What makes Yes's Roundabout so f***ing great?
July 21, 2018 10:10 AM   Subscribe

An in depth breakdown of the multi-track master tape of Yes's Roundabout, one of the most complex, adventurous, innovative, progressive records to ever get played (almost) to death on classic rock radio. Thank you, Rick Beato, all purpose everything music guy (previously). posted by philip-random (41 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
The whole "What Makes This Song Great" series is a good watch, even for songs/bands that you might dislike.
posted by tclark at 10:32 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


Probably better for songs/bands you dislike than ones you do like
posted by aubilenon at 10:38 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Who else could substitute for Chris Squire?
I stand by my answer.

While there are many great videos in this series, I thought the one for "You Oughta Know" was extra good
posted by thelonius at 11:07 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


You know, while I did not watch quite all of the Yes video, it seems like the bass is on one track - I had thought that Squire's Rickenbacker was sending one stereo out to a guitar amp, and one to a bass amp. I guess either not here, not ever, or they bounced them down to one track.
posted by thelonius at 11:09 AM on July 21


I really enjoy this series, but I can't shake the feeling that I'm watching Michael Imperioli.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:22 AM on July 21


As Patton Oswalt said in (I think) Gilbert Gottfried's podcast, this song includes every song Rush ever released, rendering their entire career redundant.
posted by rhizome at 11:49 AM on July 21 [13 favorites]


Annnd I've just discovered a new rabbit hole to explore! I love deconstructing rock songs and learning how they are made. Thanks for this post!
posted by sundrop at 11:55 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


this song includes every song Rush ever released, rendering their entire career redundant

Thanks for playing but nope. Rush had the Who/Zep crunch during the era they were the proggiest. I love classic Yes, they never really RAWKED, which was second nature to Rush. And after that Rush evolved into something else. And then evolved again. And again.
posted by Ber at 12:17 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


Also ignores the post-Moving Pictures, 80's modern rock influenced era of Rush

But Oswalt is on to something - this isn't really a traditional song, it's a collage of parts glued together. I don't think it would work that well as, say, a solo piano cover, without the particulars of the instruments and arrangements. That may not be a bad thing; but it is a thing.
posted by thelonius at 12:27 PM on July 21


I love classic Yes, they never really RAWKED,

the second half of their take on America suggests otherwise, and Yessongs is full of pumped up drama.
posted by philip-random at 12:30 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Drama is also full of pumped up Yes songs!
posted by thelonius at 12:48 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


I've been aware of "Roundabout" since at least my early twenties, but have never sought it out. But I was half-expecting to be like "oh yeah that song" when listening to it. And I totally didn't have that. Parts were vaguely familiar in a "maybe that was in a movie"-way but then it would segue into a completely unfamiliar bit. Somehow I've gone through 37 years of heavy music listening without ever encountering "Roundabout".
posted by Kattullus at 1:05 PM on July 21


Check it out...

This is great, but my my favorite track on Fragile is "Heart of the Sunrise". Vincent Gallo used several Yes songs in Buffalo '66, but I think his choice of it for the strip-club scene (wherein Billy goes there to kill former Bills' kicker Scott Wood, whom he believes ruined his life) was inspired. Since seeing that film, for me the song is indelibly linked to that scene.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:19 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Another particularly good episode is the one on The Police's Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:23 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


There's a bit more musical analysis he could have done. Close harmonies can be hard to break down. He pointed out the chorus changed, but it would have been interesting to hear the individual notes at least over a couple of bars. Apparently they use the melody from "Three Blind Mice" (see Wikipedia link below).

I had the sheet music for this tune (lost decades ago) and I'm pretty sure there is at least one time sig change. He could have played the tempo change fewer times and spoke about that.
And what about sounds like those hits during the chorus - snare drum with snare off or is that the timbale? Either way, it's one of the small things that makes the track stand out. Pretty sure you won't get the Chris Squire sound just by playing a Rickenbacker. He did a good job covering the keyboard sounds. (But I'm still wondering what makes that shimmery sound at the opening of the bridge - seems like a combination of tracks, could just be tambourine).

The only mention of influences was that the perc over the bridge is "like a Samba", and he mentioned clave and timbale but forgot the ago-go bell. The opening acoustic lick was intended to sound like a Scottish jig or reel - I always thought it sounded like a flamenco riff. What about that punchy rhythm guitar part? Sounds a bit blues-inspired to me, as does the organ solo (the surprise Bb is a measure of 2/4 if I'm not mistaken). The mountains may come out of the sky, but music like this generally does not.

And those trippy words - Yes lyrics are miles away from typical bubble gum pop songs, and that deserves at least a passing mention as a component of what makes the song great. The fluid tempo, volume, and time signature, the studio tricks - to me this speaks of remembering to make use of things that are available. The song, Yes music, and prog in general recombine things like folk and classical music with electronic instruments and rock sensibility. Those two factors, experimentation and juxtaposition, are core to truly creative music and at the heart of "Roundabout".

Overall - very interesting to hear the individual tracks, and see him play some of the parts. It's over 20 minutes long, which is enough detail for most people, while including insider observations for musicians down to the chord inversions.
posted by AppleSeed at 2:25 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Pretty sure you won't get the Chris Squire sound just by playing a Rickenbacker.

chris squire overdubbed the roundabout parts (the middle? all?) with a telecaster - mix magazine

pretty much your old fashioned tic tac bass only different

also the article states that on all good people/your move, they actually did use something like a click track

the 16 track chart for roundabout is way complex - there's a lot more info in the article
posted by pyramid termite at 3:21 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I was digging through our rather extensive (and collected over decades) vinyl collection just last week and pulled out an original pressing gatefold of Yes - Fragile and listened to this original version for the first time in years. (I've had a digital version that I'm sure is a remaster for a long time.)

I was pleased that I did. The side change somehow didn't come where I expected it to, and while vinyl does suffer damage across time the sound was pretty great. It didn't trigger the subwoofer quite as much as I might have expected (or wanted) but it was delightful to listen to a song that's 40-odd years old on a piece of 40-odd year old media.

I think sometimes I might alphabetize the vinyl collection but that would maybe ruin the journey of discovery.
posted by hippybear at 3:56 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


chris squire overdubbed the roundabout parts (the middle? all?)

To me, it sounds like he is talking about a different part than the iconic verse bass guitar:

The jazzy “mid section,” as the band called it, grew out of a bass line Squire injected during rehearsal, inspiring Anderson. “I was thinking, ‘Okay, then I could come in and sing on top of that, and Rick can do an alternate melody.’ You put things together and you hope it works.”

Squire doubled his bass line by borrowing one of Howe’s Telecaster guitars. Wakeman also doubled the bass line on his Hammond, a common practice, he says, between the two musicians.

posted by thelonius at 4:40 PM on July 21


This is great, but my my favorite track on Fragile is "Heart of the Sunrise". Vincent Gallo used several Yes songs in Buffalo '66, but I think his choice of it for the strip-club scene (wherein Billy goes there to kill former Bills' kicker Scott Wood, whom he believes ruined his life) was inspired. Since seeing that film, for me the song is indelibly linked to that scene.

gallo also used the song for the film's trailer, which is a masterful little short film in and of itself that basically tells the entire story of the movie using only stills taken from it.
posted by JimBennett at 5:13 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Pretty sure you won't get the Chris Squire sound just by playing a Rickenbacker.

Yes tribute band bass player, here. From what I understand, Squire used Marshall 50 watt &/or 100 watt amps. (Don’t know about what speaker combos, but I’m sure some fanatic somewhere can tell you exactly what.) I have some experience with trying to re-create his tone. I’m fortunate that our lead singer-second guitarist is a vintage amp buff, who actually owns a 1968 Mashall 100 watt, so I used it for a while. There’s a way you can bridge the two inputs to tie the two channels together to give you 2 gain stages, which gives you more distortion, which is key.

With no master volume on the thing, the trick was finding just the right balance between the two gain stages where it’s relatively clean when you play softly, but breaks up into a grindy distortion when you hit the strings harder. We went back & forth with it for a while, but the problem I found with the single 100-watt is that when you get the midrange grindy enough, the low end starts to fart out a bit, unless you turn the bass knob down, then the tone gets thin.

So I wouldn’t be surprised that even if he wasn’t running stereo, he might have been running 2 amps, to get some low end without it breaking up.

What we ended up settling on, & I’ve been quite happy with for a while, was bi-amping. I went mono out of the bass to a 1-in, 2-out box & sent 1 signal to the 50-watt Marshall, & turned the bass knob down to about 10 o’clock, & ran the mid & treble up pretty high, & set it to a pretty bright 15” Electro-Voice speaker. To get some low end, I send the 2nd signal to a 450 watt TC Eletronic transistor amp that I keep relatively clean, & it powers an 18” Cerwin Vega in a folded-horn cabinet.

Those 2 combined really hits the spot.

Yeah, roundwound strings (he was a Rotosound endorser), and a thing you’ll notice about Squire is that not only does he play with a pick, which will add some grindy brightness on roundwounds, because it kind of strokes multiple ridges of the stings with each stoke, but also, he plays really close to the bridge, which is going to emphasize the volume of the bridge position pickup, which is way brighter than the neck position pickup on a Rick.

I’m a finger player, but have simulated his playing style as best as possible by just banging the crap out of the strings with my fingers during the louder sections & really cranking the treble up.

The singer wanted his Marshall back, so I have recently settled on a 1980’s era Peavey Rockmaster 100-watt tube guitar amp, which is doing the work of the Marshall surprisingly well, as it has 2 gain stages built in and a master volume, & it puts out more low end. It was also about 1/5th price of a vintage Marshall, & has been a real trooper for the last 2 years.

We used to play Roundabout, but it’s never been my favorite Yes song, probably heard it on the radio too much. But it feels really good to be in the middle of a room full of people who can actually play this stuff, & be knocking down things like Siberian Khatru or Heart of the Sunrise. Those dudes put some serious work into their arrangements (tape edits aside).
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:58 PM on July 21 [17 favorites]


As I think I mentioned on one of the chatty MeTa threads, I spent a day recently listening through the Steven Wilson remixes of the Yes Album to Relayer tracks (and then later on Yessongs, which is what I had when I was a teenager, and I think some of the performances there knock the rather polite studio versions into a cocked hat). It really is the most glorious, delirious, joyous, wonderfully insane music ever.
posted by Grangousier at 6:07 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]




Wow, sounds like he must have kept his action really low, as there's a ton of fret buzz in there on the sustained notes. That would drive me crazy.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:56 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I always admired Squire's ability to do this "dismount the bass while bowing at the same time" maneuver that he did, like, a billion times during each concert.

I last saw Yes on their Magnification tour back in 2001, and it was a great show even while it was full of elements that were entirely mockable. I wish I'd seen the Union tour, as I've heard that was The One To See. I'm glad I saw them that one last time. Everyone in the band seemed to be really on top of their game and it was a really fun show.
posted by hippybear at 7:02 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Sorry, entirely wrong. It was the Open Your Eyes tour in 1997 that I last saw them.

Over 20 years ago. Huh. Well, I'm glad I saw them.
posted by hippybear at 7:07 PM on July 21


Oh, this will be a blast from the past. The very first real concert I went to was Yes, in 1977, in Vancouver. The opener was Donovan. I honestly never really understood prog-rock though and I hate Rush (very un-Canadian, I realize, but such pretention), so probably the whole experience was wasted on me. Well, something was wasted anyway. In any case, seeing how music like this is assembled is always interesting, thanks.
posted by Rumple at 7:16 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


I’ve seen them twice - the first time was in 1979 or 80 when they briefly reunited the “classic” lineup of Anderson, Squire, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe. They had a round, revolving stage in the middle of the arena, we were in the 6th row & man, we geeked out. It was amazing.

Saw them again just a few years ago, Howe, Squire, Alan White, one of those Trevor guys on keys (not the Buggles dude, I think?) & a relatively unknown young guy singing, who happened to sound a lot like Jon Anderson. It was a mediocre show, & looking back, Squire must have already been sick, as he didn’t move around much & looked pretty wan & pasty. They did play the entirety of Close to the Edge, which was alright by me, as that’s really their high-water mark of frenetic creativity.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:42 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Favorited for having seen them and appreciated it.
posted by hippybear at 8:56 PM on July 21


They were deeply into the revolving stage
posted by thelonius at 9:09 PM on July 21


- the first time was in 1979 or 80 when they briefly reunited the “classic” lineup of Anderson, Squire, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe. They had a round, revolving stage in the middle of the arena,

that was the third time I saw them -- 1979. Great show. It was supposed to be the Tormato tour, but by the time they got to Vancouver, it had become more of a greatest hits extravaganza. Some Tormato stuff off the top (I remember Future Times Rejoice being pretty strong), but it eventually settled into a great band doing great versions of great songs. One for the ages.

The second time I saw them was 1977. It was a darned good show, and indeed the same Vancouver concert that Rumple mentions above. But its focus was very much on the Going for the One album which, in retrospect, was not their greatest. Though Awaken was epiphany inducing.

The first time was the gem. 1975. The Relayer tour. The last time Yes was truly a progressive outfit, pushing every imaginable boundary in an almost three hour show that was as beautiful as it was frightening (in places anyway). Maybe it's that I was only fifteen at the time and seeing only my third proper big deal rock concert. Or maybe it really was THAT good. Either way, I'm still trying to figure it out.

They played Roundabout as an encore all three times.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 PM on July 21 [4 favorites]


... except I don't remember Bruford playing with them in 79. It was Alan White in the show I saw.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 PM on July 21


good rabbit hole: will watch more What Makes This Song Great episodes.
this one raised the memory of unavailingly working through some guitar magazine's tablature for Roundabout some decades ago; i do think there are time signature changes in there. but, as you'll see, the ol' memories may not be so reliable:

1987, "An Evening with Yes," Pittsburgh Civic Arena, for me. according to the records. i retain no recollection of the lineup or setlist, but recall a laser show that was likely the best (? -- not sure how to characterize relative quality of vague impressions and recollections of laser shows, it now occurs to me) i'd see until later Rush and Pink Floyd shows. suspect they played tracks of classic-rock-radio-station-midnight-albumside familiarity plus more-recently-charting 90125 and Big Generator songs in a satisfactory manner, closing with Roundabout, likely as an encore. because what is an arena laser show concert if there is no staged encore or series of them?

i thought that i did recall that Bad Company opened for them, and...did unfavorably differ in performance from expectation... but i cannot now, with resources at hand, confirm that it was the same occasion. pretty sure i never deliberately went to a show headlined by Bad Company.
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:35 PM on July 21


The intricate little stop-time fill section might be in an odd meter
posted by thelonius at 10:52 PM on July 21


It's always fun to watch the MIDI visualization to get a sense of the arrangements.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:30 AM on July 22


... except I don't remember Bruford playing with them in 79. It was Alan White yt in the show I saw.

Maybe I’m not remembering it correctly, but this was definitely the show I saw. Maybe it was the return of Wakeman that got everyone hot & bothered, but I would have sworn it was Bruford.

I’m probably conflating that with having seen Bruford on one of his solo tours in the same year.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:24 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Just finished watching, and in the process learned some new about music theory.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:24 AM on July 22




How I know I'm on MetaFilter instead of That Other Website: A discussion of Roundabout goes for more than a day with out a JoJo reference.

Also, my city's been installing roundabouts like crazy and my wife hates them, so I sing this song as we're going around them in order to bring her frothing rage to a peak.
posted by charred husk at 7:56 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


And those trippy words - Yes lyrics are miles away from typical bubble gum pop songs, and that deserves at least a passing mention as a component of what makes the song great.

The same could be said for Duran Duran, which leads me to one of my Crackpot Theories(TM): had Duran Duran formed 10 years earlier, they'd be Yes.
posted by stannate at 8:42 AM on July 23


had Duran Duran formed 10 years earlier, they'd be Yes.

reminds me of a quip from one the Violent Femmes when asked what he thought of REM. He shrugged and said, "They're great if you like Yes lyrics put to jangly guitars." (or words to that effect)

And speaking of Jon Anderson's lyrics, I like this (from the man himself):

“It’s all metaphors,” Anderson told Sea of Tranquility. “That’s when I went through that very strong period of just sketching and writing whatever I sang as being a state of consciousness. I would smoke a joint and just have fun and write: ‘A seasoned witch can call you from the depths of your disgrace / And rearrange your liver to the solid mental grace.’ And I know exactly what it means. ‘A seasoned witch can call you from the depths of your disgrace‘ — Your higher self can call you from the depths of your disgraceful feelings, your doubts. ‘And rearrange your liver‘ — you can rearrange your body to a ‘solid mental grace.’ The liver is a very powerful part of the body, so it can rearrange your physical self to a higher state of mind.”

First posted to this thread.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on July 23


Very cool post; have been checking out all the links for a few days now. But I have to ask: How does Mr. Beato (and others for that matter) get access to the masters to isolate the various tracks? Or is this just modern DSP wizardry?
posted by TedW at 5:49 PM on July 25


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