Saturday, 5 October 2019

Clandestine Classic LX - Yes

The sixtieth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Just like last time, here's a song I couldn't believe I hadn't already featured. Back in 1994, Bernard Butler, fresh from leaving Suede, hooked up with ex-Thieves and solo artist David McAlmont, apparently because the latter had a lyric the former felt he could put a riff to. Holing up in a French studio with drummer Mako Sakamoto, engineer Nigel Godrich and co-producer Mike Hedges (production duties shared with Butler, as I think you can tell from the end result), McAlmont and Butler laid down Yes and follow-up single You Do in just three days. I know, I know, back in the early 60s popular beat combos would knock out whole albums in that time, but even so, three days is pretty swift for such great tunes.

Given that haste, that burst of creativity, you might reasonably wonder what the lyric was the Butler thought he could do something for - well, here it is:

So, you wanna know me now? How I've been?
You can't help someone recover, after what you did.
So tell me, am I looking better?
Have you forgot whatever it was that you couldn't stand
About me, about me, about me?
Because
Yes, I do feel better.
Yes I do, I feel alright.
I feel well enough to tell you what you can do with what you've got to offer...

So, Yes is a song about meeting up with someone that once dumped you, breaking your heart in the process, and when faced with that person wanting to be nice sometime down the line, pally, maybe even to rekindle something, having the strength to remind them how they were, and to tell them where they can stick their olive branch. In other words, it's a story that lots of people, no doubt, can identify with. And importantly, it's told as a positive - it's not, "No, you can't be with me again" or "No, I don't want to let you back into my life" but as a positive - "Yes, I do feel better, actually, so much better in fact because I can see you for what you were." And who wouldn't want to face up to past heartbreak like that, with that attitude? I know I would.

Musically, Butler's trademark guitars sounds are all present and correct, as is the slightly Spector-esque, full-on production and orchestral backing he favoured at the time. Add David McAlmont's three-octave range and you have a vocal performance that positively soars; whenever I hear this, I always feel that the vocal and music are almost competing, seeing which can reach the most dizzying height, and we, the listeners, are the beneficiaries of this competition.

I suppose, technically, this classic isn't that clandestine. It peaked at 8 in the UK singles chart, and was critically acclaimed too. But that was 24 long years ago, and not much (the You Do single and parent album The Sound of... McAlmont and Butler aside) followed until much later. There were a few live shows and a dynamic performance on Later... but, apart from that, little else. And so, despite its total and utter brilliance, Yes remains a song of its time - people my age love it, but the band didn't have enough longevity for other generations to be exposed to it. It will fade away, and that is a crying shame; it becomes more clandestine with every day that passes.

You can, and should, pick up Yes on The Sound of... McAlmont and Butler - it's a great album, though nothing else reaches these heights. And here are those heights, courtesy of YouTube...

Bonus live performance from Later..., with excellent guitar wig-out from Bernard towards the end.

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