“Close to the Edge” is a song by the English progressive rock band Yes, featured on their fifth studio album Close to the Edge (1972). The song is over 18 minutes in length and takes up the entire first side of the album. It consists of four movements.
I. The Solid Time of Change
The progressive nature of the piece is revealed immediately as the song fades in with the sounds of running water, wind chimes, and birds chirping; a layering of sounds derived primarily from “environmental tapes” collected by lead vocalist Jon Anderson. These nature sounds move through a crescendo and into a somewhat menacing guitar solo, the backdrop for which is a cacophonous musical passage that serves as a replacement for the natural cacophony that preceded it. The guitar solo is punctuated by a series of sudden vocables. Again, a crescendo signals a transformation, this time into a more down to earth melody. Like a classical composition, this melodic passage is the establishment of a theme that will go through many variations throughout the life of the song.
The lyrics are introduced at 4:00, along with a chorus that remains throughout the song. Like the previously established melody, this chorus will be developed in many different ways, which will include changes to the lyrical content, as well as changes in time and key signatures, tempo, and harmony:
Down at the edge, round by the corner…
Close to the edge, down by a river…
II. Total Mass Retain
“Total Mass Retain” redirects here. For other uses, see Conservation of mass.
The song continues with generally the same melody and style, though the bass part changes significantly. The chorus here changes to a faster pace, and then slows down again at the end of the section. The final words “I get up, I get down” introduce the next segment.
This section, along with a sped-up version of the introduction of birds chirping at the beginning and a small part of the beginning of “I Get Up I Get Down” at the end, was remixed as a 3:21 single prior to the release of the album. It was included as a bonus track on the remastered version of “Close to the Edge”.
This is the shortest of the four sections of “Close to the Edge”.
III. I Get Up I Get Down
The song significantly slows its tempo and lowers its volume. This segment, beginning with a small baroque piece, consists of two sets of vocals: the main vocals, sung by Anderson which contain most of the lyrics, and the backing vocals, sung by Chris Squire and Steve Howe, which are noticeably slower and contain some non-lyrical parts. At about 12 minutes into the song, Rick Wakeman, recorded on the pipe organ of London’s St Giles-without-Cripplegate church, begins the main theme of this segment, which changes from a major to a minor key as the music progresses.
Jon Anderson said: “We have the ‘the I get up, I get down’ part before it goes into a beautiful ocean of energy. You’ve gone through nearly 10 minutes of music that’s very well put-together, but then you want to let go of it. You relax a little bit.
“The song came about because Steve was playing these chords one day, and I started singing, ‘Two million people barely satisfy.’ It’s about the incredible imbalance of the human experience on the planet.
“The vocals came together nicely. I’m a big fan of The Beach Boys and The Association – such great voices. Steve and I were working on this, and at one point he said, ‘I have this other song…’ And I said, ‘Well, start singing it.’ And he went [sings], ‘In her white lace, you could clearly see the lady sadly looking/ saying that she’d take the blame for the crucifixion of her own domain… ’
“When I heard that, I said, ‘Wait. That’s going to be perfect! You start singing that with Chris, and then I’ll sing my part.’ We have an answer-back thing.
IV. Seasons of Man
The original, fast-paced theme picks up followed by musical and lyrical structure which sounds similar to “The Solid Time of Change,” though here Rick Wakeman’s organ parts are particularly complex. The chorus is sung one last time before the vocals build up to the climax of the song in which all three motifs presented in the prior movements (“A seasoned witch…”, “close to the edge, down by the river”, “Seasons will pass you by, I get up I get down”) are combined to a fugue-like whole. Afterwards, the final lyrics “I get up, I get down” are repeated as the song fades away into the “sounds of nature” in which it began. It is worth noting that the bass line of this segment is actually a combination of the bass lines from the first two movements of the song.
In a 27 May 1996 interview with Elizabeth Gips on her show “Changes” (KKUP, Cupertino, CA), transcribed in the Notes From the Edge fanzine, dated 23 August 1996, Jon Anderson mentions that the song—indeed, the whole album—is inspired by the Hindu/Buddhist mysticism of Hermann Hesse’s book Siddhartha. “[We] did one album called Close to the Edge. [It] was based on the Siddhartha… You always come back down to the river. [You] know, all the rivers come to the same ocean. That was the basic idea. And so we made a really beautiful album[….]”
Anderson was concerned about how the words sounded, sometimes more than what they meant, creating, thus, verses that often don’t seem to mean anything, such as “The time between the notes relates the colour to the scenes”.
Jon Anderson – lead vocals
Steve Howe – electric guitars, backing vocals
Chris Squire – bass, backing vocals
Rick Wakeman – Hammond organ, Minimoog, Mellotron, grand piano, RMI 368 Electra-Piano and Harpsichord, pipe organ
Bill Bruford – drums, percussion