Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yes: America

Only 15 more posts are planned; however, you can make a difference and extend the life of "Reading Between the Grooves" by registering your feelings in the survey found at http://tinyurl.com/8juv863.

Eleven years ago on this date America experienced the greatest act of terrorism in this country’s history. I will not belabor the point of where I was when I heard the news nor the nature of the attacks, as I did that in previous posts on the anniversaries of 911.

America changed that day and heightened regulations at airports commenced immediately as well as suspicions of anyone who is of foreign birth and even some folks who are native born. We all became scared and a little jaded. We will never forget; but in time, healing may come.

Today’s recording celebrates America with a trip of two lovers across the United States to their apparent destination of New York City. While New York is never mentioned in the song, it appears to be the logical conclusion of the trip that started in Saginaw, Michigan, and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and onto the New Jersey Turnpike. I featured Simon and Garfunkel’s original version during my September 11th tribute in 2010. Today’s Tasty Lick Tuesday selection is the cover from the progressive rock band Yes.

Originally released in 1972 as a non-album single, Yes recorded their version around the time of the session for the “Fragile” album. The full length 10:30 original version appears on the 1972 sampler album “The New Age of Atlantic.”

Most major labels in the early seventies provided samplers at a reduced price and it was a good way to introduce acts to the public. Both the Yes track and a Led Zeppelin B-side appeared for the first time on an album with this sampler.

Later in 1975, the full length version of “America” was added to the Yes compilation album “Yesterdays” and was the only track that featured the lineup of Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and Bill Bruford – the best known version of the band. The other selections on the album featured the previous lineup with Peter Banks and Tony Kaye. 

With the advent of CD technology that could feature up to 80 minutes of music, both the single and album versions were released as bonus tracks on the CDs “Fragile” (the full length version) and “Close to the Edge” (the single version). The single also appeared on the box sets “Yesyears” and “Yesstory.”

While a totally different arrangement than Simon and Garfunkel’s original, Yes’ “America” showcases the talent of this band and notably the bass of Chris Squire, the guitar of Steve Howe, and the keyboards of Rick Wakeman.

Full Length Version

Single Edit

1-2-3’s Version of America

While Yes’ arrangement of “America” was different, it may have been loosely inspired the arrangement of a Scottish band named 1-2-3. In 1967, 1-2-3 had performed as a house band at London’s Marquee Club. During their sets, they played “America,” a song that was learned from a demo tape cut by Paul Simon in 1966. In fact, I-2-3’s recording of “America” predated Simon and Garfunkel’s commercial release of the song.

It has been said that David Bowie, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman were present during the performances 1-2-3 and that Wakeman's and Emerson's performance styles were both influenced by 1-2-3’s keyboardist, Billy Ritchie.  Bowie later performed his own arrangement of “America” live using an Omnichord.

1-2-3 was only a three piece band, and beside Ritchie, it featured Ian Ellis on bass and vocals and Harry Hughes on drums. Although managed by Brian Epstein and later Robert Stigwood, 1-2-3 had little success. The band joined the Chrysalis management group and were rebranded as Clouds.

While Yes’ version probably took its initial inspiration from 1-2-3’s performance, there is enough difference between the two to conclude that Yes’ version was unique. I would liken 1-2-3 more to the sound of Vanilla Fudge and other bands that heavily used the Hammond B-3 organ.


  1. I like both versions, and fully appreciate Yes as a band, but I wouldn't describe the Yes version of America as unique in comparison to 1-2-3. Listening to the two versions in chronological order, it's crystal clear that the concept came from 1-2-3, though it's true that by bringing more instruments into play, Yes certainly produced more counterpoint and sound texture.

  2. Point taken. Obviously 1-2-3 was an influence on the Yes version.


  3. A generous reply Jim. I note that you are planning only a few more posts? I would urge you to carry on. Good criticism is all too rare on the internet.

    Best wishes


  4. James - thanks so much. Hopefully, enough folks like yourself will encourage me to continue. I think I'll get the magic number I am looking to achieve, but that remains to be seen right now.

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  6. Yes did release an official version with Rick Wakeman, but it was part of their stage act with Tony Kaye. Thus, the Yes version originally predated Rick Wakeman's involvement with Yes. I am not sure if it also originally predated Steve Howe too.

  7. I liked the version on “The New Age of Atlantic” better. Squire had reverb added to it for Yesterdays and I think it sounded better without it.

    Bassically, Michael

  8. I've only just discovered this blog (thanks to the Facebook page "Notes From The Edge" that shared this post a few hours ago). I'm glad to see that you appear to have continued blogging despite what you said a year ago and I will be subscribing :-)

    I just spent a happy 10m:32s relistening to a track I haven't played in years. Cheers.

    1. Thanks Jim. I was wondering why the numbers jumped for this particular day and now I know. Thanks for visiting.

  9. Thanks a lot for all the information. I have been listening to Yes a lot recently and got hooked on America again after so many years. Your review gave me much insight into the band I truly love. Best wishes.