For Christmas 1971, my 11 year old brother received a present from me of a record album, which on the surface is not the least remarkable … except that it was Meddle by Pink Floyd, containing the 18 minute long opus, “Echoes”. Not your standard fare for fifth grade “show and tell “. I mention this only to illustrate how seriously many of the post-British Invasion bands were approaching the rock idiom, and by 1972 this “progressive “ rock movement had matured with spectacular results, both artistically and commercially.
As early as the Moody Blues’ 1968 Days of Future Passed, which was the result of a combination of new technology ( the Mellotron , which crudely emulated choral and orchestral sounds ) and desperation, an increasing number of British and European bands expanded rock’s canvas musically and lyrically without the slightest consideration to the pop hit mainstream. King Crimson’s stunning debut in 1969, In the Court of the Crimson King , inspired others such as fellow Londoners YES to release Close to the Edge barely a scant nine months after their breakthrough album Fragile . While not normally considered a prog-rock band, Traffic nevertheless had their biggest seller in 1972 with The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys , built around the 11 minute hypnotic title song which featured electronically synthesized saxophone by Chris Wood, while Trilogy from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, as well as Foxtrot from the Peter Gabriel-led Genesis, had critics raving and cash registers ringing. Of course all of this would culminate in Spring 1973 with the incomparable Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon , an iconic masterpiece which long ago threw off any binds imparted by categorization as progressive rock, but not before both Jethro Tull’s Thick As a Brick and the Moody Blues’ Seventh Sojourn would each rack up #1 international sales in 1972.
On the 40th anniversary of Close to the Edge going Top Five sales in both the U.S. and UK, YES lead singer/lyricist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, extraordinary drummer Bill Bruford, and keyboard innovator Rick Wakeman provide a surprisingly candid recounting of the undisputed peak of the Progressive Rock era. While it took them barely 18 months to write and record The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge, it has taken almost twenty years for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s version of the Warren Commission to deny any conspiracy to bar Yes from induction. – Redbeard