Metropolis – A grandiose, breathtaking, confusing spectacle.

Throughout the history of cinema, there have been many movies that have tanked on their initial release, only to gain a wider, more appreciative audience much, much later for actually being under appreciated and excellent examples of film making. ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’ was one. ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ was another and the most shocking in this category has to be ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. (Yes folks, believe it or not, that was a box office bomb). The movie I am reviewing today can probably lay claim to have started this trend, as it dates back over 90 years. It is Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent movie epic ‘Metropolis’.

Plot

Metropolis is set in a dystopian future where society is split into the three sections. The lower level, where the poor down-trodden workers live with their wives and grubby children, in run down apartment blocks where there is no sunlight, transportation or hope. The middle section which is reserved for the ‘machines’, where the workers slave away like robots in rotating shifts 24/7 until they drop from exhaustion. The workers power the machines which in turn power the city above, which is beautiful, clean, futuristic with many skyscrapers and freeways, where the social elite who inhabit it, gather for their hedonistic pleasures either in the eternal gardens, or the many nightclubs around where a lack of morals is matched only by a lack of responsibility. Overseeing all of this is Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropolis who sits in his palatial office with one eye on the workers below and another out on to the utopia the workers are creating, but not enjoying.

Freder, Joh Fredersen’s son, is one of the rich toffs who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care as to how the city is powered, nor about the misery and dire poverty that the workers are forced to live in. However, his social conscience is aroused when he is approached by a beautiful girl from down below named Maria, who is surrounded by about 50 children in rags. She makes him aware of who they are and where they have come from before turning and leaving taking the children with her. Smitten by Maria’s beauty and concerned for the welfare of the children, he runs after her. Instead of finding her, he finds himself in one of the machine rooms and witnesses first hand the misery of life below ground. When one of the workers collapses from exhaustion, an explosion occurs killing several workers. Appalled at the inhumanity, Freder confronts his father who is indifferent to the workers plight, much to his sons disgust.

One of the workers killed in the explosion was in possession of a map directing him to the catacombs and to a secret meeting. Jon Fredersen than goes to visit inventor and old love rival Rotwang who’s inventions had helped build Metropolis. Rotwang who conveniently lives above the catacombs takes Fredersen down to them where they clandestinely observe a meeting of workers with Maria addressing them. The whole scene plays out like a religious meeting with Maria’s version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Maria assures them that a ‘mediator’ between workers and their overlords will soon end their struggle and misery.

Fredersen sees her as the main cause of dissent within the workforce as they see her as a Saint like figure with much influence and he is thinking of a way to silence her and it’s Rotwang that provides the solution. Rotwang has built a fembot and has found a way to transform the appearance of another person into it and be programmed to do the bidding of whomever controls it. Fredersen sees this as the perfect opportunity to quash any rebellion by having Maria be the guinea pig. Rotwang kidnaps her and in an iconic scene transplants Maria’s physical form over to the robot, but instead of having ‘Robot Maria’ merely convince the workers not to rebel as Fredersen intends, Rotwang in a bid to destroy Fredersen for stealing the love of his life many years before, has programmed her to entice the workers to full on riot and to ‘kill the machines’ putting Metropolis itself at risk of destruction.

There are more plot points and twists but if I included them all, I’d be here forever and they’d be no reason for you to see the movie.

The Cast

The acting on the whole is nothing to write home about, with the valiant exception being Brigitte Helm who played Maria, who turns in a wonderful performance especially as the Robot version of herself as personified by the emotional detachment she displays as well as the sudden jerky head movements she adopts in some of her scenes.

A lot of the cast sadly went on to star in Nazi era propaganda movies such as Heinrich George who appeared in the deplorable ‘Hitlerjüngen Quex’ in 1933 and the absolutely grotesque ‘Jud Suß’ in 1940.

Background

The movie was predominantly written by Fritz Lang’s then wife Thea Von Harbou. Who wrote a novel and screenplay simultaneously. The screenplay was jointly written by Von Harbou and Lang. Filmed between May 1925 and October 1926, the movie cost an astronomical 5 million Reichmarks and this was in a country still reeling from the economic consequences of the Treaty of Versailles. Whilst some of the special effects used in the movie were indeed pioneering, the use of miniatures and stop motion filming were by no means new techniques. The French Pathé Frères company had been using these techniques almost since the dawn of film making.

When first released, the movie ran approximately 153 minutes, and grossed less than 2% of it’s entire investment making it one of the least profitable European movies ever made. yet when it came to the markets who saw a longer film as ‘fewer bums on seats’, it was drastically cut down, in some cases, as short as 90 minutes. the result was that for a long time, the movie had no coherent plot to follow such as the Rotwang/Fredersen back story, which never really explained why Rotwang was out for revenge or the animosity between them.

Other nations tried to cut out as much of the religious imagery as well as minimising the social justice/communist subtext too. Surprisingly, for a nation that was founded on a concept of ‘so called’ social equality, The Soviet Union banned the film entirely, obviously not wanting to see their own workers exposed to rebellion lessons.

However one political group who were impressed by films message of social justice were the National Socialist German Workers Party. Joseph Goebbels was so impressed with the film, (a surprise given the movies overt marxist theology), that in a 1928 speech, he declared that “the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place, advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labour, to begin their historical mission”.

Shortly after the Nazis came to power, Goebbels, in a meeting with Fritz Lang, told him that Hitler, after seeing Metropolis in 1927, had declared that he would want Lang to make Nazi movies for the party. Lang, who’s mother had been Jewish, would not have passed Hitler’s strict Nuremberg laws to have made this a reality and despite Goebbels assurances that “WE decide who is Jewish or not“,legend has it that Lang left Germany that very night.

His soon to be ex wife Thea Von Harbou had no such worry she was a 100% committed National Socialist and spent the war and the run up to it, writing pro Nazi screenplays and literature.

Fritz Lang and Thea Von Harbou

Aftermath and Restoration

The poor performance at the box office almost led to the collapse of film company UFA, who had financed the production. UFA, close to bankruptcy, was soon taken over by Alfred Hugenberg, a nationalist businessman who would later serve on Hitler’s first cabinet. He was able to restructure the business successfully, but to this day UFA have never been able to make a profit on the movie. Hugenberg even went one step further and had his board of directors sign a contract not only stipulating that Fritz Lang should never work for the studio again, but, (and I kid you not), that all UFA employees had an honour bound obligation to be rude to Lang whenever and wherever they encountered him.

In 2008 an uncut, yet badly damaged version of Metropolis on 16mm film was found in a movie vault in Argentina. Some of the damage was irreparable, yet for the first time in over 90 years audiences were able to see this movie in its near entirety with a run time of 148 minutes. The five minutes of footage still missing has been replaced by intertitles explaining the missing piece. Such as a fight with Rotwang and Fredersen in which the ‘real’ Maria is able to escape her kidnappers.

The restored version is also accompanied by Gottfried Huppertz original 1927 score which is magnificent. However, It’s such a shame that digital enhancement has yet to advance enough to fully make the movie look as good as new, but the handful of ‘grainy’ shots and scenes hardly distract from this wonderful film experience.

Over the years, and long before the restoration, Metropolis has gained a bit of a cult following. Images from the movie were made famous in pop culture, courtesy of Queen’s video to their 1984 song ‘Radio Ga-Ga’. In 1987, Italian music producer and DJ Giorgio Moroder released one of the shortened versions of the movie with an all rock/pop soundtrack which included Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler and Pat Benetar. However, avoid this version at all costs as it is not very good and the music doesn’t set the correct atmosphere for the story that silent movies scores should always accentuate. Stick to the ‘complete’ restored version only.

Metropolis is now regarded as a classic and it’s influences and Art Deco appeal have spread far and wide. Many film makers since have played homage to it in their own works, both seriously and in parody. Look at the original Frankenstein, Blade Runner and even to Star Wars. There is no co-incidence that C3P0 is vertically identical to ‘Die Maschinenmensch’.

If you have never seen Metropolis, then I strongly urge you to do so. It really is a masterpiece of early cinema.

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Prequelle by Ghost – My WOW album of 2018.

A few weeks ago I was looking at random vids on YouTube and came across a channel called Weabooreacts, which is a great channel where a guy listens to music suggested to him by others and he films his reaction to it, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. It’s well worth checking out believe me. After watching his reaction to Yes’ Close to Edge album, (which left him totally speechless for a good few minutes might I add), I found that his latest video was his reaction to the new ‘Ghost’ song ‘Dance Macabre’. I’d heard of Ghost before, but had never actually heard them before, and wondered whether this was a contemporary rock version of one of my favourite classical pieces ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saëns’, so I watched the video and found myself trying to focus more on the song he was listening to, than I was Weaboo’s running commentary. So I found the actual song on YouTube, (which is nothing like Saint-Saëns by the way), and listened to that instead. I was totally blown away by how good it was, surprisingly upbeat for a band called ‘Ghost’ who wear demonic heads and inverted crosses. It reminded me a lot of The Scorpions from their Savage Amusement/Crazy World days and lead singer/founder/chief song writer Tobias Forge’s voice is not too dissimilar from Klaus Meine’s either.

Intrigued, I decided to look deeper into who they were and what they do and found that they’re from….surprise, surprise….SWEDEN. The obvious epicentre of everything that is good and pure about rock and metal these days. (Although I understand the actual band is a multi-national collective at the moment). I looked for more of their music on YouTube and found a video to their song ‘Square Hammer’. Which also blew me away. I found out their new album was only days away from release, so on the 1st June the day of release, I made one of those impulsive iTunes purchases and bought ‘Prequelle’.

For anyone that has ever made an impulsive iTunes purchase, then you know it’s a gamble. Well I’ve always been lucky at gambling and this was no exception. This album is superb and well worth the £9.99 I spent.

Many people have tried to pigeon-hole these guys as everything from ‘death metal’, ‘hard rock’, ‘progressive metal’, ‘black metal’ and even ‘Pop Rock’. None of them are right and yet they aren’t exactly wrong either as their music to me seems all encompassing, a cross over of so many of rock and metal’s many genres, so maybe it’s best you don’t try to impose a label on this particular band and just enjoy them for the creative entertaining force that they are.

‘Prequelle’ has a recurring theme throughout, which is the Black Death, which at first thought does not seem at all appropriate for a group of upbeat, catchy rock songs as is presented here, but the more you listen to it, the more the theme does seem to fit the music.

Ghost – Cardinal Copia and the Nameless Ghouls

the album opens with ‘Ashes‘ which is essentially an atmospheric prelude to the song ‘Rats‘ which opens with some frantic drums and guitar riffs not heard since the glory days of the 80’s hair days. Not too different from the sound that Iron Maiden achieved on their Piece of Mind’ album and Dio’s ‘The Last in Line’ album. The song also contains the first of MANY epic guitar solos that appear on the album as well as the great vocal harmonies that are replete throughout.

Next up we have ‘Faith‘ which is one of the less ‘poppier’ tracks on the album and lovers of Ghost’s earlier, less commercial albums will appreciate this one more. At first listen I was taken back to Falconer’s first album with Kristoffer Göbel, which also had that majestic darker sound, but with the extremely melodic vocals. The song contains some great dual guitar harmonics too, with the classic ‘third above’ runs that I love so much.

‘See the Light’ follows and is one of the closest things we have to a power ballad on the album, yet stays in heavy territory in the choruses, it also flirts with the borders of Prog with some great synth sounds. A very strong track indeed.

If ‘See the Light’ flirted with prog, then the next song ‘Miasma’ actually strips off and gets into bed with it. Definitely a song of two halves. An instrumental with some great guitar and keyboard duelling. The first half sets the scene quite well for last half of the song, which sees the tempo increase and which for my money, is the best two and half minutes of the album. Not a lot of time, but it still manages to cram a guitar solo, keyboard solo AND a Saxophone solo in there too….Yes, you read that right my friends….a fucking saxophone solo, which rocks this song and this whole album to another level entirely.

Ghost – Miasma

The aforementioned ‘Dance Macabre‘ follows and I cannot praise this one enough, it appeals to so much of what I am and what I like. It’s just pure good time rock and roll, but with darker lyrics that form a perfect contrast with each other, yet does not seem out of place. This song deserves endless radio play, especially with that wonderful guitar solo.

Ghost – Dance Macabre

Pro Memoria’ is the next song and begins with some wonderful orchestrations before the vocals and piano pick up the baton. The song is a great commercial ballad that is likely to appeal to a lot of people regardless of their taste in music.

Ghost with their gongs – Spats Entertainment

The next song is ‘Witch Image’ and reminded me so much of ‘Blue Öyster Cult, that I ended up listening to their ‘Fire of Unknown Origin’ album straight after. A really catchy chorus here and such a delightful song structure. Another of my favourites.

Another instrumental is next with ‘Helvetesfonster’ this one really is brilliant as it utilities so much in such short space of time. It’s mainly a piano tour-de-force with some prog elements thrown in as well as some brilliant flute work, before the semi acoustic guitar takes us into the final close. This one is truly emotional and if I had to pick one song on the album that was the most perfectly composed, where all the elements just ‘clicked’ it would certainly be this one I had goosebumps when I first heard this one.

The album closes with ‘Life Eternal’. Another piano/vocal driven ballad with a beautiful chorus and great guitar solo.

The only disappointing thing I can say about Prequelle, is that it clocks in at just over 40 minutes. However, I say that about all albums that I love, I just wish they could be longer.

This is Ghost’s fourth album and on the strength of this, I will be exploring more. It’s certainly more commercial and mainstream than anything they have done previously and that’s no bad thing, as this can find an appreciative audience with anyone who appreciates talent and musicianship. The music is certainly in contrast to the band’s deep rooted imagery and had I seen a picture of Ghost before I heard their music, I probably would have passed them by, as satanism and inverted crosses aren’t really my thing, but it just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving. However, the lyrics do fit perfectly with what Ghost are about. Whether this is a gimmick for entertainment purposes, or they really subscribe to it, is not my place to debate and to be honest, I really don’t care. I never look for messages in my music anyway. All I look for is great music and entertainment and on those scores, Ghost tick all the boxes…..twice.

Ghost – Devils advocates, or harmless cosplay?

There are people that won’t get it and there are people who will think that Ghost has ‘sold out’, but opinions are like arseholes….everybody has one. As I’ve said in many blogs before, music is subjective. This is your journey, travel as you will.

2018 is already shaping up to be a year of great albums, but this one has just totally floored me. I’m sure there will be other great albums this year, but I hold little hope of finding one as good as this.

My discovery of Ghost is one of those wonderful times when I have discovered something amazing totally by accident. It’s not the first time it’s happened and I hope it won’t be the last. And as all my other favourite bands seem to be calling it a day….or dying, then it seems I have found Ghost just in time. I love it when that happens don’t you?

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Me and My Life in 3 Rock Songs

MY ROCK MIXTAPES

(by Velina of “My Rock Mixtapes”)

I had a very interesting discussion on twitter the other day with all my friends and followers. I asked everyone to describe themselves in three rock songs. I got some pretty interesting answers and got reminded of some great songs too thanks to the conversation that went on. I have to admit, before asking everyone about it I haven’t really thought about the three songs that maybe represent my personality and my life the best. I tried my best to come up with three choices and I think I did quite well. From now on, when I meet someone for the very first time I might as well send them this publication! I promised to write about it on my blog so here we are. Keep in mind that three is a small number and of course, there are plenty more, but for…

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Prog Rock – A Misunderstood Musical Monster

Since the dawn of Rock n Roll in the mid 1950’s, we’ve seen many musical variations of Rock n roll spawned. The first blast of Elvis is still remembered fondly as is the more family friendly sounds of Cliff Richard and the Shadows. A couple of years later, the beat boom followed with bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Freddie and the Dreamers, Herman’s Hermits and the Hollies. In the 1970’s the accolades seemed to be shared equally between Heavy Rock, Punk Rock, New Wave and Disco.

However, there was also a 10 year period between 1967-1977 where an entire genre of music existed which saw music at it’s most creative and complex. It was dubbed Progressive Rock, or just simply ‘Prog’. Yet despite it being the most inventive form of rock music ever devised up until that point, (or since for that matter), it has not been as fondly remembered by the majority of music fans and some would even wish to whitewash it from history altogether as the ‘genre that must never be mentioned’.

Prog became synonymous with concept albums, 20 minute songs that would span entire sides of an LP, elaborate cover art, gatefold sleeves, fantasy inspired imagery, complex song compositions that would have many themes, tempo changes, keyboard and guitar solos that seemed to go on forever and these are just it’s high points. It also seemed that the more a band did all of this, the better the band was. Every band appeared to be trying ‘out prog’ the other until I suppose the whole thing became so absurd, that it’s downfall sadly became inevitable.

Prog can trace it’s roots deep into the R&B music of the 1960’s where a lot of the musicians that would become the flag bearers for prog actually learned their craft. As this kind of music morphed into psychedelia, experimentation became the order of the day.

In 1967, Procol Harum released the first song which could be defined as true prog rock with ‘Whiter Shade of Pale. It was Organ heavy psychedelic rock fused with classical musical influences. The blueprint for prog was set.

Procol Harum – A Lighter Shade of Prog

Later that same year, Pink Floyd released their debut album ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ and whilst, more psychedelic than true prog, it also set the tone for what was to come later.

Some people even cite the The Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’ as the first prog rock album. However, I refuse to subscribe to that theory. It is an amazing album and whilst it certainly was designed as a concept album, there’s not a single song on there that I would relate to being anything remotely ‘proggy’ music wise.

Then came The Nice with organist Keith Emerson, who was certainly pushing the boundaries with his heavy take on the classical and neo-classical style.

In 1969 an album was released that was an absolute game changer and cemented prog rock as a creative force to be reckoned with. King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ quickly deemed everything other people had been doing obsolete. Everyone realised they had to raise their game considerably if they were to keep pace in the prog stakes.

Jethro Tull – The homeless street busker look was obviously ‘de rigueur’ back in 1970

60’s fringe artists like Jethro Tull, Yes and Genesis, all embraced the new creative freedom that prog gave musicians, where studio technology became just as important as any musician within the band. This new sound can be heard on Tulls’ 1970 ‘Benefit’ album when you compare it to their previous album 1969’s ‘Stand Up’ and on Yes’ ‘The Yes Album’ when you compare it to ‘Time and a Word’ or when you compare ‘Trespass’ by Genesis with their debut album.

Meanwhile, Keith Emerson had ditched The Nice and formed a prog rock supergroup with Greg Lake, fresh from King Crimson and Atomic Rooster drummer Carl Palmer. Bypassing the formality of creating a name for the band, they channeled all that creativity into their first album, simply entitled Emerson Lake and Palmer. It was a instant hit and paved the way for the prog trio that bands like Egg would soon join them in travelling.

Keith Emerson – The Nice & ELP

1972 was also a landmark year. Yes released ‘Close to Edge’ an album that regularly tops charts when people compile their favourite prog rock albums and Jethro Tull released ‘Thick as a Brick’ which Tull’s Ian Anderson declared was supposed to be a piss take of prog rock ostentatiousness. If that’s true, then that particular joke backfired tremendously.

Coming a bit later to the party, although no less welcome, were bands like Camel, Greenslade and Gryphon. Who all had their own style and sound. Camel saw prog at it’s most listener friendly and melodic, whilst Greenslade brought a jazz/rock fusion to the table. Gryphon however, were just full on crazy. Their hybrid of progressive music and medieval traditionalism, (yes, you read that right), made them so unique as to ensure an immediate audience, although later they toned down the medievalism to become more in line with their contemporaries.

Greenslade – Bedside Manners not needed

Canada’s Rush gave us some blistering prog albums in the 1970’s too. America had their own take on the progressive style also with bands like Styx and Kansas giving a brilliant transatlantic feel to what was predominately an English style of music.

Outside the English speaking world, Italy also had their own stable of wonderful progressive bands pushing the boundaries of popular music as far they wanted it to go.

Rick Wakeman – Skating on thin ice

By 1976 the over the top attitude of the prog bands were beginning to cause resentment and reviews started to sway towards the negative, mainly due to the pomposity of it all. Some of it was justified, Yes’ 1974/5 ‘Relayer’ tour, saw the band with a fibre glass stage set which saw the band emerge from cocoons of a sort, and flashing strobe lights that would have caused any epileptics in the audience to immediately drop down dead. ELP had their own lorries with their names on the top that could only be seen if you were in a helicopter and Rick Wakeman performed his King Arthur album in concert on ice with with ice skaters on hobby horses dancing around the band. The visual had overtaken the music as the primary focus and things had all gone a little crazy. Prog didn’t need any outside influences to destroy itself as they were doing a good enough job of that themselves. However, there was an outside influence waiting just around the corner.

Yes – A stage too far

That outside influence was a cancer, the cancer of PUNK!!. A new generation who wanted to recapture the rebellious spirit of rock n roll and return things back to basics. I know my view of punk is not shared by a lot of people, but I have a deep rooted resentment towards it. In my eyes, music is always supposed to evolve and each new thing should always strive to be better than the one that came before it. Punk wasn’t an evolution, it was a revolution. It wasn’t just a step backwards, but it was more a leap back into the dark ages – a total regression. It was like people throwing away their knives and forks and being content to go back to using flint tools. A creative zenith thrown away for something thoroughly unpleasant and basic.

Prog as we knew it was all but dead with only the well established bands able to keep a healthy fan base. Thankfully, after only a few short years, the initial in your face angst of punk mellowed into something more mainstream and mildly tolerable.

Genesis – Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett…..and erm…the drummer.

In the early 80’s, prog bands like Yes and Genesis with a new image and a new sound we’re able to recapture their former glories, although the overblown pomposity of prog had gone never to return, replaced instead by an AOR radio friendly style. New prog bands replicating this new style came too like Marillion and Asia, a band formed from former members of Yes, King Crimson and ELP.

Asia – Pop Prog at it’s best

Since the turn of the millennium, progressive bands have seen a bit of a Renaissance with bands like Opeth and Dream Theatre. I have struggled to get too much into these bands, but that’s not their fault, it’s mine. I don’t deny their talent, but they tend to be more guitar heavy than their prog forefathers. I prefer organ based prog with a shitload of mellotron which I’ll be the first to admit wouldn’t sit well today.

I LOVE prog rock, but even after listening to prog for nearly 30 years, even I still find some of the stuff heavy going. As I said in my Yes blog, you need to break yourself in gently to get a true appreciation for it. Baby steps!! But I’ll always appreciate it for the talent and the creativity that was needed to create it. I’ve always had a firm respect and admiration for people that can do something that I couldn’t possibly do myself in a million years even if I tried and about 99% of prog musicians fit into that category, (and yes, that also includes Phil Collins).

Prog saw the best of music, but the worst of indulgences and I think people dislike prog more for those indulgences than they do for the music they created. I’d like to think that’s true anyway.

So to end my prog blog or ‘plog’, here are 10 prog epics that I hope shows you all why I love it so much. I just hope you have a few hours to kill.

Camel – Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider

Caravan – Nine Feet Underground

Greenslade – Joie De Vivre

Gryphon – Midnight Mushrumps

Emerson, Lake and Palmer – Karn Evil 9

Genesis – Watcher of the Skies

Yes – Close to the Edge

Asia – Here Comes the Feeling

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick

Kansas – Song for America

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The Saint – 90 years of Thrills

When people mention the character of Simon Templar – The Saint. People of a certain age will remember the hit 1960’s TV show, others of a younger age, like myself, had their first taste of the character in the 1970’s with ‘Return of the Saint’ TV show and others have been shortchanged by only knowing the character from the 1997 box office bomb movie starring Val Kilmer. I am a HUGE Saint fan, my love of The Saint even eclipses my love for James Bond movies, (which is pretty sizeable too). However, where did the Saint have it’s origins?

The Books

Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin was born in Singapore in 1907 to a Chinese father and English mother. In 1928 he published his third novel, under the less Chinese sounding name Leslie Charteris. Entitled ‘Meet the Tiger’, it introduced us to Simon Templar for the first time. Charteris was dissatisfied with the book, insisting that The Saint series really started with the next novel ‘Enter The Saint’ in 1930.

The Saint’s Creator – Leslie Charteris

Dubbed the ‘Robin Hood of Modern Crime’, The Saint was an English gentlemen thief who robbed the robbers and restored items and plunder to their rightful owners, (for a fee of course). The character had a strong moral compass of right and wrong, although in the books especially, he could be ruthless and deadly when it came to striking down the ‘ungodly’

Charteris published nearly 40 Saint books and short story collections between 1928 and 1970, (although after 1963, they were mainly written by other authors with Charteris having full story approval as well as having the right to rewrite certain segments he was not happy with. (Charteris was infamous for being very possessive of his literary character, something I will touch upon in greater detail later).

The Saint at the Movies

As the 1930’s progressed, the Saint books became so popular that it was not long before Hollywood came calling. A series of B movies were made starting in 1938. The first cinematic Saint was played by Louis Hayward, in the movie ‘The Saint in New York’ and he gives a great performance, perhaps the most in keeping with how Charteris had created him.

Louis Haywood – The first movie Saint

Sadly, It was a one off gig for him, (for now anyway), as he didn’t continue with the part going forward. The next actor to take over the halo, was George Sanders who became the most well known and most successful of the movie Saints, appearing in 5 of the films between 1939 and 1941. After which he began playing ‘The Falcon’, a character so similar to The Saint, that Leslie Charteris sued RKO pictures for plagiarism.

George Sanders’ credit screen at the start of ‘The Saint Strikes Back’ (1939)

Hugh Sinclair took the role for two more movies and became the first moustachioed Saint. However, his efforts were not as successful as Sanders’ had been, mainly due to the fact that Sinclair, able actor as he was, did not have the physicality that the role required, being much too slight in stature and a tad unbelievable as a character that could hold his own when it came to a bit of fisticuffs.

Hugh Sinclair Stashes it up

After Sinclair’s final movie in 1943, The character would not appear in another movie until a decade later when a noticeably older Louis Hayward returned to bookend the movie series for 1953’s ‘The Saint’s Girl Friday’. Whilst his first appearance is regarded as one of the finest movie portrayals of Simon Templar, this final appearance was not as good.

There were also two French language Saint movies made in France in 1960 and 1966 with Felix Marten and Jean Marais taking the role. However, they made no impression whatsoever and are so rare, that I have never been able to find a copy and neither have I even seen them. If anyone has them, please get in touch.

The Radio Series

From 1945 to 1951, The Saint was also adapted into a popular radio serial with various people taking the role during this period, such as Edgar Barrier, Brian Aherne and George Sanders’ real life brother Tom Conway , but by far, the most successful of all the radio Saints was Vincent Price. A good many of these vintage radio programmes are now in the public domain and are available to listen to on YouTube and it’s worth it believe me.

The Radio Saints – (L-R) Edgar Barrier, Tom Conway, Vincent Price

The Saint on Television

In the early 1960’s two British television producers Robert S Baker and Monty Berman, were looking to acquire the rights to the Saint with an eye to produce a weekly television show. They both knew John Paddy Carstairs, who had directed the George Sanders Saint movie, ‘The Saint in London’ in 1939, who informed them that Leslie Charteris was in London and that he could arrange a meeting to discuss TV rights. The meeting was a success and Sir Lew Grade agreed to distribute the show via ITC.Monty Berman (left) shares a giggle on set with Robert S Baker.

Integral to making the show a success, was finding the ideal actor to play the titular character. The one that landed the role was Roger Moore. He had found fame in the UK as Ivanhoe in the late 50’s and had recently returned to the UK after finishing his stint playing Cousin Beau in the American western series Maverick in which he had replaced James Garner. Moore humorously recounted that after he had negotiated a contract to appear in this ‘half hour’ series, he became suspicious when the script for the first episode arrived which he thought rather large for such a short episodic series, only to be told that that the episodes were actually an hour in length. So a small renegotiation occurred “In Lew’s favour” Moore surmised.

Roger Moore – The Perfect Saint

The show premiered on October 4th 1962 and ran until 1969, even switching to colour in 1966. 118 episodes were produced and soon, all of Charteris’ original stories had been exhausted. Writers were brought in to create new storylines and adventures for The Saint, such as Terry Nation, however, Charteris was always on hand to voice his disapproval of these new stories in countless memos and letters. Once in a while, he would send one offering praise to the programme makers, but they were few and far between as they were on whole, negative. Most of Charteris’ wrath seemed to be directed toward Script editor Harry Junkin and in one particularly famous memo, declared ‘This script is fit for Junkin”. Charteris was too old school to willingly take a back seat whilst he watched his stories, as he saw it, get watered down and abridged for TV. Charteris was not the first author to raise protests of how their literary creations were being adapted for the small screen and he certainly wouldn’t be the last either.

The show was also sold worldwide and became a hit almost everywhere it was shown, making Moore a household name. Something that would have certainly put him in the running for taking over the James Bond role later.

As the decade progressed and the 60’s counter culture took hold, a suave clubland man of action like Simon Templar began to look a bit dated and out of step with the times and being an established figure, couldn’t very well grow his hair, don a kaftan and place flowers in the hair of his enemies. The decision was made to end the series after it’s 1969 season. One of the last Saint episodes filmed was ‘The Ex King of Diamonds’, in which The Saint joined forces with a cocky American millionaire, it was a blueprint for Moore and Baker’s next TV series together, ‘The Persuaders’

The Persuaders….Sort of

In 1978, Robert S Baker wanted to reinvent The Saint for a new generation. However, he knew that Roger Moore, despite now being too old to be The Saint, was doing quite well as the most famous movie character on the planet in the James Bond series. He toyed with idea of ‘Son of the Saint’ with Roger Moore prefacing each episode introducing the new Saint in his adventures. Thankfully, that horrid idea never got further than his own head. Besides, despite Roger Moore being 50 at that time, he was still too young to have had a convincingly aged son for it to be believable. Instead, the new series was simply called ‘Return of the Saint’ and Ian Ogilvy was offered the role, in what turned out to be one of the greatest bits of casting in TV history.

Ian Ogilvy – He certainly had a flare (or two) for the role.

In order to obtain the budget to make ‘Return of the Saint’ a bigger spectacle than ‘The Saint’ had been, (which had seldom strayed from the back lot at Elstree), a deal was made with Italian TV station RAI, whereby some of the episodes would be filmed and set in Italy, using Italian actors and technicians. It was a strained relationship from the start, as their labour laws differed significantly from those in the UK. Sadly, only one series of 24 episodes was filmed and aired between September 1978 and March 1979. In one of the biggest shames in the Saint’s history, the series was cancelled. There were too many people unfairly comparing Ogilvy to Moore, and some people not liking the ‘spaghetti Saints’. I on the other hand loved the series and am convinced that had the show been given a 2nd series, it would have had the success the previous show had enjoyed 15 years before. ‘Return of the Saint’ was a very short lived, but a very enjoyable chapter of the Saint story.

In 1987 Robert S Baker again looked to reinvent the Saint, only this time in America. As part of the CBS Summer Playhouse, one feature length episode was filmed called ‘The Saint in Manhattan’ with Australian actor Andrew Clarke in the role of Templar. Obviously not knowing that moustachioed Saints had not been very well received in the past, he sported a beauty of a tash, which is the only standout aspect of this forgettable TV movie. Where Hugh Sinclair had been too slight for the role 45 years earlier, Clarke was the opposite, he was too beefy for it. The project was soon discontinued. Andrew Clarke in The Saint in 1987 (Higgins just out of shot)

Between 1989 and 1994 six feature length Saint TV movies were filmed for ITV with Robert S Baker again, attempting yet another reinvention. Simon Dutton took the halo for the run and whilst a definite improvement over the Andrew Clarke episode, they were not brilliant and Dutton, although convincing in the fight scenes, wasn’t masculine enough to be playing the role so familiar to audiences.

Cheers to you – Simon Dutton raising a glass, although not the Saint’s profile

The Kilmer Movie

Nearly 20 years after the last reasonably successful incarnation of the character, a blockbuster movie was made in 1997 with Val Kilmer in the lead role. Coming off the back of other successful TV shows turned into movies, I think the name ‘The Saint’ was just plucked from nowhere in order to give the movie some clout. With the main character’s name changed to Simon Templar. If the character’s legacy wasn’t in a healthy position before this movie, then this movie put it on life support. I won’t say the movie isn’t enjoyable, because it is a great action flick, but has as little resemblance to Charteris’ creation as I do to Mother Theresa (although a few wrinkles are beginning to set in). Firstly, the Saint is American which is a huge NO from any Saint fan, secondly, he is making deals with terrorists, another thing The Saint would never have done. If Charteris had been alive, (he sadly died in 1993), this would never have made it to the screen in the format that it did. They could have called this anything other than the Saint and I would have enjoyed it more. It totally tanked and ensured that the character of the Saint remained dormant and considered box office ‘poison’ for yet another 20 years.

Spot the Difference!!

The Reboot

In 2017 a reboot movie was released starring Adam Rayner in the lead role. Filmed as early as 2013, it was intended that this would spearhead a new series for the 21st century, yet it wasn’t picked up by anybody, presumably put off by the legacy left by the 1997 movie. The movie was a Saint reunion of sorts with supporting roles by Ian Ogilvy as the villain and Roger Moore, who’s role in the final release seemed to have been reduced drastically since the original trailer surfaced on YouTube about 5 years ago. It was a great movie, Templar was Templar again and the movie reintroduced a character not seen since the early books, The Saint’s girlfriend/assistant Patricia Holm.Up and Adam – The 21st Century Saint

Rayner was a brilliant Saint, convincing in action scenes, suited to romantic scenes and with a wry humour apparent throughout. Sadly, because it wasn’t picked up by a single network anywhere for either broadcast or future episodes, Rayner had to move on to other things. The feature length movie surfaced on iTunes and Netflix not long after Roger Moore passed away in May 2017 and whilst I and every other fan lament his death, I’m kind of glad his last role was Saint related. This project could have been huge with the right backing and faith.

The Future

Paramount now holds the rights to the Saint once more and they are planning another major reboot in the form of a movie and TV series. I hope beyond hope that they will not repeat the mistakes of the past and this time, keep the character of the Saint as Leslie Charteris created him, but with Charteris, Robert S Baker, Roger Moore now in that big TV studio in the sky, there’s literally no one to stop them embarking on whatever course they choose. Not a very sobering thought. However, now that we live in an age where everything is darker and more realistic, it might be an opportunity to bring back Templar’s more ruthless side, that was toned down dramatically in all cinematic and TV incarnations. I have my fingers and toes crossed that Paramount will respect the legacy…. The Legacy of The Saint.

The Power of the Ballad

Sadly, we live in a world where people tend to be dismissive and belittling of the things they don’t understand. For the past three decades I’ve had to tolerate the blinkered view of people who, despite never even having listened to any Hard Rock or Heavy Metal music, (apart from the five songs that all party DJ’s seem to have tucked away amongst the total shite they usually play), dismiss it as noisy, shouty, satanic and whatever else they think they need to say in a bid to try and justify their ignorance. It’s an unfortunate point of view, mainly because it isn’t true, although I’ll admit my constant wearing of Dio T-Shirts adorned with the ‘Murray’ demonic character, hasn’t done a lot to dispel this misconception.

However, Rock does have its softer side and since the birth of heavy music in the late 1960’s the Rock Ballad has been an obligatory staple for most bands and in many cases, the bigger the band, the better the ballad. Even rockers can sing about love, loss and life without equating it to casual sex and sleaze.Valet Parking Executive Package.

In order to produce the perfect rock ballad, you need the right ingredients. So what makes the perfect rock ballad? Over the years, the ballads I have heard, (and I’ve heard hundreds of them), all seem to have a formula which as long as you don’t stray too far from, you’ll be on to a winner.

  • Soft acoustic guitar or keyboard intro
  • subtle verse about why your girl done left you
  • Hooky bridge/chorus
  • Second verse sung with a bit more gusto
  • Wailing guitar solo so emotive that it has the potential to rip your heart from your chest
  • Key change (optional)
  • Final majestic chorus
  • Fade out or hanging chord outro.

I love a good power ballad, and have always wanted to do a top ten countdown, but the problem was always going to narrow it down to just 10. Do I restrict it to a genre (hair metal/progressive) etc, or do I do a mixed bag of everything to give a broader spectrum? To tell you the truth, I started writing this blog still unsure, but I’ve made up my mind and this going to be a free for all. However, expect it to be weighted to Hair Metal, as they seemed to do it slightly better than anyone else.

Before I start my list, I want to impart this piece of advise to all you single guys out there. A good power ballad in the right setting, can be a total chick magnet, but use caution, because the fate of whether you go home alone or not, could rest solely on the song you choose and the way you move. I hope these ten songs will help you choose wisely.Can you play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ please?

10. Without You – Asia

Asia- SuperGroup, Super Songs

Let’s kick off this list with a bit of classic neo-prog, taken from their triumphant 1982 debut album. A band born out of the ashes of three Prog behemoths Yes, King Crimson and the Palmer from ELP. It’s very difficult for one song to stand out amongst so many good songs in an album, but this one did exactly that.

9. Portals of Light – Falconer

This song, taken from their second album ‘Chapters From a Vale Forlorn’ from 2002, slots in nicely between all the power folk metal and tells the tale of someone who has experienced the ultimate loss. The beautiful contrast between the melodic ‘west end’ style vocals of Mathias Blad and the rest of the band cannot go understated and really accentuates the emotion. This song is something else.

8. When Love and Hate Collide – Def Leppard

With their Hair Metal glory days behind them, (if indeed they ever were really hair metal), Def Leppard released this gem in 1995. Originally written for The Adrenalize album but not used. For a song like this to cut through and reach number 2 in the UK singles chart in an age of grunge and industrial music, was really a nice thing to happen and the orchestrations contained here are just wonderful.

7. Love Walked In – Thunder

Thunder’s debut album Backstreet Symphony album released in 1990, included some great songs. This was without a doubt, the best of the bunch. However, time was Thunder’s greatest enemy. Had they made their debut even 3 years before, they could have been one of the biggest bands on the planet. Of this I have no doubt.

6. The Deeper the Love – Whitesnake

Whitesnake are another band that have had their fair share of wonderful ballads over the years. Starting off in the late 1970’s as a predominantly blues/rock band after the disintegration of Deep Purple, by the late 1980’s they had fully embraced hair metal and during this period gave us two solid albums. 1989’s ‘Slip of the Tongue’, saw ex Dave Lee Roth Guitar ace Steve Vai along for the ride, (with a little bit of back seat driving going on), and together they gave us this sweet little ballad.

5. Dreaming (Tell Me) – Yngwie J Malmsteen

The 1980’s was definitely the age of the guitar shredder and none perfected this art more than Swedish guitar legend Yngwie J Malmsteen, who’s classical leanings and Ritchie Blackmore influences were never far from the surface in fact 1988 saw the release of the Odyssey album with ex Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner joining the fold. This song was one of the strongest from the album and is exactly how a power ballad should sound.

4. You’re All I Need – White LionWhite Lion. Smile boys, you just made my list.

White Lion are a band that deserve a higher profile than they actually have. For a spell in the late 80’s and early 90’s they blazed a trail of greatness and single handidly spawned a hairspray shortage throughout the rock world with wonderful albums like ‘Pride’ and ‘Mane Attraction’. This brilliant song is taken from the latter from 1991. Great lyrics, wonderful guitar solo and Mike Tramp’s hair. This band had the lot.

3. Rainbow Eyes – Rainbow

Everyone who knows me, is aware that Rainbow’s 1978 ‘Long Live Rock n Roll’ album is my favourite album of all time and the closing song is one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear. So unique in it’s medieval overtones that it stands alone as a song as you’re left with nothing to compare it to. The wonderful guitar of Ritchie Blackmore, the soft and haunting vocals of Ronnie James Dio with a recorder and string ensemble joining in, is just a thing of beauty.

2. Alone Again- Dokken

Dokken- A shared love of music, a shared hatred of each other.

Dokken saw 80’s metal at its most melodic and I could have easily filled this whole list with Dokken songs without even thinking about it or taking a breath. The wonderful voice of Don Dokken and the equally wonderful guitar licks of George Lynch, makes this the standout track from their 1984 ‘Tooth and Nail’ album. However, the irony of a perfect torch song coming from a band who truly despised each other should not be lost on anyone.

1. Still Loving You – Scorpions

No list concerning the power rock ballad would be complete without mentioning The Scorpions. In fact, I think it might even be against the law not to do so. The closing track of their brilliant 1984 album ‘Love at First Sting’ is to me the ultimate rock ballad and easily fights off all competition for the title of the best ballad of all time. No one does it better than these guys. Their entire back catalogue is replete with fine ballads, but this one eclipses them all.

The most difficult part of this blog was restricting the list to only 10 songs, I could have easily done 20. Maybe one day, I’ll do a second part as I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface here.

I know not everybody will agree with this list, so if you have a favourite ballad that I have not included, then let me know in the comments or contact me on twitter @TheUKGryphon.

See you on the flip side.

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Yes – Top 10

Prog Rock is very much a marmite affair with all those that hear it. You either love it, or you hate it and I suppose it depends on which angle you approach it from, as to where you’re likely to fall on the prog Marmite spectrum.

If you’re a lover of classical music, or a certain type of rock music with neo-classical leanings, then you’re likely to find something worthwhile and enjoyable in the long song structures and the intricate arrangements and will develop an appreciation for the skill and talent that goes in to creating each prog masterpiece.Yes 1971 (L-R) Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford.

If you’re coming to prog from a standard pop/rock/punk background, you’re likely to find a degree of middle ground, you’ll like some of the simpler, shorter music, but deem the longer ‘epics’ as overblown, pretentious and pompous.

If you like rap, hip hop or dance music, then please don’t panic and proceed slowly and safely to the nearest exit as this just ain’t for you at all.Yes 1972 (L-R) Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson

In contrast to my love of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, which I started listening to in my early teens, I became tuned into prog a lot later, as a ‘mature’ music fan and when I say mature, I mean I was 17 and the most immature person you could ever meet.

The first prog band I listened to was Yes and in particular the Song ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ from 1971’s ‘Fragile’ album. To say I was blown away was an understatement. I’d heard music before that sounded weird, but this was the first time I’d heard music that sounded weird….on purpose.Yes 1973 (L-R) Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, Alan White

Here we had time signatures that exceeded the amount of fingers I had to count on, constantly developing song structures with many awe inspiring, recurring themes. I felt I had at last, found true musical perfection. So much so, that it made a lot of the other stuff I was listening to at the time seem slightly bland and basic and made me feel like I’d just been sitting at the musical kid’s table for the last 4 years. For about a year after this epiphany, I seldom listened to other style of music and over the next 10 years delved much deeper into the murky pool of the Prog Rock archives. Bands like early Genesis, Camel, Caravan, Gryphon, Jethro Tull, ELP, Asia all became regular and valued additions to my collection.Yes 1983 (L-R) Alan White, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin.

Admittedly, some of it I found pretty heavy going as this is music not for the feint of heart and I strongly advise the prog newcomer not go straight for albums like Jethro Tull’s ‘Thick as a Brick’ album. Like a baby and solid foods, you need to take it slowly and build yourself up to these things.

However, and just like with another aspect of our lives, we always reserve the fondest memories for our first……(you all know what I’m talking about here right?). Anyway, I kept going back to Yes. They were simply amazing and over the years, I’ve managed to mentally remove Yes from the prog pigeon hole they started in.Yes 1991 (L-R) Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, Alan White, Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe

Make no mistake, they are prog, but whilst prog music was definitely different, Yes was different even to that and was somehow on a higher pedestal. It’s something that I struggle to articulate in either speech or print.

Maybe some samples would help do it for me, so what I’ve done is scoured the entire Yes back catalogue and chosen the 10 best Yes ‘Epics’ that I hope, when you listen, will deliver the message I’m trying to impart, as words would just add to the intangibility of what I’m try to describe and the more I try, the further it will allude me.

10. Fly From Here (2011)

After having to replace Jon Anderson due to Ill health back in 2008, Yes recruited French Canadian Yes tribute band singer Benoit David and renewed their acquaintance with ex Yes members Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes with whom they recorded the Drama album in 1980. A new album was recorded which opened with this song, which was originally written around that time but never recorded. Although missing the trademark voice of Jon Anderson, ‘Non’ Anderson does a pretty good job on this one.

9. Endless Dream (1994)

After the debacle that was 1991’s Union album, the 90125/Big Generator line up of Anderson, Kaye, Rabin, Squire and White returned with one of their best, yet sadly most forgotten albums. Eventually entitled ‘Talk’, the album was released through Victory records which failed miserably in its job of promoting the album to it’s full extent, so much so that the album threatened neither the charts, nor the critics which is such a shame, as the whole album is a work of art and this song was it’s masterpiece and it takes me right back to a very special and wonderful time in my life.

8. To Be Over (1974)

The ‘Relayer’ album along with 1973’s ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’, saw Yes at their most ostentatious and adventurous and whilst some people thought the band had bitten off more than they could chew during this period, it produced some great pieces of music and this, the final song from ‘Relayer’ is one of them.

7. Homeworld (The Ladder) (1999)

Yes’s final album of the 20th century ensured they went into the new millennium on a high note. The previous album had been the extremely disappointing album ‘Open Your Eyes’, which despite heralding the return of Guitar Talisman Steve Howe, failed to live up to expectations. Because of ‘Open your Eyes’ I went into ‘The Ladder’ album with no expectations at all and that mindset seemed to pay off as the album quickly became a favourite and this, the opening song, proves that you should always start with your best shot.

6. Perpetual Change (1971)

Yes’s third album ‘The Yes Album’ proved the age old adage, that it really is third time lucky as after two good, but hardly earth shattering albums, this would have had to have been something special in order to keep their record contract with Atlantic records alive. It contained Yes classics like ‘Yours is No Disgrace’, Starship Trooper’ and ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’. As well the most underrated Yes song in their entire back catalogue called ‘A Venture’. However, the epic I chose of this album is the final song and what a monster it is too.

5 The Revealing Science of God (1973)

The opening track of ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ is the most listener friendly song on the album. An album by the way, that consisted of two records with a one song per side. A mammoth undertaking for the most hardcore proggers. But if you’ve got it flaunt it that’s what I say. But please don’t ask me what Jon Anderson is singing about because really, I haven’t got a fucking clue. I only know I like it. I’ve even included the lyrics in this video to help you. Because I do NOT know.

4. The South Side of The Sky (1971)

‘Fragile’ was the first Yes Album I bought on the strength of hearing ‘Heart of the Sunrise’. This was in the years before ‘try before you buy’ and there was no iTunes to sample songs before you bought albums so it was very much a ‘take the plunge’ affair. This was the fourth song from the album and the last one on side 1. And I have to admit I wasn’t convinced by the album until this song. It was this song that totally convinced me that Yes were simply wonderful.

3. And You and I (1972)

Ask most music fans to name an album by Yes, chances are they’ll say ‘Close to the Edge’. Widely regarded as their seminal album, as well a being the quintessential prog album. Whilst I love it, it’s an album that isn’t as good as the hype would have you believe. This song however, remains very dear to my heart. I went to see Yes in Birmingham in 2003, the fourth time I’d seen them, but the first and only time with Rick Wakeman. When they played this song, I was just awestruck, as Wakeman played the keyboards on this like no other person could. It was at that point my brother gave me a nudge and pointed out I was actually crying.

2. Heart of the Sunrise (1971)

My second choice from the ‘Fragile’ album and this song remains a favourite because it was my first. The first Yes song I heard that started me on this wonderful 3 decade journey that really has changed my life. My only regret is that I can’t call it my favourite Yes song. There is one more, but this comes so damn close.

1. Awaken (1977)

Jon Anderson once declared this his favourite Yes song saying “It has everything I would desire from a group of musicians in this life” I have to agree that this song, from whatever perspective you approach it, is perfect. What sells it for me though is the crescendo ending the band takes us into following the long soft instrumental part. I want this is my funeral music folks. You heard it hear first….although I won’t hear it there I suppose.

So there’s 10 wonderful Yes moments I wanted to share with you. In hope it gives meaning to that intangible something I can never describe.

What always makes me laugh is that when I put Yes on in the car, my daughter always shouts “it’s Dad music'”, which leaves me to point out that it’s perfectly appropriate for me to play it then. Who says my logic isn’t impeccable?

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