’, whose staccato string-snapping bass riff surely terrifies the sturdiest of players. There’s plenty of great work from Squire throughout, though, notably the rubbery bass runs on the classic ‘Roundabout’ and the titanic rolling bass that underpins ‘South Side Of The Sky’ – not to mention Squire’s own showcase, ‘The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)’.
With the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman in the wake of the flawed Tormato, Squire recruits the Buggles and cranks out some of his best bass work in the whole Yes catalogue. The frenetic ‘Does it Really Happen?’ and the effortless groove of ‘Tempus Fugit’ show Squire’s fine sense of melody as the bass firmly takes the helm. Elsewhere, ‘Machine Messiah’ essentially creates progressive metal.
A latter-day Yes album from the tenure of guitarist Trevor Rabin, Yes have seldom sounded more vocally powerful than here: the harmony vocals throughout are astounding. Check out the a cappella intro to ‘The Calling’, or the exquisite harmonies that lend an extra edge to ‘Real Love’ or the epic ‘Endless Dream’. Squire’s bass playing remains as sturdy as ever, too, as the booming power slides of ‘Real Love’ and the intricate melodic lines of ‘I Am Waiting’ demonstrate.
Fish Out Of Water
Squire’s first solo album, recorded in the mid 70s, is a perfect distillation of the things that Squire brought to Yes: the impressive vocal harmonies and the thundering bass are both present and correct here. Check out the classical influences of the epic ‘Safe (Canon Song)’ for a great example of Squire’s versatility and skill as an arranger, and the opening ‘Hold Our Your Hand’ for his ability to craft highly melodic and memorable songs. Even for one of the progenitors of progressive rock, it was never all about the epics.