Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yes -- "Into The Lens"/"Tempus Fugit" (1980)

Rock bands have replaced their lead singers with extremely mixed success, from total bombs (Gary Cherone in Van Halen, Ray Wilson in Genesis) to rare success (Brian Johnson in AC/DC, Sammy Hagar in Van Halen). Lead singers are so front and center that replacing one is a huge risk based on if the fans buy it or not.

Prog rock poster boys Yes did one of the strangest switches -- not because it lasted one album... not because it was the only one througth 19 studio albums -- but because after the new lead singer left the band, he came back three years later to produce their biggest hit song, with the original lead singer intact (Jon Anderson).

Anderson left Yes with heralded keyboardist Rick Wakeman in tow after the Tormato album. Anderson's falsetto was so incredibly distinct and identifiable with the band's sound, that replacing him would appear to be impossible. Yet, the unlikely replacement was Trevor Horn from the New Wave band The Buggles, best known for their iconic "Video Killed The Radio Star." Horn was the complete package too, bringing along his keyboardist Geoff Downes.

While we all know Horn now as one of the most influential and successful record producers of the 80's and 90's, back then, he was best known for his wide glasses and fronting his one-hit wonder band. Horn's vocals sounded remarkably like Anderson's except in a slightly lower register. Not only that, the resulting Drama album sounded like the band had not missed an unsually metered beat.

I like to call Drama the "fluke album" that worked, criminally overlooked compared to Yes' heralded first heyday of "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout" to their later second wind with "Owner of A Lonely Heart" and "Love Will Find A Way."

Lightening up on the sci-fi lyrics, probably because of Horn replacing Anderson as a songwriter as well, the best two songs were "Into The Lens" and "Tempus Fugit," two epic tangles of storming Steve Howe guitars, Chris Howe's racetrack bass, epic openings, complex meters and especially with the former song, a strong melancholy melody. As with all Yes albums, you really had to listen, put on headphones ideally, and absorb all the fine little strokes of these fine musicians.

These two tracks hold up just as well as any of Yes' "greatest hits," yet they are brushed under the rug as if they never existed. Yet, they were a fascinating part of this band's history. As a matter of fact, if this collaboration lasted more than one album, it would have made an interesting alternative history for this pioneering band.

Yet, after the Drama tour, Horn and Downes retreated back into the Buggles, weirdly enough, and released a New Wave pop version of "Into The Lens" retitled "I Am A Camera" the following year. That flopped, the band dissolved, and in 1983, Horn emerged as the producer of Yes' colossal comeback album, 90215 with "Owner Of A Lonely Heart."

To mark this unusual detour for Yes, here are three videos: 1) The official (and unfortunately a bit grainy) "Into The Lens" 8-minute video, which is rather entertaining watching all these characters squashed a bit on stage, switching instruments, performing this prog rock epic; 2) The official "Tempus Fugit" video, with the vocoder "Yes, yes!" and reminiscent of the band's good old days, with plenty of split screens; and 3) The Buggles' "I Am A Camera," just to hear how they redid "Into The Lens" as a pop single.


capewood said...

I've been a big Yes fan through out all of their varied manifestations. At one point (it must have been around the Drama album, Chris Squire was the only original band member left and the other originals, Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe had recorded their own album and wanted to call themselves Yes. In the lawsuit which followed, Squire won the rights to the name. But after that they all got together again. I saw them in concert sometime around their Union album and just about every past and current Yes member was there. Talk about a crowded stage. They even had two drummers.

Anonymous said...

Loved the info you provided. I love YES but unfortunately don't own every album - yet. Saw video for Tempus Fugit and noticed Anderson and Wakeman present so I did a search and found your site (now bookmarked). I don't want to get picky but in one spot you referred to Chris Squire as Chris Howe. Thought maybe it could be edited. Thanks, will return when I need knowledge I don't possess. Phoebe

Anonymous said...

Now I have made my own error: I typed 'noticed Anderson and Wakeman present" instead of not present. "To err is human, to forgive divine." Guess that proves we're both human. Thanks again for this site. Phoebe