1972 Atlantic [UK LP], 2003 Elektra/Rhino [2003 extended and remastered]
CD: 82667-2 [first Atlantic remaster], 8122-73789-2 [2003 extended and remastered]
Jon Anderson: vocals (1, 3, 4, 6, 7?, 9-11)
Bill Bruford: drums (1, 3-6, 9-11), percussion (1, 3-7, 9-11), keys (10)
Steve Howe: electric and acoustic guitars (1, 3-6, 8-11), vocals (1, 4, 6, 9-11)
Chris Squire: bass guitars (1, 3-7, 9-11), vocals (1, 4, 6, 7, 9-11)
Rick Wakeman: keys (organ, grand piano, electric piano, harpsichord, Mellotron, synthesizer) (1-6, 9-11)
Produced by Yes and Eddie Offord
Engineered by Eddie Offord, assisted by Gary Martin
Recorded at Advision Studios, London, Sep 1971
Original sleeve drawings, photography and logos by Roger Dean; photo of Bruford on drums by David Wright
2003 expanded and remastered release:
Reissue supervision: Steve Woolard, David McLees
Sound produced by Bill Inglot
Remastering: Dan Hersch, Bill Inglot
Art direction & design: Bryan Lasley with Greg Allen
Photography: Roger Dean, Martyn Dean
Liner notes by Bill Martin
1. Roundabout [Anderson/Howe] (8:29)
2. Cans and Brahms (Extracts From Brahms' 4th Symphony in E minor Third Movement) [Brahms, arr. Wakeman] (1:35)
3. We Have Heaven [Anderson] (1:30)
4. South Side of the Sky [Anderson/Squire] (8:04)
5. Five Per Cent for Nothing [Bruford] (0:35)
6. Long Distance Runaround (Anderson) (3:33)
7. the fish (Schindleria Praematurus) [Squire] (2:35)
8. Mood for a Day [Howe] (2:57)
9. Heart of the Sunrise [Anderson/Squire/Bruford] (10:34)
2003 bonus tracks:
10. America [Paul Simon] (10:33)
11. Roundabout (Early Rough Mix) [Anderson/Howe] (8:35)
Notes: (*****) For many, the definitive Yes album, Fragile finds the classic (or, at least, a classic) line-up in transition. Wakeman has just joined the band: the album was largely written before he joined, but largely arranged with him. Howe is still new, still increasing in prominence as a composer. While the old Anderson/Squire writing partnership dominates with "South Side of the Sky", "Long Distance Runaround/the fish" and "Heart of the Sunrise" (with Bruford), it is the new writing partnership of Anderson/Howe that kicks off the album with "Roundabout". Meanwhile, Bruford was not far off leaving for King Crimson. Fragile was also the first album to credit 'Jon' rather than 'John' Anderson.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of this period of transition is "America" (a cover of a Simon & Garfunkel number): not on the original album, but recorded sometime between sessions for Fragile and Close to the Edge. "America" had been a live standard when Tony Kaye was in the band and Wakeman was so opposed to recording it that Bruford ended up playing some of the keyboard parts instead. The piece quotes Bernstein's "America" from "West Side Story", famously covered by The Nice—Yes had, of course, covered another "West Side Story" number, "Something's Coming", for their first b-side (see Yes). "America" was released on The New Age of Atlantic sampler LP and as a single, then later on Yesterdays and numerous latter day compilations.
Why the title Fragile? The story goes that Brian Lane, the band's manager, was asked by a journalist what the next album would be called. A title hadn't been chosen, but Lane saw a box in the studio labelled 'fragile' and so that's what he said. The name then went on to inspire Roger Dean's first album for the band with its blue and green world breaking up. Numerous subsequent Dean covers (as well as Anderson's solo album Olias of Sunhillow) would continue the story of what happened next.
An early idea for the album had been a double LP: one studio, one live. The live LP would have had "America" (a 1971 live version tops 18 minutes) on one side and another cover, "It's Love", on the other side. Extended versions of both had been a feature of the band's live set. (Live versions of both songs are now available on The Word is Live.) The plan never came to fruition, although "America" was recorded in the studio (in a shorter form). Squire's bass figure at the beginning of Yes's version of "It's Love" eventually emerged in "Arriving UFO" on Tormato.
The working titles for the individual pieces, as seen on the master tape box for the album, were "Round About", "Cans and Brahms", "John's Song", "South Side", "Bill's Epic", "Corporal Salt", "Steve's Solo", "Heart of the Sunrise". "Corporal Salt" was "Long Distance Runaround", the name being a joke on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.
"Roundabout" was the band's first big US single (#13 compared to "Your Move" reaching #40). It was that song that really broke the band in the US and pushed Fragile to #4 (The Yes Album had made #40). Both albums made #7 in the UK. For all its imagery, "Roundabout" is actually on a rather prosaic subject. The roundabout of the title is the name for a traffic circle in the UK and the song is about driving through Scotland ("mountains come out of the sky" as the band drive around lochs and see the mountains emerging from the mist), looking forward to seeing one's girlfriend again ("twenty four [hours] before my love you'll see I'll be there with you"). White has been critical of the radio edit, describing it as having had one of the best bits cut out.
In 2002, Anderson said that "South Side of the Sky" is about an expedition to climb Mt. Everest which ended in tragedy when the climbers were caught in a snowstorm and died (the "south side of the sky" presumably being a reference to climbing the south face), but also their subsequent spiritual assent and a metaphor for the spiritual journey we all take. Performing the song live long proved a problem for the band, who tried and rejected it repeatedly for many years, before mastering it seemingly without difficulty for their 2002 tour.
"Long Distance Runaround" has what is my personal favourite line by Anderson ever: "hot colour melting the anger to stone". When things melt, they usually become liquid rather than the cold, solidity of stone, but the line superbly captures how the heat of passion dissipates yet leaves a stony core. Anderson has said that the lyric as a whole was his response to the negative aspects of organised religion that emphasise a relationship with God based on fear and guilt. To quote Anderson:
To me, Long Distance Runaround, when I think about it, it was how religion had seemed to confuse me, totally. It was such a game that we would seem to have played. And I was going around in circles looking for the sound of reality, the sound of God. That was my interpretation of that song... that I was always confused, I could never understand the things that religion stood for. And that over the years has always popped its head up in the songs that I've been working with. Just that in-built confusion since I was a child: 'the fear of the Lord', you know, you have to fear, da-da, death and... What do you want to give a child such a dark way of looking at life for?In a 2002 interview for Joe Benson's Off the Record, Anderson had this to say:
It was a very simple song that I wrote one day. I think it was definitely about my feeling of frustration with religion, and that God should be a little simpler. And then the musical side of it was definitely Chris and Steve and Rick coming up with these sort of trippy musical parts. The song is a very simple song, but the actual arrangement of the song is definitely classic Yes, getting two or three days in rehearsal, and coming up with something a little bit visionary if you like. But the song is basically, when I'm singing it on stage now, I'll say that basically it's a very hippy song, actually; you know, "I still remember the dream," and I put my fingers up like a peace sign you know, and I think about the long distance chase, of trying to find out what religion is really all about. And then, when I'm singing the second verse, which is about throwing stones, and when you get very angry, and I was thinking about Kent University, and what was happening in Northern Ireland, and what happens every day in Palestine, kids throwing stones. It's the idea that we're so frustrated with life at times, you know? And in a way that song, "Long Distance Runaround," is as modern today as it ever was."Heart of the Sunrise" was inspired, to say the least, by King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man". King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was not the first progressive rock album (it post-dates Yes, for starters), but it was an early milestone for the genre and an inspiration to many bands, including Yes and Genesis. When Banks had left Yes, they had approached Crimson band leader Robert Fripp. He refused, but Bruford was soon to leave for Crimson. "Heart of the Sunrise" had been rehearsed with Tony Kaye in July and was the first song Wakeman worked on when he joined the band.
[Joe Benson] Of course, Rick wasn't officially with the band until just a day or two before you began recording. Wasn't he like, he'd been around, but he didn't officially become a band member, did he? Didn't you have a lot of material written for Fragile?
We had a lot of it already in place, but Rick was a very integral part at that time. He was the - as you would say - the next piece of the puzzle. He came in and performed very closely with Steve. [He] and Steve together would go through some very magical experiences in rehearsal, so those are the things that started to shine through. And Chris, again working with Bill Bruford, the combination of four musicians, and then the vocalization, we were in a sort of totally different mode. We weren't interested in the pop world, we weren't interested in touring. We were very focused on making music; recording an album that was going to be - well we didn't know at the time, but it was going to be a very different looking album, sound-wise, and the way we felt about music, it was always going to be very different [from] the norm. And not only us, I think at that time, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, and Genesis, all these bands were starting to really kick in, doing something that obviously became a very musical revolution at that time.
This was a very productive period for the band, who had recorded The Yes Album not long before and were very soon back to work on Close to the Edge. However, that productivity came at a price: the band, it appears, ran out of material. While the main songs seem to have been written before the recording of the album (some possibly going back a while—Peter Banks has said he came up with the chord progression for "Roundabout" before he left Yes), Yes did not have enough material for an album. Meanwhile, Jon Anderson was very keen for all the band members to be involved in composing. The solution was a quintet of solo pieces.
Bruford had wanted to call his short piece "Suddenly It's Wednesday", a very typical Bruford title, but the rest of the band chose "Five Per Cent for Nothing", in reference to a deal with a past manager (who got 5% but they felt had done nothing).
Chris Squire's solo piece was called "the fish" as he was nicknamed 'Fish', a reference to his being a Pisces or a predilection for long baths, or both. Eddie Offord was sent off to find a fish name with the right number of syllables for the piece and Schindleria praematurus was the closest he could manage: it's the Linnean name for the smallest known fish (and smallest known vertebrate).
For contractual reasons, Wakeman was not officially allowed to compose anything for the album, which is why he is not credited. However, he did actually write the piano break in "South Side of the Sky" and had important input into the arrangement of the album. This is also why his solo track is a cover of a Brahms piece. A long-standing myth is that Wakeman's solo piece had been going to be a piece entitled "Handle with Care" (which became "Catherine of Aragon" on The Six Wives of Henry VIII). However, Wakeman has denied this and said that while the "Handle with Care" name was a reference to Fragile, they had always known that he could not contribute a composition of his own: "Cans and Brahms" was always the plan for Fragile and "Handle with Care" was always going to go on a solo album.
The last three quarters of a minute of the original album is a reprise of "We Have Heaven". It was Offord's doing, but the band liked and it stayed in. The reprise was left off the first pressing of a Gold CD release of Fragile prior to a hasty correction.
The album has been solidly played live since its release: "Roundabout", "Long Distance Runaround", "the fish", "Mood for a Day" and "Heart of the Sunrise" are all very familiar from set lists. "We Have Heaven" was debuted in 2002, when "South Side of the Sky" was played regularly for the first time. Wakeman has played "Cans and Brahms" a few times, while "America" was a surprise return at the San Luis Obispo shows (see Keys to Ascension). The only piece never to have been played live is "Five Per Cent for Nothing". (HP, 31 Jul 03; updated 30 Aug 05)