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Random Jukebox: say Yes to Owner Of A Lonely Heart

By late 1982, I was a producer of some note, with hits under my belt, while the band Yes were in a state of hibernation. Chris Squire, having been introduced to guitarist Trevor Rabin, had joined with him and the original Yes keyboardist, Tony Kaye, to form a new band, Cinema. They asked if I wanted to come and see them. (Which I knew of course meant, did I want to work with them?) 

I was interested, but Jill was much less keen. In 1985, Live Aid would make rock fashionable again, but at that time pop was very much in the ascendancy, and thanks to my work with Dollar and ABC, I was at least a tiny part of the reason for that. I was currently working with Malcolm McLaren on music that was an exciting, fascinating melange of hip hop, country and world music. 

What’s more, Yes, had ousted me from the band not two years previously. Why would I want to go back? — Trevor Horn, Adventures in Modern Recording, From ABC to ZTT

Trevor Horn’s intersection with prog-rock dinosaurs Yes seemed like an unholy liaison, but after floundering during the production of the second Buggles album, clever Trevor found himself looking for a fee-paying gig.

An American chart-topper come January and into February 1984, it’s the one with that cartoony crash bang wallop in the middle that Sting nicked for An Englishman In New York. And if it kept Karma Chameleon off the top spot for a week it can’t be that bad.

Though he’d started making a name for himself as go-to sonic synthesist, in 1981 Trevor Horn paused work on the second Buggles album to join Geoff Downes as fleeting frontman of prog-rock dinosaurs Yes, where the press dubbed the new line-up Yuggles (ho ho ho). 

Stepping in for founder member Jon Anderson did keep the lights on while the Buggles flopped out of existence, though the unholy liaison soon floundered.

With line-up changes even more frequent than Madonna’s plastic surgeries, the band reconvened in 1983 with writer, bassist and all-round musical wunderkind Horn – hot from helming ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love – shifted to production duties, and Anderson back as lead vocalist after a duophonic spell with Vangelis. 

The result of this intersection was an eye and ear opener for Yes heads. The melding of new guitarist Trevor Rabin’s hooky songwriting (in the Bonus Beats below, Rabin‘s fascinating demo features the journeyman humming through the verses, placeholder style, though it’s clear he’s got the chorus down) and Horn’s desire to put his studio tech and Fairlight to ever greater use pushed the outfit towards a more new wavey AOR direction and created a tune that’s as quirky and mismatched as the patchwork of talent that put it together.

Preferring to immerse himself in contemporary constructions, Horn was unhappy with the input of keyboardist Tony Kaye, a veteran from David Bowie’s 1976 so-called Station To Station tour, and opted to focus on the more experimental possibilities offered by a new emerging team. 

With studio wizards Gary Langan and JJ Jeczalik on programming, the pièce de résistance of the 90125 sessions was its first single Owner Of A Lonely Heart, which contained the first use of a sample as a breakbeat, on top of the Fairlight’s stabbing “whizz, bangs and gags” effects that punctuate the soundscape and provide a distinctive counterpoint to the part Police-style finger-picking, part jazz orchestra and horn-fuelled power chord boogie.

With the addition of gossamer tight programmed drums, the so-called Red & Blue Mix snaps, crackles and pops through its movements, throwing out ear-candy artillery wherever there’s a gap in the vocal. 

While it’s acclaimed as a groundbreaking, unorthodox creation, and, according to Horn, “technically the best record” he’s been involved with, Owner Of A Lonely Heart was also seared into history as Yes’s only American Billboard number one. Though it’s worth noting that despite considerable airplay on TV and radio, the single only reached 28 on home turf, the same week where Calling Your Name by Marilyn was sitting “pretty” at No. 4. As his gender-bending mate Boy George said, people are stupid. 

The 45 at No. 55 that damp November week in Blighty? Ladies and gentlemen, let me present Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

Adapted, extended and elongated from Perfect 10: Produced by Trevor Horn

Steve Pafford

BONUS BEATS That seven minute demo then. It’s quite good

 

 

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