"We were on top of the world when we made Close To The Edge," says singer-songwriter Jon Anderson, recalling the early months of 1972 when he and his Yes mates (guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Bill Bruford) holed up inside London's Advision Studios to record the follow-up to their breakout hit, Fragile, which was released a year earlier.
“The band had just done a huge tour for Fragile,” says Anderson, “and we were quite pleased at how the audiences were loving the longer pieces that we played live. Roundabout was eight minutes long, Starship Trooper was nine, and Heart Of The Sunrise was over 11 minutes. These are well-constructed pieces of music that really worked on stage. We were feeling very powerful, like we could do anything.”
And that they did. Comprised of just three songs – the title track along with And You And I, both four-movement epics, plus the relatively short (at eight minutes, 55 seconds) Siberian Khatru – Close To The Edge was the result of the progressive rock band’s musical impulses running on full, a broad canvas of dizzying instrumental exchanges supporting Anderson’s sublime, mystical poetic vistas.
“It’s very representative of what I think is the Yes style,” Anderson says. “We experimented a lot, but we also had the talent to back it up – it wasn’t just solo after solo. We told stories and created moods. It was all very daring and wonderful.”
The group eschewed making demos, preferring to work on rough ideas while co-producer Eddy Offord rolled tape. After several weeks, concepts were sewn together into elaborate song structures. “We’d get the basic sketch of something, and then it was a matter of refinement,” says Anderson. “A piece would start to feel complete, but then I’d look to Steve and say, ‘We need a very poignant 12-string guitar introduction.’ He’d come up with it, it would be great, and we’d be off.”
Released on 13 September 1972, Close To The Edge bested the performance of Fragile, reaching No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and placing a spot higher on Billboard’s Top 200 in the US. “FM stations really supported us, particularly on the college campuses in the States,” says Anderson. “They weren’t interested in what was commercial – they were just into playing great music.”
On the following pages, Anderson looks back at the writing and recording of Close To The Edge, offering his insights into the record track-by-track (and, more specifically, movement-by-movement). “It was the beginning of my musical journey in terms of really understanding structure,” he says. “I was able to help guide the band into Tales From Topographic Oceans, The Gates Of Delirium and Awaken. Everybody was so talented, so we could play these epic songs marvelously. The biggest thing was that we were all in harmony. We were truly connected.”